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Top Ten Books Read in 2011, #3

Kind and patient readers, I apologize the incompletion of this series. I intended to write three and two on Friday and number one on Saturday and an illness caught up with me.

Number 3 is …

Tremendous Trifles by G.K. Chesterton

It’s not often that I read a collection of essays. Being that this was my first year reading Chesterton (shame, Deacon Kyle, shame!), I figured I’d go with what had been recommended to me. This was recommended to me by one of our fellow writers on the blog (who has been overly busy to write). He told me he reads this over every year. Therefore, I had to read it. The essays were fantastic. Chesterton’s wit shone through but more importantly, it provided me with a necessary outlook change. One can find the good, the true, and the beautiful in the ordinary circumstances of life, whether they be brown paper bags and white chalk, or travels to unknown towns, or taxi ride. Chesterton’s intellect shines forth in his ability to see the underneath of the material happening. Things are much deeper than they seem.

Sentimentalism, a Chestertonian Insight into Social Bias

We hear of the stark sentimentalist, who talks as if there were no problem at all: as if physical kindness would cure everything: as if one need only pat Nero and stroke Ivan the Terrible. This mere belief in bodily humanitarianism is not sentimental; it is simply snobbish. For if comfort gives men virtue, the comfortable classes ought to be virtuous—which is absurd. Then, again, we do hear of the yet weaker and more watery type of sentimentalists: I mean the sentimentalist who says, with a sort of splutter, “Flog the brutes!” or who tells you with innocent obscenity “what he would do” with a certain man—always supposing the man’s hands were tied. – G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

‘Tis interesting this beautiful thought of Gilbert.  In one in the same statement, he says violent men and passive sentimentalists come from the same tree, namely ignorance of the human person.  Man is not merely the sentiment connected with human physical contact, not to deny its power, only to mitigate the popular belief in its power.  Nor does man need to be degraded as an ignominious idiot worth nothing more than torture.  
Man is worthy of being contemplated not for his own sake but to see that he is not the root of his existence or the power by which he lives.  He is immediately and brokenly contingent.  He requires both discipline and loving sentiment to become virtuous, insodoing it moves towards being fully human.  

Erotic and Godly?

“There is a certain relationship between love and the divine: love promises infinity, eternity–a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence.” Deus Caritas Est 5
This quote is within the context of the Holy Father’s explication of eros. He refers back to the Greek understanding of an intoxication transcending into the divine so as to experience supreme happiness. He goes on to say this was enacted through various fertility cults, where men would go to a shrine and unleash their passionate desire upon a woman whose sole purpose was to be mediators of divine intoxication as objects of sexual pleasure. They were treated not as human beings, not as persons, but as objects for those men, objects for the sole purpose of pleasure.

This should sound familiar to us today. Pornography is not much different. Neither is prostitution. Pornography, though, seems to be exponentially more dangerous, if not for the sole reason of being much more accessible, but also from Matthew 5 where Jesus tells us that anyone who lusts after a woman already commits adultery in his heart. Pornography degrades, perverts, and deconstructs the idea and truth of eros. It divinizes eros instead of letting eros be a means to the divine. Furthermore, it destroys the God given dignity of the human person, who is himself an end (c.f. Love and Responsibility Karol Wojtyla).

Pope Benedict goes on to mention the Old Testament’s rejection of this cult because it is, as shown earlier, “a perversion of religiosity.” However, eros was not rejected, rather, its idea and enaction needed to be purified and tempered.

This desire, ultimately, for God is within us. Eros desires to transcend finite reality to be in union with the infinite, namely God. Aristotle had this concept in his cosmology. The umoved mover, whom he referred to as god, moved all things to itself. Everything moved in its own path back toward the unmoved mover. This can easily be translated into Christian terms. God moves “all creation together in Himself.” “Father, I pray that they may be one as You and I are one.” In the greatest sense, eros can be seen in this light.

