VII – Modernity and Music

MUSIC – FROM BEAUTY AND GRACE TO THE UGLY

A. The Foundations

Western music, and by that I mean, the music of Europe, has its origins in the music of the Catholic Church.

Our heathen ancestors – the Celts, Britons, Germans, Goths, Vandals, Franks – you can be sure did not, once upon a time, dance around in joyful jigs and reels of what we know now as popular, traditional folk music. No! they danced to the same kind of shaman-like drums and pipes as all savage peoples did. The same way as African tribes still do. Melody was minimal – orgiastic chanting to a beating drum.

The barbarian tribes conquered by Roman civilisation would only have heard the music of the Greek modes in state occasions – if at all. And when the Empire fell in the West, so did most of the civilising influence of the Romans.

From 400 AD to 1000 AD the barbarian tribes became civilised through the influence of the Catholic Church. The Church set up monasteries and schools, and encouraged the kings and chieftains of Dark Ages Europe to assist in the education of the faithful throughout Europe. There is tons of evidence for this development.

But where did the people – the ordinary mums, dads, and kids hear music? in Church, every Sunday and feast days. Gregorian chant and Latin hymns dominated the musical experience of these barbarians. And especially through the years from 800 AD to 1200 AD these people copied the “feel” of the Gregorian chant and hymns into their own music – folk music became an extension of what they heard in Church.

The “feel” of the ordinary European Christian originating in Church music was for music and art which reflected the doctrines of the Church: love, gentleness, mercy, joy, and grace. The form of music also developed from the liturgies of the Church: the chorus and response, psalmody led to versification and ballads. Marian hymns and Christmas carols soon became popular folk experiences. Dancing evolved from the village “stomp” to graceful dance – the Sarabande, the Polka, the Gigue (Jig), the Sicilienne, a myriad of dance forms expressing the unity of village group or a wedding dance among nobles – and there was no difference in the music in a multi-ranked society.

There grew a felt need for art forms to exhibit grace and so the traditional dance and music forms developed into what became so popular many centuries later.

From the liturgies of the Church – the chorus and response form – harmony, polyphony, madrigals and secular opera developed. And together came instrumentation, so that by 1650 Baroque – a musical style stretching for another hundred years – became the fully-matured expression of Western and Christian civilisation. It is not contrived. There is no theoretical foundation but the organic growth of traditional forms of chant, discovered harmony, dance and song. Baroque was both the music of the people and the music of the nobility. There was a free flow of the music of the beer hall “ditty” to its scoring and performance by any one of a number of Baroque composers for a performance at the beer hall or in front of a noble in his court.

Gone is the pagan, savage “stomp” to the drums and pipe. Common to all of the development of our Western heritage in music is the ascendancy of melody over the beat. Church music had no fixed beat but was based on the natural rhythm of Latin. The orgiastic beat of non-Christian music mainly disappeared from Western music.

Grace, gentleness, decoration, the contrasting of joy and sorrow, mercy, goodness and yearning for the beautiful: all kept the base demand for orgiastic expression to a minimum.

B. Classicism

There was a very brief period of Western music called the “Classical” period, when limitations were placed on the development of music. The evolution of Renaissance Rationalism led to the Modernist Enlightenment experiment of Classicism. The intelligensia of the late 18th Century worshipped the Deistic god of “Reason” and this god demanded order, control, and structure above all. Music became deliberately artful, and simplified, as if to tell a story, to be constructed rationally with a narrative beginning, middle and end. Beauty of form and noble delicacy dominate this form. “Effete” is the word for this kind of music.

But it has lost Glory and Joy (“Glory and trumpets” as Sam Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings would say) and the graceful sadness which comes with glory and joy of salvation but the realisation of loss – in death or in love. And much of Baroque music is dance music, dance music which echoes all ranks of a society still in touch with each other – peasant to noble. The joyful play of the Baroque disappears and so does the connexion with the people.

Classical music is for an “informed” audience, for the nobles, for the rich, for concert halls. The “grace” in much of classical music is informed by hundreds of years of Christian civilisation and still present among the elite even in those who may have rejected the practise of the Faith. It will take another 100 years for that grace to gradually disappear.

By 1600, Gregorian chant had disappeared in the major churches of Europe, replaced by polyphony at best, or by Catholic or Protestant hymns, or by original compositions – none of which captured the inner beauty and grace of Gregorian music. Unless it was a hymn, music now heard in Church no longer was simple but “complicated”. However, Bach was famous to the everyday Lutheran because he captured the “feel” of the old Catholic music in his weekly Cantatas.

By 1800 the huge increasing division of Europe between the landed class and the commoner, also created a huge division in music: between the “music of the court” and traditional folk music and dance. The latter became even more isolated as the Industrial Revolution broke up village life. Remnants survived in nostalgic family occasions, in pubs, in remote country village halls.

C. The Revolution and Music

There is only one revolution – Modernism’s French Revolution. This revolution and its mutations through the next 200 years had a significant effect on music.

Firstly, the Romantic movement. Early Beethoven is still in touch with the old grace-filled world, and he is brilliant. But the Enlightenment worship of man dominates his music. He dares not only to break the rules but also to thrust his emotions on to the listener: “You will feel what I feel!” The Who and Elvis naturally follow from this. Beethoven’s “Song of Joy” became the anthem of the worship of Man, and signified the rise of strident, popular nationalism. At first, the range of these feelings were still reflective of the Christian past, but over 200 years later – without a living Christian culture – grace, purity, goodness, nobility, gentleness disappear, and have been replaced by sentimentality, or the rage of social and political commentary, or blatant sexuality.

Rebellion and Nostaglia become the dominating motifs through the 19th Century. Wagner creates a world of the dying gods. Deep, ever deep, sadness dominates. The soul lost in the greatness of the universe, alienated, hopeless. Great images of past glory. But all lost. Amazingly grand and sadly beautiful music. And why? Because Modernism has destroyed hope in glory. It is the music of sentimental atheism. It is the music of the man  heroically observing the universe, raising his fist to the non-existing God, and challenging the non-existent God that he will never surrender. A great mythical construct to justify the Great Rebellion.

Secondly, the worth of music is now to be judged according to the authenticity of the composer’s emotions. The stronger the emotions, the greater the demands on both the composer and the performer to reach the audience. Form must give way to the emotional force of rhythm. The performer and the instrument must become more strident. Gut strings give way to metal. Harpsichords give way to pianos. Singers search for volume and power. Orchestras become larger. And electronic assistance raises the level of performance and alters the relationship between the production of music and the receiver – now passive to the demands of the performer’s emotions.

If there is no control on emotions, then “raw” becomes the final step: the rage of rebellion, the screaming uncontrolled lover’s lament, the plain shouting, and finally, chaos. Plato was right: music is the most dangerous art. He wanted it banned from his ideal state. On the other hand, Aristotle wanted music included as a necessary component for the education of virtuous citizens to train their emotions and to enable citizens to be more amenable to reason. There is an urgent need for Aristotle’s advice to be heeded!

D. A Divided Culture

Thirdly, music is now divided into two main kinds: “Classical” – a total misnomer, and “pop”. So-called “Classical” music becomes totally intellectualised, abstract, and requires ideological explanations in order to attract the intelligensia. By the end of the 19th Century, atonalism ended the connexion between Nature and Music. It had to happen. Modernism destroys Nature, by divorcing the mind from nature. Modern man can create its own constructions regardless. Music is tonal – scientifically, naturally, historically. A played note contains all the tones within it. To create atonal music is to deny nature! So-called “classical” music died then. Let’s face it. Music gets ugly.

