May 2014

Anonymous. Pope Innocent III Approving Rules of the Franciscan Order (16th C.). Monastery, Cholula, Mexico.

‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. [Jeremiah 6:14] There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. [Lord Acton] The papacy is swaddled in sycophancy in the best of times. Add to that the exultant adulation induced by celebrity culture. It is a heady mix that can beguile a decent man into a grandiose conception of himself that blinds him to the limits of his office. And encourages conceit in his own sympathies. Continue Reading
Anonymous woodcut. Dancing Peasants (16th C.). Staatsbibliotek, Berlin

Whoever writes about religion and art comes into contact with two sorts of people: Christians of the most varied stamp, and connoisseurs of art. Both are rather difficult to get along with. —Gerardus van der Leeuw Stay awhile with Gerardus van der Leeuw (1890-1950). His lyrical and provocative analysis of consonance—and distance—between beauty and holiness is indispensable for any lover of the subject. There was no one better prepared than he—poet, theologian, philosopher, historian of religion—to write a theology of art or discuss the problems of a theological aesthetics. Continue Reading
Luca della Robbia. Cantoria, detail (1399-1400). Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

A person who is passionately fond of music may quite well be a perverted person—but I should find it hard to believe this of anyone who thirsted for Gregorian chanting. —Simone Weil Is there any such thing as a distinctly sacred sound? Can any single sound summon us to the divine? Does any particular one convey the essence of holiness? Lead to the depths? In absolute terms, no. Sacred sounds are as various as the cultures and the instruments that produce them: a ram’s horn, a kettle drum, trumpet, or sitar. Continue Reading
sausage slicing pig

I like to think it speaks well for John XXIII that the mandatory miracle had to be waived on his behalf. There was none to be found, not a trace. No pious Catholic had the heart to come forward with a crumb of evidence that the man who had convened Vatican II—its touted spirit and all its works—was released from purgatory so soon. No need to fret over the waiver. It is just possible that John was either too reticent or too canny to deliver the customary cure. Continue Reading
Thomas Nast. Boss Tweed. Late 19th C.

John XXIII once remarked that the Vatican was the hardest place on earth to remain a Christian. The pope’s impish bon mot floated like skywriting over the double canonization in St. Peter’s Square on the Second Easter Sunday. On the glittering heels of this production came advance notice of another: London’s The Tablet reported that Paul VI is on the books for beatification this coming October. Thomas Nast. Boss Tweed. Late 19th C. Are we at the point where election to the Petrine office is itself a signal of godliness, a guarantee of eventual canonization? Continue Reading