Friday, 17 May 2013

A Point of View

I keep catching the last few minutes of John Gray's A Point of View on BBC Radio 4. Today's broadcast was a fascinating discussion of the difference between Patricia Highsmith's (frankly terrifying) view of the world as expressed in her Tom Ripley books and Dostoevsky's view of the world as expressed in Crime and Punishment.

Gray is an atheist but what we might call a sympathetic atheist. Here's how he described his own relationship with religion in a Spectator interview:

I don’t belong to a religion. In fact I would have to be described as an atheist. But I’m friendly to religion on the grounds that it seems to me to be distinctively human, and it has produced many good things. But you see these humanists or rationalists who seem to hate this distinctively human feature. This to me seems to me very odd. These evangelical atheists say things such as: religion is like child abuse, that if you had no religious education, there would be no religion. It’s completely absurd. 

His discussion of Walter de la Mare and the limits of materialism was also very interesting. I don't agree with everything he says but his sympathy for religion and his sympathetic readings of literature certainly mean that he opens the way to an interesting debate.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Way of Beauty

Another magazine which has some very interesting articles is Faith. The May and June edition, for example, has this fascinating article by James MacMillan in which he draw attention to the resources available here.

There's also an article by Dudley Plunkett on The Via Pulchritudinis: Beauty and the New Evangelisation which draws attention to this document from the Pontifical Council for Culture on The Via Pulchritudinis: Privileged Pathway for Evangelisation and Dialogue. There are lots of interesting passages but these two seemed of particular interest (though the translation isn't great for the first one):

To travel the way of beauty implies educating the youth for beauty, helping them develop a critical spirit to discern the various offerings of media culture, and aid them shape their senses and their character to grow and lead into true maturity. Is not "kitsch culture" only a typical outcry of those living in fear of responding to the call to undergo a profound transformation?


It is a matter of presenting with a language that speaks and is pleasing to our contemporaries and using the most apt means the precious witness given by the Mother of God, the martyrs and the saints who have followed Christ in a particularly "attractive" manner. Much is being done in catechetical programmes to let the extraordinary lives of the saints be discovered. It is clear today that, for young people, saints are fascinating—think of Francis of Assisi and José of Anchieta, Juan Diego and Theresa of the Child Jesus, Rose of Lima and Bakhita, Kisito and Maria Goretti, Father Kolbe and Mother Theresa and the theatrical works, films, comic strips, recitals, concerts and muscials that re-create their stories. Their example calls each Christian to be a pilgrim on the pathway of beauty, truth, good, in journeying to the Celestial Jerusalem where we will contemplate the beauty of God in a relation full of love, face-to-face. "There, we will rest and we will see; we will see and we will love, we will love and we will praise. Such will be the end, without end."[40]

An appropriate education helps the faithful grow in the life of prayer of adoration and worship, and fuller participation in the truth to a liturgy lived in the fullness of beauty which immerses the faithful in the mystery of faith. At the same time as re-educating the faithful to marvel at the thinkgs that God works in our lives, it is also necessary to give back to the liturgy its true "splendour", all its dignity and authentic beauty, by rediscovering the authentic sense of Christian mystery, and forming the faithful so that they can enter into the meaning and beauty of the celebrated mystery and live it authentically.

Liturgy is not what man does, but is a divine work. The faithful need to be helped to perceive that the act of worship is not the fruit of activity, a product, a merit, a gain, but is the expression of a mystery, of something that cannot be entirely understood but that needs to be received rather than conceptualised. It is an act entirely free from considerations of efficiency. The attitude of the believer in the liturgy is marked by its capacity to receive, a condition of the progress of the spiritual life. This attitude is no longer spontaneous in a culture where rationalism seeks to direct everything, even our most intimate sentiments.

No less important is the promotion of sacred art to accompany aptly the celebration of the mysteries of the faith, to give beauty back to ecclesiastical buildings and liturgical objects. In this way they will be welcoming, and above all able to convey the authentic meaning of Christian liturgy and encourage full participation of the faithful in the divine mysteries, following the wish often expressed during the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.

Certainly the churches must be aesthetically beautiful and well decorated, the liturgies accompanied by beautiful chants and good music, the celebrations dignified and preaching well prepared, but it is not this in itself which is the via pulchritudinis or that which changes us. These are just conditions that facilitate the action of the grace of God. Therefore the faithful need to be educated to pay attention not merely to the aesthetic dimension of the liturgy, however beautiful it may be, but also to understand that the Litrugy is a divine act that is not determined by an ambiance, a climate or even by rubrics, for it is the mystery of faith celebrated in Church.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Waugh, Wine and Brideshead Revisited

Arguably the most interesting magazine currently being published in the UK is Standpoint. April's edition, which I'm still working my way through, was particularly fascinating. I won't go through the main articles but just want to draw attention to one piece that is tucked away at the end of the magazine.

It's an article about the use of wine in Brideshead Revisited, an apparently insignificant topic that reveals quite a lot about Waugh and his great novel. Though the article's anonymous author doesn't quite spell out the link with the Eucharist, it is clear that wine has a sacramental value in the novel that takes us far beyond mere social commentary. There's a great deal to mull over here, perhaps with glass in hand.

Sunday, 5 May 2013


This what I wrote last year about May being Mary's month - apparently we had terrible weather then as well. So, what could be better than another Marian poem from Gerard Manley Hopkins this year?

                                                The May Magnificat

MAY is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
    Her feasts follow reason,
    Dated due to season—
Candlemas, Lady Day;        
But the Lady Month, May,
    Why fasten that upon her,
    With a feasting in her honour?
Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?        
    Is it opportunest
    And flowers finds soonest?
Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
    Question: What is Spring?—        
    Growth in every thing—
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
    Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
    Throstle above her nested        
Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
    And bird and blossom swell
    In sod or sheath or shell.
All things rising, all things sizing        
Mary sees, sympathising
    With that world of good,
    Nature’s motherhood.
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind        
    How she did in her stored
    Magnify the Lord.
Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
    Much, had much to say        
    To offering Mary May.
When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
    And thicket and thorp are merry
    With silver-surfèd cherry        
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
    And magic cuckoocall
    Caps, clears, and clinches all—
This ecstasy all through mothering earth        
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
    To remember and exultation
    In God who was her salvation.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Dialogues des Carmelites

On Saturday BBC Radio 3 is broadcasting Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites live from the Met. I'm sure it's going to be great. But I'm also interested in the literary back story. Poulenc was inspired by Georges Bernanos's play, which was itself originally written as a screenplay, which was itself inspired by Gertrude von Le Fort's The Song at the Scaffold.

I'm a little busy at the moment - hence the lack of recent posts - and so haven't time to discuss the different versions properly but if you've got access to JSTOR, this article has an interesting discussion of Bernanos's version of the story in particular.

Suffice it to say, when one of the great (Catholic) composers of the 20th Century meets one of the great (Catholic) writers you have a recipe for success.