“Classical” music at present is now a non-judgmental “selection” in orchestras and radio stations around the world. A smorgasborg of “taste”. It is seen to be cool to mix “pop” dress, or culture in presentations, for young musicians to join in with “pop” groups. “Classical” music is seen as “snobbish”, of the aristocracy (not true of Baroque – but who cares?), reactionary, even obscurant.

On the other hand, the music of the people, once traditional village folk music, now becomes “urban” music, divorced from the old Christian culture. During the 19th Century, it is derived from the old “Classical” forms, but is debased by heavy sentimentality and above all, by the ever-increasing dominance of the beat – the orgiastic grows in Western “pop” music. One can see why now that Johann Strauss’ father hated his son’s popular compositions: the 3/4 Viennese waltz was the victory of dominant first beat over the grace of the 3/4 Minuet. Even the music of the Catholic church echoed modern forms. Sentimental hymns fully replaced chant, and the final anomaly of the 20th Century was the total replacement of chant in the liturgy with “hokey” folk music.

Dance music changes drastically. Urban dance bands in the first half of the 20th Century, would still include a waltz, a Maxina, a “Gay Gordons”, but the modern, snuggling, insinuatingly-smooth Fox Trot soon gave way to swing, and to the beating pulse of jazz. Eventually, Jazz itself divided into two. The urban intelligensia follow the jazz of the 1950s – the “cool” – another intellectualised form; and the folk, self-referential “blues” develops into the “raunchy” sexualised music of “rock and roll”. And the gross savage “stomp” soon reappears. Ugliness returns to the world.

Attempts at uniting the Classical forms with Pop have failed to take root in modern culture. Gershwin’s opus “Rhapsody in Blue” and his musical, “Porgy and Bess” soon became dated and died when jazz died out, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals lose their inventiveness. Some pop forms attained cult status like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Stairway to Heaven” because parts of them refer back to forgotten traditional forms and motifs.

Another attempts to form a “classical” fusion in pop music were the later creations of the Beatles. Much of the early Beatles music was just dance music for teenagers. The lyrics are clever, at times poetic, and music is mostly happy … almost joyful. There are little inventive touches in all their music. The second side of “Abbey Road” is an attempt to make a symphonic whole from a medley. But even when they tried to make “graceful” music, their lyrics reflected the Nihilism of the Age, or to balance “grace” with petty, sexual smuttiness. As they became famous and self-conscious of the huge effect they had on society, they became “artful”. The hubris of fame lead to them preaching the New Revolution. They create “trite” socio-political messages in brilliant music forms.

As Beethoven’s “Song of Joy” became the iconic March of the Revolution of Man against the rule of God for many generations, so has John Lennon’s “Imagine” become the iconic song for the Revolution against belief in God Himself. The older generations could appreciate the “Song of Joy” without giving up their love of God, but Lennon’s “Imagine” makes it all pretty plain where Modern Man is marching. And Lennon’s later songs become pornographic, seedy, sexually-liberated anthems to the New Age of Licentious Modernity.

E. Modern Angst and Pop

So we are left in the 21st Century with popular music reflecting the urban modern angst: alienation! alienation from lover, alienation from society, to basic violent protest at the world. Self-centred violent emotions forced on the listener. Quite horrible and a very bad influence on anyone who participates in music. The language is trite, vulgar and at times, obscene. And sometimes the intent is bestial.

There are refreshing outbursts of popularised joyful dance music from non-Western cultures and from Latin America, but they will never become a uniting force in the everyday life of the Modern world in which we live.

Music stirs the emotions at the deepest levels. Mankind yearns for goodness, wholeness, completeness, to be loved. Only virtuous behaviour – the culturing of good habits of thought, and feeling – make for wholeness. Our weakness is to allow the violence of feelings, the violence of rhythm, sheer rebelliousness, the pride of the life force (which can be turned to the most horrible acts), to dominate our lives. The more we listen to modern music the more we become less good.

F. Promising Trends

There has been over the past 50 years a revival of Baroque music, a revival scorned by the music intelligensia who prefer the Modern, the discordant, the challenging, the ugly. But, against all the trends and pressures to conform to Modernism, many musicians have identified themselves wholly with this revival to the point that they form whole Baroque orchestras and groups, playing with gentle, authentic Baroque instruments. The love of Baroque among all types of people is evident in the 150-year-old appeal of Handel’s “Messiah”, Bach’s “St Matthew’s Passion” and Vivaldi’s “Seasons”.

A good Baroque performer can make a living now from the demand by many around the world to have their hearts lifted and their souls eased by the many newly-discovered works of the old Christian world. And also becoming popular among many youth of the Western world is Gregorian chant, a development which shows that many young people are heartily sick of the decadent music of the Western world. Both these trends, will never again become universal, but at least there will be groups of people able to continue the tradition of good, graceful, beautiful music into the future.

G. My Own Music

I have fond memories of pop music, but my appreciation of them is purely nostaglic. Because music goes to the heart, one’s memories and the music of the time become inseparable. So, although I may say that I “like” a particular piece of music, it is really the memory of that time and place in my life which I like to remember. For instance, as a child, I remember a pop song “How much is that doggie in the window?” It is a cute, trite, sentimental little song. But to me it brought back fond associations of that time in my life. If one challenges me now about my musical taste: “You liked the Beatles!”, all I can say is that their music brought back fond memories. But examining their music objectively, one finds it still is “Modern” pop, admittedly inventive, and they try hard to avoid being trite. I found it hard at the time to enjoy their music and at the same time avoid the radicalisation of Lennon’s preaching; of the cynical put-downs of anything of real value. All you need is love? Free love and then post-coital angst? And now I will no longer listen to them. I prefer instead to listen to music which is pure: Bach, Handel, Corelli, Vivaldi. It is sweet and beautiful, it reaches down into the heart wholesomely and with gentleness. It is uplifting and at times beckons a universal humane sadness which echoes exactly where we all are. “Catholic” in the true meaning of the word.

H. Conclusion

If I were raising a family now, I would ban all modern music in my house, and by “modern” I mean all music after 1800! My children would be encouraged to learn the piano as well as a violin or cello or a woodwind instrument. They would attend Latin Gregorian Mass; they would learn to sing chant and the Latin hymns and they would be surrounded by Palestrina, Vittoria, Bach, Corelli, Vivaldi, etc. The guitar, bass and drums would be banned. There really is no room in a family for angst, rebellion, or violent expressions of emotions or thought. A family needs to be surrounded by virtue – virtuous music, virtuous reading and entertainment.

A family should be encouraged to play (rather than listen to canned) music and sing traditional airs around the piano. Work, pray, and play together.

VIII – Modernity and Art

PART TWO: Ugliness dressed as Beauty

Now let’s get the issue of “beauty” and “ugliness” cleared up. Yes, I know it is said time and again that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. This is used to justify Relativism at its core. So, it is used by Moderns to avoid any criticism of modernity.

Beauty in art and music is the recognition of the mind of the balance of forms of a made thing. The proportion of the parts to the whole, the suitability of the form to the function of a thing. A carved spoon can be judged beautiful if it performs well the function of being a spoon. It holds just the right amount of matter, it balances in the hand, it is the right weight for a person to hold. It may even have decoration which enhances the shape of the spoon. It may even have other decoration which delights the mind in its delicacy of line with the shape and direction of the use of the spoon for eating. For instance, a spoon is ugly if it cannot hold its matter, is unbalanced, is too long for a normal human being to direct the food to the mouth; or has decoration which distracts the mind from the food – draws attention away from the food, like having scenes of excreta on the handle.

I do not think most people would have any difficulty with applying non-relativistic standards to the making of a spoon. A work of art is a thing made “well done”. We can apply this all works of mankind: the teacher teaching, the surgeon operating – is the job well done? When it is done well, we can exclaim: “You beauty.”