However, “eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but also a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns,” (Deus Caritas Est 4). The tendency in our culture today is to direct this desire for the infinite, for beatitude, (happiness), toward finite things. These things, or persons, offer fleeting pleasure. Through a temperate direction of eros, we can experience a “foretaste” of eternal life in love. It is like tasting a crumb of the greatest cake ever to be made, and this crumb springs your yearning on ever greater for the whole cake. This foretaste, directed and mediated through temperance, incites full throttle the desire to be in union with our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

QWERTY and the Spiritual Principle of the Human Person

I am sitting in a coffee shop doing some paperwork for the seminary and found myself staring off into space while typing.  I wasn’t looking at the screen or at the keyboard.  I was just typing what I thought, as I am right now.  It hit me how amazing a skill tying is.  Letters are not in alphabetical order.  They are in QWERTY setup, and yet my brain in conjunction with the small appendages attached to my hand connected the keys so as to make words.  This is utterly amazing.  I shows to me the beauty of the human person how so.  I shows both mental and muscle memory, which granted is not a necessarily exclusive human ability.  However, what the muscle and mental memory is used for is creating words on a screen that connect together to make sentences and ideas.  Symbols such as “t” and “j” and “;” help communicate invisible realities such as thought, and justice, and the clarity of context.  These invisible realities in turn connect the perceptible reality of words with the spiritual principle of the human person.  By me typing this entry, I am communicating a spiritual reality.  Who said the typist couldn’t be a philosopher?

Music Done Well

As of late, I have been reading St. Augustine’s treatise, On Music.  A later blogpost will give my thoughts on the whole work but one particular part in the first of the six books interested me.

He said, “Music is the science of moving well.”  As a means of necessary background, this particular treatise covers rhythm only so the definition fits well in that regard.  He goes in that chapter to make a point of the qualifier “well.”  Well does not just connote the good measuring of notes at time and intervals that are pleasing to the ear; it also connotes the proper place in which those notes are heard.

Yet it is possible for this harmony and measuring to please when they shouldn’t.  For example, if one should sing sweetly and dance gracefully, wishing thereby to be when the occasion demanded gravity, such a person would in no way be using harmonious mensuration (correct measuring of notes) well.  In other word, that person uses ill or improperly the motion at one time called good because of its harmony. (On Music 1.3)

There is not only good mechanics and sound but a proper place for those good mechanics and sound.  Good music is not harmony and rhythm alone, but proper placement of that harmony and rhythm.  One wouldn’t play, for instance, speed trash metal during the bridal procession of a wedding.  That particular harmony and rhythm, although good in itself (some may argue otherwise), does not fit with that situation.  Now I know people push these boundaries.  The 20th and 21st centuries have been all about pushing boundaries in art, but it is boundaries, i.e. harmonics and rhythms that internally control music.  Aharmony and arhythm is not music.  It is noise, a cacophony of sound with no order.  What to me, Augustine is proposing, is that not only is the order of harmony and rhythm part of music but the placement of that harmony and rhythm within a given situation.  A director would not set “Flight of the Bumblebee” during a peaceful scene with the couple walking down a beach at sunset.  It does not fit the mood.  In our insides we naturally recognize the incoherence of that.

There also occurs in our hearts and in our senses a certain deadening of that naturally recognizable incoherence when incoherence becomes the norm.  Coherence can no longer be identified.  Say for instance someone cannot tell the dream from reality.  One actually is reality and the other a figment of imagination.

This seems to have occurred in Liturgical music over the past half century.  People recognize beautiful music and wish to incorporate it into the liturgy because of its beauty, which is indeed an admirable desire, but the second part of what Augustine describes as good music requires proper placement.  Although pop music has recognizably coherent harmony and rhythm that is pleasing to the ear, it does not fit within the framework of worship.  Pop music is an earthy, passionate, and highly emotional form of music.  It keeps one firmly in earthly experience.  It does not, but its mood and movement lift someone  up to worship in God the same way the other-worldly sound of Gregorian Chant, or Mozarabic Chant, or Byzantine Chant does.  Chant lifts someone out of themselves and moves the towards God.  The lack of meter gives a certain elevation to it.  It is guided by accents and phrases connecting lyric with melody in such an extraordinarily symbiotic way.