The problem really lies in using the term “beauty” when applied to complex forms and ideas, such as in Fine Art forms of the Visual arts, but as well, in the forms of Music and Literature. The idea of “Fine” art is an invention of Post-Renaissance intellectuals. But let us continue with the idea of a thing being made well, being in proportion to its end. Before the Renaissance, most paintings were made for mainly specific religious reasons. They had a function: to glorify God or to tell a religious story, or be an icon – a holy image in itself. One would judge a painting on how well it conveyed those ends. Colour, form, space: all brought together in proportion to the end. It were craftsmen who made them: your everyday plasterer, or wall decorator. Were they made well? Of course they were. They are beautiful as only a good craftsman at his work could make.

The intellectual ideas leading to the High Renaissance in the visual arts was Humanism. Fine Art was that object of art which raised the mind of the viewer to Universal Ideals. Forms became complex in order to convey a range of theological, philosophical, or historical beliefs. The aim was to raise the mind of the viewer to the highest form, the highest idea of Man.

So the use of the term “beauty” now entailed forms which in turn in-formed a refined viewer, a viewer who could identify with the belief of the Ideal Man as seen through the beliefs of Christendom and Platonic philosophy. The artist searched for nobility of the human form based on the arithmetical and geometric principles of the Ancient Greeks as well as the virtues of Christian chivalry, gentleness, and godliness transmitted through Europe by the belief in the Incarnation of God in Man.

Fine Art then could be judged to be beautiful not only to the standards being “well made” by the tradesman artist, but also being “well made” to the standards of Christian Idealism. There is no room here for “beauty being in the eye of the beholder”. The beholder needed to live within the culture of the refined Christian Humanist. One had to be informed, to be open to being raised by the work of art. This same aesthetic applied to the development of music and literature.

Now, if one does not believe in universals, in objective reality, in the nobility of Man, then there is no standard for anything in art other than being “well made”. Hold on here. How can we judge a Modern work as being well made, of being beautiful? All we can say is that it obeys the superficial rules of construction, form and shape, of logicality. Once we investigate the aim of the artist (if we can), we must judge that aim according to the rules of morality, the rules of universality. No Universality, no Fineness, no Goodness, then no Beauty.

Beauty is in the eye of an “informed” beholder. A beholder within a culture informed of goodness and grace, of nobility, of the ideal behind nature. Without that world, there can be no Fine Art.

And as Modernity and its philosophical assumptions are now ingrained in our Modern Culture, there is no thing informing the mind in nobility, in what it is to be “refined”, in the universal ideals of form and goodness, which would have encompassed and soothed the emotions of the artist and the beholder, which uplifts and refines the mind and emotions of Man .

So-called works of art become brutal, disjointed, deliberately challenging the very beliefs which underlie art and humanity itself. Works convey either the superficial combination of shape and colour, or smash one in the face with rebellion against nature. This assessment also applies to music.

Beauty and the Academy

The Impressionist rebellion against the Academy did have a point. By the end of the 19th Century, Modernism had killed the ideals of Christian Humanism as embodied in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. And neither had the Rationalistic Enlightenment Classicism, the symbol of the secular Modern revolution, anything left to give the New Man, except a solid architectural foundation for the public buildings of the late 19th century – all symbols of the New Man and Money.

And so Art became the expression of rebellion against the very excesses of Modernism, a means to draw attention to alienation of Man to the very society Modern Man created. The Academy of Fine Art standards became a dead project. The term “beauty” is no longer used to refer to works of so-called “fine art”. “Provocative”, “explorative”, “interesting”, “futuristic”, and “progressive”, became the terms for judging works of art.

Ugliness Enthroned

The world of Modernity is ugly. Graffiti artists point this out every day. Ugly cities, ugly noisy abominable traffic, concrete monstrosities vying with blocks of glass competing with soaring dominating walls inhumanly Babel-high – the pride of Man and Money. And the people sub-divided into little isolated pockets where the word “community” is used to make them feel as if there really is a community and there is none! And the culture engages Man by ugly inhuman fashions denying any sense of Man as a dignified person of real worth: the stubble beard, the piratical piercings, the savage tattooing, the androgynous clothing: all quite diabolical. Nothing of substance, or permanence, and certainly no fine art.

And so there is no “informed” eye of the beholder, and therefore there is no beauty. Thank the heavens, that Nature still exists. At least a tree or a blade of grass or a humble sparrow, exists in our cities to remind us of what real beauty is and what we must do to imitate such noble works which Nature has put before us.

IX – Modernity and Literature

PART THREE: Literature – Enlightenment Propaganda

Before the lofty idealism of the Humanism of the Renaissance, European literature was eminently practical.

A. Poetry and Drama

Lyric poetry honoured God or one’s chivalrous lover, epic poetry recounted the exploits of heroes such as Charlemagne or Roland. Prose reached its heights in clear, logical treatises of philosophy and theology. Or was used as ribald commentary on society. The origin of drama was in the liturgy of the Mass and the cycle of the Catholic year: the very popular miracle and moral plays of Medieval Europe.

There was no school of intellectuals judging literature as works of art. Medieval society and its art was unselfconscious. Moderns would say, naive.

The Medievals lived close to Nature. Everything was seen and felt to be connected. This meant that in the arts, the writer’s imagination knew no bounds. Anything and everything could be put together to show connections. Up to and including the Metaphysicals, Poetry was able to connect thought and feeling through the metaphors of a nature lived among men. Nature and word were joined. Shakespeare’s muse is full of the connexion of life, nature, meaning, men, and a commonality of unity of man with nature.

With the beginnings of Modernism in the late 17th, Classicism heralded the break between man and nature, even though Pope and Dryden invoke Nature as their goddess, it is a goddess undressed by their own rationalism. The Classicist is emotionally removed and examines his art, his forms, as a Newton or a Descartes. All cleverly effete.

Drama divided into the Comedy of Manners and the more serious French imitations of Ancient Greek and Roman tragedies.

The Romantic poets of the 19th Century contrived a unity of man with nature, but the horse has bolted. Nature is now remote and lost. It is a nostalgic discovery of the daffodils. A nostaglia matching the Romanticism of a Wolf or Schubert Lieder.

By the 20th Century, poetry and drama become the tools of social commentary. Ideology dominates. Or it weeps at the destruction wrought by Modernity. The Poet is alienated, as is the Dramatist and Painter, the Artiste. And as Modernity creates a universal ugliness of implemented ideologies into life, the artist paints ugliness to challenge and to reflect the ugliness of Modern Society.

B. The Literary Novel – a Modernist Invention

The Literary Novel is a Modernist invention. The Modern novel is about man, his thoughts, his feelings, his interactions with others in his world. A novel is judged on how it is “true to life” – a life centred on man. The novel is judged to be good if it simulates the reality of character, plot, life, psychology, the interactions of human relationships.

It is no coincidence that the first novelists were from the late 17th Century – the beginnings of Deism and Modernism. The world no longer wanted to hear about God – so “divisive”. Reality excluded God and Man’s relationship with God. The Novel became the new vehicle for exploring the Modernist’s world, ostensibly more real. But how real is the exploration of reality if a person’s life is centred on God. The life of many people is religious: people pray, address their God all through the day, are aware of themselves as part of a religious story which takes place daily. Yet, this huge aspect of life is ignored in the novel. Let us also consider the very real conflict some people every day one has with “conscience” at its very depths – the fight with God. You will not find that in “realistic” novels.

The most realistic personal writings in the past were by the saints: such as St Augustine’s “Confessions”, Dante’s trilogy, St Catherine’s “Dialogue of Divine Providence”, and St Teresa of Avila’s “Autobiography”. These works reveal very deep reflections of the relationship of the soul and God in dealing with the challenges of life, stream-of-consciousness narration, totally honest, humane, and almost “modern” in their understanding of what it is to be a human being – a normal, everyday person in their struggles in life.

It is not until the end of the 19th Century, that the novel, especially the historical novel, becomes of age: popular, universal, and the main means of Modernist Liberal propaganda. And this trend extends right into the 21st Century. Novel after novel explores social, political and religious injustices. First, the villains are the aristocracy, the Tories, Catholics and the higher Anglican clergy – the enemies of the Liberal Revolution. The villains then become the rich, the capitalist, the bourgoisie. And then, in the late 20th and early 21st century, the villain is anyone who dresses well, has taste, who has manners, or who is a “fundamentalist”, a bigot – but must be a religious bigot.

It is interesting to watch films adapted from older stories. The heroes, who once were virtuous chivalrous nobles, are reinvented as rebel teenagers, or “cool” and slovenly – the new virtue: being true to the freedom of one’s emotions, a real “dude”. Any control over one’s behaviour is seen as aristocratic pretence!

C. History Literature
The writing of History by academics is an Enlightenment Project – interpreting events in the past in the Spirit of Progress and Humanism, with the over-arching theme of showing just how evil the Catholic Church and its impact on delaying Progress and Civilisation.

Edward Gibbon’s mighty work – The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – gives free rein for the author to interpret every event involving the Church in the poorest of light. The Enlightenment interpretation of History becomes the main theme of 19th Century English historians and continues right through the 20th Century.

D. Contemporary Novels
There is little of value in reading present day novels. Many portray the dull, grey lives of people caught in the hopelessness of Modernity: broken marriages, lonely women and abandoned children. Many rely on including immodest sexuality and general acceptance of immorality to identify with the reader. Many portray the challenge of people from multicultural backgrounds adjusting to modern life – with the approval of the author on the side of the modern rather than the traditional.
Novels for men rely heavily on violence, sex, war, and heroes whose heroism omits any other virtues than courage and manly skills. There are no manly heroes in modern novels full of gentleness, kindness, grace, modesty, charity, etc. It would seem inconceivable now that a hero could be manly and courageous and virtuous!! So much for Gawain, Percival, Lancelot and Galahad!

E. The Catholic Novel
Intellectual Catholics in the 20th Century tried to employ the literary novel as a means of portraying Catholic life: Mauriac, Bernanos, Greene and Waugh being the most famous. But they had bought into the Modern agenda. The Catholic novelist had become too aware of modernistic criticism of their novels based on “bringing God” into everyday life. So Catholic novelists based their plots on the main character experiencing some moral dilemma which would be solved in the end by some act of moral heroism generated by Catholic belief. The characters are portrayed as anti-heroes, extreme personalities, ignoble, or self-righteous: all it seems with one eye on the modern critic, who would insist on so-called “realism”.

But one would be then led to believe that Catholicism is nothing but morality – hardly a religion which moves and directs one’s emotions, thoughts, perceptions, interactions with others … totally opposite of the writings of Catholics in the Catholic world who are totally unselfconscious of Catholicism affecting their life.

F. Conclusion
The contemporary media of novels, film and TV dramas are devoid of life. Predominant is the sensational: extreme blatant in-your-face violence and sex, end-of-world scenarios, fantastic super-heroes, or dark portrayals of the everyday life of broken families, abuse, rape, angry men and women. Or progressive propaganda stories which take pleasure in cynically reducing any seemingly “good” or traditional life-style as basically hypocritical and corrupt.

Moral and cultural and subjective Relativism and Reductionism reigns supreme. There is no real substance of beauty, truth or goodness about contemporary culture. No real end nor resolution to life’s problems. Nihilism underpins it all. Concepts of “being nice” and “being tolerant” are pulled out of a hat to save the plot and redeem the hero. No storyline is allowed to really examine where in the “hat” these values come from or why they are there in first place.

X – Modernity – Where to from here?

There are many writers, poets and philosophers who bemoan the alienation of man in modern society – our becoming Zombies to Global Market Communism. Some proffer further progressive social and political action; some proffer exerting one’s freedom to express oneself; some sheer rebellion against the world.

But in everyday life what do we do? If we do not have any objective higher good to aim for: no flag-waving; no institutional markers; no cultural, religious or ethnic authorities to guide us, we assuage our passions. We get a job for fulfilment and above all money to stay alive; we find pleasure where and whenever we can find it: sex, music, friends, projects, drinking and drugs. And fill our lives with distractions – and this technologically-driven world of ours can supply an almost infinite variety of distractions. All is changeable, and solipsistic.

Now distractions are healthy if there is some objective truth, beauty, and goodness in them: that these past-times make the world a better place; but the modern world offers us no ideal, no end, nothing in its distractions to ennoble us, to uplift us – we instead become immersed in the void. Cultural Nihilism prevails.

We find some kind of stability in pairing-up, marriage if you will, and possibly, children and a family, which in itself creates a kind of higher good. The question then becomes: Does this state of being create a moral obligation above the demands of ever-changing passion? If so, then one has accepted the Old Order! If not, then the kind of love which had drawn us into a relationship is nothing but the temporary curse of passion. Or if the situation is never resolved – neither of us are really put to the test of the moral demands of the higher good – to sacrifice all of one’s self, total commitment to the pairing. We circle round the issue and avoid situations which put our commitment to the test.  In many cases there is this underlying unease, a sense of basic insecurity that it may all explode.

The Old Order treated the pairing of man and woman as higher than each individual. The two form a social bond with rights above the demands of each one; and subsequent duties to the higher good. Unbreakable, socially stable and the origin of all other private goods. Marriage was sacred. Individual passions must be subordinated to the good of the whole. And all of society then supported the bond.

The trouble with us ordinary people is that almost every kind of information, data, we receive – all the cultural, social, political, media data – is opposed to the very idea of stability, of accepting higher goods above the needs of the individual.
There are many crocodile tears shed for marriage and family breakdown but no real solution is proposed because any real solution would imply that the whole Liberal, Socialist, Capitalist agenda is a mirage!

At bottom is the great unease of an unexamined life. To dwell deeper into ourselves calls forth our demons. That is why silence is forbidden: we surround ourselves with noise and constant prattle, hubbub. And if we confront our demons, we fall: into drink, drugs, sex, anger, violence …

Pascal said: “Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair.”

One may, indeed, retort that this state of affairs is the same for all of us.

Yes indeed, but some of us know that we are living East of Eden, in this Vale of tears, which the Fall of Mankind has brought about.

Yes, the basis of lives is insecure, we were born to be uneasy.

Yes, we live distracted lives.

Yes, the demons are still there forming a gate around our hearts.

Yes, it is extremely difficult to control our passions.

Yes, to live a good life is a continual struggle.

But, some of us live in Christian Faith and Hope. We know that right under all – to the very depths of our hearts Goodness, Beauty, Love and Wholeness resides and loves us no matter what. Even though the demons try to keep the Gate of our Hearts closed, He gives us peace and the strength to overcome our passions with a Love greater than all possible loves. There is a greater Good above all the other higher goods that this world offers. We can only gain that highest Good by total sacrifice of ourselves in carrying whatever crosses may come in the hope which He brings.

Relationships may break down; our children may rebel; lawless violence at home and in the streets may increase and overcome our lives; but that Love takes up residence in our hearts forever if we will. Death itself has been conquered.

Each minute of our lives is then given ultimate meaning: to work in love towards the Good, the True, the Beautiful. Life then is the ground to seek and to grow in love of the highest good. Distractions become a challenge for us to divert the diversions to goodness.

Silence becomes a challenge to face up to the demons and dispel them with love of the Cross, embracing the demons themselves for they do not know what they do!