I’m looking at this from a philosophical viewpoint, but it would seem that this viewpoint finds its way into countless church documents about sacred music.  Corpus Christi Watershed does a good job of explaining it here:

Can you tell the difference?? from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Leisure and Philosophy

This compilation of two essays by Josef Pieper is must have for any Catholic intellectual or pseudo-intellectual, theologian, philosopher, scripture scholar, grad student.  The first essay, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, really solidified my understanding of a philosopher and how one goes about thinking.  I had heard in undergrad about Plato’s concept of leisure as the prerequisite for philosophy, but I had a 20th century comprehension of that word.  To me, leisure meant someone who was rich and had leisure time, as I wrote in a previous post.  Leisure is a passive receptivity to being.  In that sense, it makes sense that leisure is the prerequisite for philosophy.  “Philosophy,” as Pieper says, “is not the loving search for any kind of wisdom; it is concerned with wisdom as it is possessed by God,” who is the source of all being (emphasis added by me).

To me, the first essay gives a philosophical backing for the need for silence and reflection in the life of each human person, no matter their state in life or intellectual capacity.  There is something elementary human about reflection that helps in living a good life.  Whether this silence and reflection is done in prayer, as seems to be the natural way for a Christian, or with reflecting on experience in a such a way as to come to some knowledge of the universal, or reflection to recognize one’s emotions at different parts of the day.  Pieper sets up a cogent and well articulated plan to understand and begin to enact leisure in one’s life.

I still wonder why didn’t read this at the beginning of my philosophy studies and not 3 years after I received a degree in philosophy.  “The Philosophical Act” begins to set a premise similar to what Fr. Schall said in the preface to this edition.  We gain an understanding of philosophy by going back to the first philosophers.  The first philosophers in turn turned to the writers of myths.  There is a direct connection between philosophy and theology.  “There is no such thing as philosophy which does not receive its impulse and impetus from a prior and uncritically accepted interpretation of the world as a whole,” i.e. a theology.  Pieper goes on to say that this, in a sense, can even be an atheistic theology.  However, there is only one true philosophy due to what quoted two paragraphs earlier, “Philosophy … is concerned with wisdom as it is possessed by God.”  Christian theology gives philosophy a framework from which to work.  In so doing, it does not allow for unrestricted thought and hence the possibility of extreme error, i.e. Descartes trying to start all over again.

I would suggest these two essays in a beautifully compiled edition by Ignatius Press, which also includes a forward by Fr. James Schall.

An Anti-climatic and Procrastinated Ending to Leisure

There have been many post since the last one about Pieper’s Leisure.  I wish now to finish by just quoting the last three paragraphs of the essay.  The speak for themselves.

Worship is either something ‘given,’ divine worship is fore-ordained – or its does not exist at all.  There can be no question of founding a religion or instituting a religious cultus.  And for the Christian there is, of course, no doubt in the matter: post Christum there is only one, true and final form of celebrating divine worship, the sacramental sacrifice of the Christian Church.  And moreover I think that anyone inquiring into the facts of the case from a historical point of view (whether he is a Christian or not) would be unable to find any other worship whatsoever in the Europeanized world. 

The Christian cultus, unlike any other, is at once a sacrifice and a sacrament.  In so far as the Christian cultus is a sacrifice held in the midst of the creation which is affirmed by this sacrifice of the God-man – everyday is a feast day; and in face the liturgy knows only feast days, even working days being feria.  In so far as the cultus is a sacrament it is celebrated in visible signs.  And the full power of worship will only be felts if its sacramental character is realized in undiminished form, that is, if the sign is fully visible.  In leisure, as was said, man oversteps the frontiers of the everyday workaday world, not in external effort and strain, but as though lifted about it in ecstasy.  that is the sense of the visibility of the sacrament: that man is ‘carried away’ by it, thrown into ‘ecstasy.’  Let no one imagine for a moment that that is private and romantic interpretation.  The Church has pointed to the meaning of the incarnation of the Logos in the self-same words: ut dum visibiliter Deum cognosciums, per hunc in invisibilum amorem rapiamor, that we may be rapt into love of the invisible reality through the visibility of that first and ultimate sacrament: the Incarnation.