All then is for Love and to keep returning to the source of that Love. Love, with a capital letter “L” is love of the highest good, Good, God, much higher than sentimental love, which is a frail imitation of the real thing.

The End. Ecstatic union with Incarnate Love Himself. This then is the Peace that the world cannot give.

That Horrible Word, “Sin”

The Modern world spurns this word. All sorts of evil connotations arise at its very mention: guilt, psychological assessment, right-wing fundamentalism, hypocrisy, etc.

So, let us start once again at the beginning:

All things are good. Everything made is good, according to their natures: the atom, the stars, the planets, all living things, even earthquakes and tidal waves – all being true to the nature, the pull of things to be as they are. Everything which exists is good for the fact of existing is good – the very wonder of being here, now, it is. All is good.

But things decay, die, cease to be. And things change and become other things which themselves are good. Nothing in the physical world of nature is forever: galaxies may form and expand to gaseous nothingness, suns die and become black holes, plants and animals die and create other forms of living matter. It is good that things fulfil their natures. All things move towards their ends, pulled to join with other things. There is a universal gravity of all things to become. Yet, none becomes perfect. That is the nature of things.

Man is a living thing. Man has a nature, a nature to fulfil as a living being but also as a knowing, willing thing. A man thirsts to know the natures of things. A man hungers to be fulfilled as a person. But as a person he cannot be fulfilled without his heart and mind completely in unity with a reality beyond the limit of his own imagination. He seeks happiness, but which cannot be found unless his mind and heart are at one with truth greater than the present, and with and in a loving personal relationship which never dies.

So, on the one hand, man is good, and to fulfil his nature he must not only fulfil the demands of physical existence, but also the seemingly unreachable happiness of his mind dwelling in and attaining truth, and his heart’s true desire to be in love forever.

Anything which leads him to the fulfilling of his nature is good. All things are good. All things can lead him to fulfilling his nature.

But Man is a willing thing. Man has the ability to choose among an endless array of objects, things, events, etc., in order to attain his end: being a living thing and gaining possession of the truth and fulfilment of his person – unity with personal goodness.

Choices are to be made: what will this choice lead to? One thing may lead to death. I die if I take this poison; I live and continue living if I don’t, yet the poison may not kill me, but cure me of a sickness. The poison is good but bad in some circumstances. In one circumstance to choose poison is to choose a lower good – nice-tasting drink, satisfying, but deadly in one amount; or life-giving in another amount. The best choice is one that leads to the higher good.

All choices are between a higher good and a lower good. We make mistakes in choosing between goods. We do not always know the full nature of a thing or act, and so we act against our natures in ignorance. We lack the full truth of nature. Or, we deliberately choose the lower good for purely selfish reasons: we choose to continue watching TV rather than help wash the dishes: both of which are goods, but one good is higher than the other.

To choose the lower good is to go against our own nature, which is to reject the end for which our mind and heart yearns for. To choose to continue watching TV instead of helping wash  the dishes is to prefer one small satisfaction of our desire to making wholesome the order of the household, social harmony, family peace, these latter being helpful in our living on earth and ordering our habits towards the goal of being in unity with total goodness.

This little choice of the lower good strikes against our end. It strikes at the heart of what we are to be. Animals do not do that! Every person on earth does do that: choose lower goods and not goodness! That is what is called “sinfulness”. These choices deny our natures. We raise our fist at our own nature. Actually, we have raised our fist against the whole universe: the universe of things do not do what we do –  all other things obey their own natures. We don’t.

Yes, I know, one will say, we are not perfect. We are not perfect as living things because we cannot always choose to stay alive or to grow physically. But we all have used our very freedom, the very noble, dignified ability to choose, as a means to undermine nature: our nature. This habit of Man is bad!

There are even worse choices – to choose things which attack another’s nature and at the same time our own: to give in to anger, lust, envy, sloth, greed, and do murder, theft, and adultery to appease our prideful desires. Not only are we, of all things in the universe, oriented to weakness in choosing goodness, but also we do great harm to others as well as ourselves.

We choose also to ignore this state of being Man, and deny that things are good, that reality is a wonderful thing, full of things, of being, of goodness, of truth. We choose to deny that we have a nature pointed to goodness. We deny that there is any real goodness, that it is all a man-made subjective reality. Yet, we are really cowards at heart, because we do not act on these denials: we want goodness of ourselves, we see the goodness of others, we hope for goodness, we thirst to be loved, to love others, and we thirst for the truth about nature. And all to avoid guilt: the guilt which comes from actually seeing the nature of ourselves, our true end, and our failure to reach for it. We shake our fist but only the truly insane act on that total denial.

And guilt is bad. Yep. Guilt implies punishment. There is a deep-seated understanding in us all that some kind of justice exists. We certainly are not slow to demand justice when it does not concern the faults of ourselves: we can easily become social justice warriors, or religious fundamentalists accusing the unfaithful. Our sense of justice is of course true. The demands of Justice means punishment: good shall be rewarded and evil punished – the heart of all morality, the basis of order in society.

How to escape this quandary? The quandary? Avoiding the implications of being a human being and guilt, yet not wanting justice to fall on ourselves?

Our hearts need healing. We need to be loved out of ourselves. We need to touch true love, to really feel and to really know that we are loved despite of ourselves. We need to be shown mercy. We need to see and to know goodness physically – no airy-fairy intangible goodness. We need our minds, and our thoughts to be enlightened in the darkness of our hearts – for our hearts will cover up truth so quickly to prevent the light! And only something acting outside of ourselves yet inside ourselves in our hiddenness can heal us. Our poor, poor, frightened, wounded hearts!!

Now, let us cut to the chase!

All the above is not new. Every man since time began has faced this problem. Every wise man has commented on it – the problem of sin, guilt and justice. From the beginning of time cultures, societies, have all tried to solve the problem. The solution is obvious: religious belief. That there is goodness itself, that man has to face up to that goodness, that there is ultimately goodness and justice. That goodness will be rewarded and evil ultimately be punished. That sin, guilt and punishment are with us, unavoidable.

You cannot avoid the problem by skirting around it by claiming it is all a social or political issue, pure evolutionary constructs of society. Why? because one has to make choices between what kind of society or political system will suit your own concepts of goodness. You will be forced back to one of two choices: either it is all subjective – any goodness system I choose is purely for here and now; or governed by an objective observation of nature and man.

The Nazi, the Pol Pot, Hannibal Lector, or the saintly: nothing to choose between them. Evolution depends on the word “fittest for survival” – note the word “fittest”, and “survival”. Why should one accept either word, unless one had already made a judgement about nature having laws, about survival being a good! If nature has laws written into itself then so has man.

Either there a reality in the words “goodness” or there is nothing good nor evil, but my thinking makes it so. No-one really acts on the latter option. It is unsustainable. And so  we are left to religious solutions.

Note please, that this whole essay does not mention God. Well … it does. The word, goodness derives from the word, God. I know it hurts, but once one realises one cannot escape the reality of goodness one cannot escape the reality of Godness. And why does it hurt? Because we are guilty! We cannot escape guilt, because we cannot escape sin.

Could goodness itself be so real and physical to touch us and reach into us and heal our wounded hearts? Could goodness be true, straight up front, clear, absolute “mano e mano”, man to man? Could goodness speak and say “I love you, I who made you, forgive you for offending against the very nature I gave you.” Could goodness instead of punishing us reward us for sinning by saying “I will give you your very heart’s desire: pure love physically forever and ever.

The Afterlife: Heaven, Hell or other?

Our Modern Age seems to have a very vague sense of the afterlife: most of us definitely do not want to even think about it. When we do, it is when someone close to us dies, a friend dies, a child dies … and we hear vague statements about the deceased somehow in some way surviving in some kind of afterlife.

It doesn’t really matter that we see ourselves as atheists, but more probably, agnostics – God doesn’t come into it. We still have this “hope” that something of ourselves survives death: as a soul, as a bird, as a star, part of a rainbow, a something more than a memory, a sort of angel or fairy thingey.

Those intimations are indeed from the vast store of mankind’s beliefs since time began! Every race, religion, tribe, clan, kingdom, civilisation, believed in some kind of afterlife, even the caveman. One of the oldest remains of the most ancient grave sites of pre-historic man had grave goods as part of his and her burial – goods to accompany the dead on their journey to the afterlife.

There are common strands in mankind’s beliefs about the afterlife: a place of punishment and reward, a land of shadows, where there is some connexion between the living and the dead, some kind of journey takes place, and there is final destination determined by one’s actions while alive.

This place of the afterlife is called by many names: Hades to the Greeks and Romans, Sheol to the Jews, and the names of the various “heavens” and “hells” in Buddhism and Hinduism, “happy hunting grounds” of the North American Indians, the home of the ancestors in very many cultures, etc. In both China and Japan there is a very deep connexion between the ancestors and one’s family. Traditional beliefs entailed the idea that there remains some kind of real connexion between the living and the dead.

As an aside here: Buddhism has become an alternative belief for many non-religious Moderns – quiet meditation, a take-it-or-leave-it disciplined way of life, a set of non-threatening moral commands, and an end in eternal bliss. Yet how disturbing it is to see paintings in Thailand of the tortures in the Buddhist Hell – the absolute horrors of the damned – those who break the traditional natural laws common to mankind. And then to look back and examine the very real strictures of traditional Buddhism in contrast to the cafeteria Buddhism of Moderns.

Together with these common traditional beliefs about the afterlife, is the common need by the traditional bereaved to help the dead on their journey by prayers and grave gifts for sustenance for the trip. Traditional rituals also made the very necessary sacrifice of an animal or precious thing to mollify the spirits in charge of the departed.

It is natural to mankind to believe in an afterlife of some kind. Modern confusion comes from the decline of Christianity in the Western world, the separation of modern people from their traditional cultures which gave a secure understanding of death and the afterlife, and the growth of religious agnosticism, which has cast modern man adrift at the very time in his life when he confronts the “fact” of death.

What happens is that the death event calls up one’s own standing to one’s religious beliefs – guilt generally – a determined running away from anything resembling “superstition” (after all, we are progressive, scientific people), but then the need also to handle the huge impact death has on our lives.

After all, the fact of death is the most confronting, truly terrible event in our lives. There is no avoiding the fact. This fear of “nothingness” or the fear of the totally unknown experience or the fear of losing one’s body is truly a terrible event. Even to those who believe in an afterlife: death is the tearing of one’s body away from the person. “I, the me, the identity, may indeed survive, but there is no way that whatever comes next, will ever be the same, without my body, the physical expression of what makes me a human being!” Such grief there is in the prospect of one’s own death or that of a loved one. One will never be in that experienced relationship ever … ever again. What a loss!

“Heaven”?
And so, we mix up a whole vague set of ideas to make us comfortable. Some vague sense of Heaven is mentioned. We need to feel that our loved one is happy in some way, and so we talk about “heaven”. But what or where is “heaven”.

Traditional non-Christian heaven is totally unlike Christian heaven. The trouble is that modern man mixes up the bits of the Christian heaven with bits of the old heavens of the past. So, lets get things straightened out!

Yes, indeed, in the non-Christian traditional heaven,a good person who dies, an innocent child who dies, may indeed go to a place of happiness – a happiness of light and beauty, a gentle refreshment of “heart” and soul. The person is rewarded by the demands of justice riding through the universe that good shall be rewarded and evil punished. There is no escaping the demands of justice, otherwise life on earth is totally meaningless: anyone can do anything evil they like and get away with it at death! Those agnostics who thirst for justice in the modern progressive thrust of political debate, who are the first to speak out about the obvious injustices of this world, must then by logic demand that justice be done, otherwise their words are just pointless! And so, nature demands justice! it is part of our DNA. If not in this life then in the next, Justice will come: the good are rewarded and the evil are punished.

Justice demands punishment, the “law of Karma” or the Natural Law, or the “Tao” of the East, is written in our conscience, governs the universe, nature demands reward and punishment. Those who need punishment are sent further “down” the levels of a Hades or Sheol; those who are the just are sent further “up”.

Where does the idea of forgiveness, and softness regarding death?

We all fail by the demands of Justice. The traditional “heaven” looks to be filled only with the souls of the very young and the souls of the few “just” men and women.

And so, we mix in Christian belief in the forgiveness of sins (from out of thin air!), and the old traditional belief of heaven, leaving a vague sense of everything being all right after all – no need for sorrow except for the personal loss of relationship, and a vague hope that we will see or be with our loved one again in some way or another.

The Christian heaven is totally beyond such naturalistic traditional beliefs. The Christian belief is that we are called to be perfect, to be with God Himself, to become God-like, to share the vision of the intensity of the love of Almighty God, God about Whom it is said: “To see God is to die!” – a vision so beyond imagining. More frightening than Death itself! More frightening if not for Love itself. If we are not perfect and full of Love when we die, we, if willing, will be made lovingly perfect – a very, very painful but loving process for most of us. And finally, we will have our bodies back, glorified, “super-bodies” physically and joyfully, ecstatically, in touch with our loving families, and friends.

The Christian heaven is nothing like the traditional belief in some “heavenly” after-life. No place of relative peace and happiness, of those demeaning images of playing harps, but a thrusting into a full personal facing-up to and with God Himself. And the so-called “forgiveness of sins” that we so magically call up to comfort us at the thought of death, comes at a price! Justice dying at the hands of Injustice for Mercy’s sake: a price we are all called to pay.

So, us Moderns scramble around avoiding the confrontation which death brings concomitant with religious belief. We end up “celebrating” the life of the deceased, but not giving them what they may desperately need – prayers to help them on their way. To pray for them and to make sacrifices, would entail belief in some kind of invisible authority above us. Even many Christian funeral rituals have mainly succumbed to the modern need to celebrate a life rather than to mollify the guardians of the souls.

To avoid such religious complications, we mix in a little reincarnation here or a little New Age Spiritualism here: the deceased becomes a bird, a fairy, a sparkling thought, and maybe even a little angel. But real connexion? We avoid the very real connexion with the deceased soul, spirit, a real being – good or bad – who we may pray to (to talk entreatingly with), who may pray for us, may hear our prayers, and may silently be present in our daily lives. Traditional beliefs firm up these connexions.

But we Moderns honour them with a photo as a reminder to ourselves, but avoid their presence in our continuing lives just at the time when we most desperately need them, in case that entails the supposed “silliness” of ghosts, goblins, and “spirits”.

For all others, except us Moderns, the whole event of death and the process afterwards is accompanied with age-old ritual which encompasses the whole nature of man and the very general sensible beliefs about the afterlife and death. It is still of great comfort to the dead to visit the grave site and lay flowers, gifts of life, not just as a memory, but a real reaching out to the dead – “I am here, dear. I am with you. Pray for me.”

And so sad this all is – this Modernity, this creeping atheism, a world of nothingness, of nothing good nor evil. If the traditional belief in an afterlife is true – that there is some real justice in the Universe; that there is some final meaning somewhere – then many of us Moderns who die are drastically missing out on the prayers and the sacrifices which are needed to accompany us and to sustain us after death.

Thankfully there are many still who offer those prayers and sacrifices for us all, including the Moderns.