We therefore hope that this true sense of sacramental visibility may become so manifest in the celebration of the Christian cultus itself that in the performance of it man, ‘who is born to work.’ may truly be ‘transported’ out of the weariness of daily labor into an unending holiday, carried way out of the straitness of the workaday world into the heart of the universe.

A reflection on Chapter V of Leisure: The Basis of Culture


Utility, the Antithesis of Divine Worship

This summer the Archdiocese of New Orleans held a Theology on Tap series at the guest area of a local brewery.  One of the talks, given by Fr. Bryce Sibley, a priest of the Diocese of Lafayette, held the name, “Why Does the Church Make Such a Big Deal About Sex?”  With such a title, the talk seemed to be a very intriguing topic.  Fr. Sibley’s main point was this: the human and along with it, human sexuality, is connected, at its roots, to divine worship.  The Church makes such a big deal about sex precisely because it relates to divine worship.  Not just in Catholicism but in ancient Judaism (look at the laws in Leviticus) as well as ancient pagan religion, sex is connected with worship.  All this connects through the concept of imago Dei.  Man is made in the image and likeness of God, not just his his soul but in his body.

Karol Wojtyla (JP II), in his early work, Love and Responsibility, spoke about the human body.  He saw in lust and especially in pornography the antithesis of the meaning and depth of human love and the human body (He takes these thoughts and expands on their Biblical roots in his opus magnus, Man and Woman He Created Them: The Theology of the Body.)  He spoke of this antithetical action as utilitarian (in the philosophical sense of John Stuart Mill and co.).  The body, or someone else’s body, is not something to be used and them discarded when it no longer provides pleasure.  It is something to be regarded and honored for its own sake.  In TOB, John Paul II would specifically say that it is precisely because we are made in God’s image that the human person, body and soul, is an in himself/herself.  Again, we connect the human body with honor of God.  When one honors the human body, as a divine image, he/she worships God for such a great gift.

This though came into my mind when Pieper wrote this,”[Divine worship/sacrifice] definitely does not involve utility; it is in face antithetic to utility.”  Worship is the epitome of superfluity.  It goes beyond what is the assumed norm and flows into utter foolishness.  It is as necessary as a bolt or a screw, but it is a bolt or screw made of pure gold and plated in platinum.  Such is the nature of divine worship, to which the human body points.  This is why we have extravagant places of worship and ornate vestments and complicated and beautifully worded rituals.  Divine worship is not utilitarian it is utterly foolish and superfluous.  Praise be to God!

A reflection on Chapter V of Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Simplicity of Leisure

“When we really let our mind rest contemplatively on a rose in bud, on a child in play, on a divine mystery, we are rested and quickened as though be a dreamless sleep.”  It seems so simple.  It is a passive reception not of sensory data: colors, shapes, and sounds.  It is a passive reception of the reality behind these things: who made them, that they in some way reflect His beauty, that this is a person who is made in His image and after his own likeness and has inalienable dignity.  It is amazing.  These are the things that bring about the emotion of joy.  They elicit from man a resting in a present good.  This then goes back to the discussion of the difficulty/reward ratio.  The end is the good.  Leisure seems to me, so far, as the apprehension of a creature’s participation with the divine attributes.  Leisure is, consequently, connected with theology and philosophy.  It is the prerequisite for doing both.  Before philosophy there must be leisure and before theology ther must be philosophy.  This is where I find myself.  I have tried to philosophize or theologize without first being at rest.  I saw it as work, a task to be performed and accomplished.

a reflection on Chapter III of Leisure: The Basis of Culture

The Germans

Josef Pieper

This book is introducing us to a plethora of German authors that us English speakers will never be able to read. So it has that extra benefit of insights we’ll never get the opportunity to read unless we belabored the study of the famously long winded German language.

a reflection (however short) on Leisure: The Basis of Culture