“The Game of Thrones” and the “Middle Ages”

Game of Thrones is just another of those seemingly endless entertainments appropriating a thoroughly twisted view of the Middle Ages: an interpretation of a period of our history distorted by 500 years of prejudice, an interpretation reinforced by repetitious tropes, to the point when it is almost useless to try to get people to understand any aspect of the Middle Ages.

And yet, the Middle Ages is the very foundation of our Modern World. One could then say then that the Child, our modern world, hates its mother, to the extent of Matricide!!

The very terms, “Middle Ages”, and “Medieval” were invented by 15th Century Renaissance scholars to describe the period between the “good”, noble, arty, literate Classical era of Ancient Rome, and their own proud age of the rediscovered beauty of the Classical era. Everything between, from the Fall of Rome to c.1450 was dross, written off as in the Middle. They longed for the return of ancient Roman civilisation and its culture, art, music, literature, and laws. They wrote off 1000 years of our history, the very history which formed the foundations of his – Renaissance man’s – own ability to stand outside of himself and analyse the past.

What a travesty of history! Somehow Renaissance man just miraculously was able to think and analyse the past, to evaluate art and beauty, to explore ancient texts, texts of course, which just sprang out of the blue. European scholarship just sprang out of 1000 years of barbarism and artistic misery? One mustn’t mention where those universities of Europe began from which these Renaissance scholars received their doctorates.

And then the “Middle Ages” received its double whammy – the Protestant Reformation. From 1500 onwards much of Northern Europe as it turned Protestant, denied the traditions borne out through 1500 years of Christianity. For some Protestants, Christianity became corrupted right after the Apostles died, for others during Constantine’s reign c. 320 when the Church became established as Roman. And so, the Middle Ages was seen as the reign of the “Whore of Babylon” – the Pope. “Superstition” prevailed, and the doctrines of Catholicism – the enemy – darkened the mind of mankind.

And then the intellectuals – a new breed of men – sprung out of the Wars of Religion: the “Enlightened” ones who invented the new philosophies of idealism and empiricism – the foundations of our modern ideologies. The Enlightenment intellectuals cast the Middle Ages as a period of intellectual torpitude devoid of reason. The Middle Ages received this “triple whammy” – an age dominated by religious dogmatism, and at the heart of this was the Catholic Church – the enemy.

So, in order to celebrate the victories of Renaissance Humanism, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the great Liberal Revolution, intellectuals have, over and over, and over and over, through 500 years now made the Middle Ages a monster to kill with every weapon. One could run through an enormous list of history and philosophy books, novels, plays, films, cultural motifs, etc., all of which have as their fundamental basis the willing distortion of the Middle Ages!

Let us examine this Monster.

This Monster founded the universities of Europe from c 1100 to 1300. There were reportedly 20,000 students at the University of Paris about the late 1100s – about the same number as now. Oxford and Cambridge, Bologna, Padua, et al., all rose about this time. The medieval medical school in Naples was famous in the known world.

As early as 800 AD (in the Dark Ages), Charlesmagne, insisted that every parish church in his vast empire have a school to teach all the children to read and write. He was so determined in this that much of his vast horde from his conquests was used to fund this project. Furthermore he had inspectors ensure that this dying wish of his was carried out. Parish schools and scholarships developed throughout Europe and grew through the next 500 years.

Representative parliaments all developed across Europe during this time of the 1100s: the rule in each kingdom was that a king may not issue a new tax without the consent of a meeting of nobles, clergy and commoners and this was not just in England! Cities, merchants and free-holders voted and became more powerful as the economy of Europe grew.

Welfare? Hospitals, aged care homes, orphanages, pensioner systems, homeless care, soup kitchens, were in place, mostly in the charge of large numbers of religious, but some funded by the nobility.

But, let us get to the heart. All very well assembling a list of wonderful Medieval inventions, discoveries, structures, cathedrals, etc. What were these Medieval people like? Where were their hearts?

Words and new connotations of words are invented in each age to express new thoughts and feelings which are demanded by new experiences.

And what new words and new connotations of words were invented in England in the Middle Ages to express these new experiences? Words such as pity, gentle, mercy, beauty, bounty, charity, delicate, devotion, grace, honour, humble, passion, patience, peace, purity, tender, loving-kindness, long-suffering. Many of these words were taken out of the religious context and placed in the relationship, not between God and men, but between everyday people, to express these new relationships. Other new words came about to express the loving relationship between men and women: dalliance, dainty, debonair, delight, pleasure, love-longlingly.

Here we have a new world of developing tenderness and solicitude between people and especially between men and women and children.

Even the word “lady”: a curt Germanic word meaning “load-kneader” in 400 AD had come to mean someone gracious and tender by 1200AD.

How can we then place a world of these new affectionate expressions beside the world of the Game of Thrones and the many other Medieval-based inventions of modern times?

What brought about a change in human relationships of such depth? About 1100 AD we have minstrels roaming the lands of Europe singing of untouchable ladies whose beauty enchants noble men, who are inspired to live a life of purity and gentleness; who are inspired to defend the down-trodden, the weak, the defenceless; and for some to sacrifice their noble warrior lives for the poor and sick. For instance, the cult of St Francis was the most popular in Europe for a hundred years – young men and women from noble families who give their lives up for humble poverty for the sake of a Crucified God who identifies with the poor and lowly.

Of course, I know the answer. It were the doctrines and traditions and “superstitions” of the Catholic Church – the enemy of the Modern world, which brought about the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages started to come to an end by the mid 1300s: by then the Commercial and Population Explosions of the Middle Ages had ended. Kings started to become independent from their nobles and from the Church; and by 1600 – the Age of Absolute Monarchy. The Age of Ideologies took their place, and now the underlying Medieval culture of Europe in dying. Soon we will look back in sadness at those affectionate words of Medieval England and wonder what basis there should be for them? Just superficial sentiment?

The Incredibles and The Resurrection

Recently, I took the guilty opportunity to watch The Incredibles replayed on TV, while my wife and daughter were watching British drama on the main TV. I had been informed in the past that The Incredibles was a good film, but then again I have been so disapppointed by recommendations of contemporary animated films: their obvious moral relativism, their rude, tawdry preoccupation with adult issues disguised as childishness, rather than childlike innocence; their political ideologies, etc. They are cleverly constructed, and only very mildly amusing. In fact, I had given up going to any film on release, relying on the video release, so I can fast-forward through the graphic sex and violence and perhaps, just perhaps, enjoy what may be a really interesting story.

Well, The Incredibles took me by surprise. I was enchanted and experienced some joy, like the little boy on the tricycle at the end of the film, who expresses great delight at the final display of superpowers by the ordinary family next door. Wonderful indeed. But why? After all, this was the second time in 15 years I had been really impressed by any cultural work.Fifteen years ago I accompanied my art history students on a tour of France and Italy. Unexpectedly, we were all more impressed by Giotto’s narratives in the Arena Chapel and Martini’s Annunciation panel in the Uffizi than all the Renaissance works put together. According to the learned, and I count myself included, we should have experienced the Renaissance works as superior, conveying the nature of the Catholic Faith more effectively through greater, more convincing naturalism. Instead, Giotto’s narratives and ornate Mediaeval altarpieces carried the day.

Last year, I retired from teaching, and we immigrated to Sydney, Australia, from little ol’ NZ (Kiwiland). We joined the Maternal Heart of Mary Traditional Catholic Mass FSSP Community at Lewisham in Sydney. After a month going to Solemn High Mass there, the same feeling washed over me – heartfelt joy and hope. I looked to my wife and there she was, in tears of happiness. We were both actually singing Latin Gregorian, among clouds of incense, the Elevation among pealing bells, candles, the profound bowing, the numerous genuflections, the veils and Medieval Latin hymns.

The Incredibles, Medieval Art and Traditional Solemn High Mass? I think I could throw into this mix the climax of Pride and Prejudice, and Frodo’s cry of “Elbereth, Githoniel” in Shelob’s lair.

I may hazard a guess about reactions to Giotto and Medieval Art – innocence, purity and especially humility – the Mystery of Faith, human and divine. The same with the Gregorian Solemn High Mass. There is profound gentleness and no sentimentality.

But why The Incredibles?

The little boy realises that there are indeed super bodies which only he could dream about in his wildest dreams. Yes, the goodies win, but what joy to behold “ordinary” people possessing what may in fact be a promise to us all, an expectation that we might break free from the limitations of physics. I think, Startrek fans share similar fantasies. But then all mankind share this dream: that if we could have our way, we would live forever as human beings with real bodies, to fly, to go where no man has gone before, to thrill with absolute bodily freedom free from the limitations of our world. I do not think we really want “spiritual”bodies – real, physical bodies is what we would prefer, thank you very much. The Greek and Germanic gods had such bodies, and I suppose, most other developed religions thought the same.

Human beings really do want to live forever. But then we want to be happy as well. Death sucks. The little boy, in The Incredibles, like the rest of us, has a sneaking suspicion that it all may be possible, and that is why we respond with him – yes, let me have one too. And the reason for our reticence in voicing our hope in this fantastic possibility – to live bodily forever – is that none has set us a scientifically-proved example of breaking the barriers of physical space and time.

But, one cannot have this gift unless one is prepared to accept the full truth of the Passion, the Sacrifice, the Cross and the will to join oneself with Him. So, we can enjoy the ecstatic vision of God by becoming God in His Flesh and Blood, hearts which become like the Sacred Heart which can stand the demands of love of the Vision of God Himself.

It is all physical, mate! Christianity is all about bodies. About the hope of having a body with a heart so big that Mr Incredible’s body size and self-sacrifice is nothing compared to Christ or what is demanded of us. Yep! Christianity is Incredible. It is incredible that any group of Jews or Gentiles 2000 years could have invented a set of promises which infinitely surpasses the rationalism and idealism of Greek philosophy, the promises of all other religions of the world, and answers and surpasses the hidden heartfelt desires and yearning of the whole of humanity.

The bold claim by Christians that Jesus Christ did exactly that – overcome with His body the limitations of time and space – has been attacked from every possible angle, by historians, by scholars, by scientific theorists, even by Christians themselves. In these years of the Post-Modern world, the very meaning of the terms of “The Resurrection” have been nuanced out of existence. We have people making claims that this event is no more than what a Buddhist or Hindu means about heaven – a state of perfection of the soul reaching the highest levels, and purified by good living. Or we have some Christians claiming that this Resurrection is a Resurrection “event” – a symbol of hope in goodness and hope in the future of some kind of “spiritual” perfection. A faith in having faith. A symbol of the need to have good feelings about each other, to be kind and nice to each other. We have replaced the physical meaning of the Resurrection with “finding ourselves”, “looking for the spirit inside ourselves”, closing our eyes and meditating, etc. All very “wishy-washy”, vague, insubstantial – nothing new here because human society has always had its “spiritual improvement” side-by-side with its “moral movements”. A Heaven with resurrected physical bodies has been replaced by a “state of goodness”, a “state of perfection”, a higher state of [here it comes….] “spirituality”. And with this “spiritualizing” of our hopes and dreams, the “Real Presence” becomes a “spiritual” presence of Christ – no wonder the tabernacles have been removed to the side altars!I don’t think the little boy in the film would jump up and down with these beliefs. These reductive beliefs about the Resurrection are joyless, washed-out, “mellowed”, “reflective”, self-absorbed, and certainly not physical. So, what is the content of Christian belief about the Resurrection and Heaven.

Christ had a real physical body after the Resurrection. Hundreds of Christians, not just the Apostles, saw, touched, ate, and drank with Him. He appeared at any time at any place. His Resurrected Bodily Presence was so powerful that Christianity became a religion based almost solely on the Apostles and others proclaiming His Resurrection, certainly not because he was a good, loving guy who died for our sins, and not because of his nice teachings. It was the physical fact of the Resurrection – the in-your-face physical fact.

Secondly, He promises that we all will have recognisably our own bodies, bodies which will live forever, perfect ageless bodies which will be able to do anything , not restricted to the must-therefore-be very “provisional” laws of this universe. We will be able to fly from one end of an endless universe to the other in no time.Thirdly, we have been promised the ecstatic vision of the Face of God – the Face that the cherubim and seraphim cover their eyes from, the Face that one glimpse would sear your eyeballs in their sockets, the glow of which would burn one’s flesh off one’s bones, the vision of Love which would make one’s heart leap out of one’s chest, and a vision which only God can endure. And all in the company of other physical gods and goddesses, physical princes and princesses of a physical heaven, in place and time (but not our time).

Now the big point – our hearts and minds cannot take the power of these promises. We cannot take the infinite on board just like that. To experience the infinite and eternal is for gods. This Revelation of Christ is that we can only enjoy these things of God Himself unless we become in our hearts and minds perfect like God Himself. Our hearts and minds, the very substance of what we are, has to grow in this world in order to embrace fully the possibilities of the next. Christ promises us this absolutely mind-boggling future – a future which will come anyway, a future which every human being born on this planet will experience. Some will have a bad experience of this future. Why? because they reject the very openness to the fundamental love required to enjoy the physicality of the new world – I imagine that they will live “point-bodies” circling within themselves forever. Others of us, may, we hope, become purified after death. This will be a very, very painful experience! An extreme heart-rending experience, which only the saints have experienced in this life. An experience where every unintegrated desire will be expunged by the fire of love. Only those who have fully experienced the sacrifice of the Cross will be able to enjoy these promises. Unlike the Muslims, the promise of a physical heaven demands a fundamental change in our very physical substance.

Fourthly, He gives us the physical nature of Himself in the Eucharist – the god-making power of His Body and Blood – the physical stuff of the future so that we can be the Incredibles for real! As soon as one starts to theologize, to rationalize, about this promise it is reduced. He – the Lord of the Universe, the Resurrection Himself – is “physically” present, localized, in the Tabernacle, in the Host, unlike any “spiritual” presence. The words of the early Church Fathers and John’s Gospel use Greek terms like “crunch” and “gnaw” on his bones. Those are not to be taken symbolically, or “spiritually”.

In conclusion, Giotto’s narratives convey the profound humility of Christ and a humility of what is required of us; the Medieval altarpieces convey the physical glory of the promises in the sheer physical substances of gold and fine detailed rendering of everything with such gentleness and quiet joy; the Traditional Solemn Mass conveys the same gentle, pure, humble, many-layered reality of the Promises. Here at these Masses in particular, the physical reality of the sheer mind-boggling Face of God and the Sacrifice necessary for us, is made present in the only way possible for us in this world. The modern Mass on the other hand is too nuanced, too vague, too obviously hand-made, too comfortable, and too “spiritual” – needing further instruction for the faithful to understand things which it cannot convey. The Incredibles convey the shared joy in the very possibility of the promises of Christ.

This day, August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary – taken physically to heaven, the first of mankind to experience heaven with a body. Mary, the most humble maiden, is now magnified in Heaven, she now physically sees her son’s physical Face to her physical face in his glory. She now sees us as we are now, hears our said prayers, is present where she wills to be, her will being totally united with her son’s will. Her intercessions for us are physically-present as a mother of her adopted sons and daughters. In our eating her son’s Body and Blood, we are more than her adopted sons and daughters – we are physically made her real sons and daughters. She has now become our real physical Mother.

Pray for us, Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the Promises of Christ.