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Ephraim the Syrian and the World of Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies

There is a scene from a TV sitcom I saw recently in which there was a scene in which a zombie movie was being made and the pedantic perfectionist director was permanently unhappy with his cast. In trying to get a more authentic performance out of his actors, he turned to one who had just completing a scene as a lowly extra doing nothing but the characteristically stiff, stuttering zombie walk: ‘Richard,’ he said, ‘Your performance – it’s good as far as it goes, but there’s still something missing. I’m getting lots of dead from you, plenty of dead, that’s great…But I’m not getting undead.’

This was a parody of whole genre of movies that seems to be here to stay and which seems to capitalize on the natural fascination of believers and unbelievers alike with our ultimate end and our desire for immortality. Aside from the classic zombie movies, there are others which seem to have similar themes  – vampire films and werewolf films for example. Each will have some twist on the themes of either spiritual death and immortality; or spiritual death and bodily resurrection

I admit that while I am not scandalized by such things (perhaps I should be, I don’t know) I just find most of them pretty dull. I must be unusual in this respect for they are popular and most successful make a lot of money for those who make them.

There are some that over the years I have enjoyed. American Werewolf in London, for example, which is in part a comedic spoof. And there are other films that have similar themes and which are not horror films at all. Highlander, was sombre but not a horror film, for example. Groundhog Day is another in which the protagonist cannot die and regardless of what happens to him he rises again, spiritually dead but bodily resurrected – ‘undead’ in a manner of speaking. The relative optimism of Groundhog Day arises from the fact that it is made clear quite early on that a redemption of sorts is possible and in this imagined scenario the protagonist, played by Bill Murray, eventually breaks out the cycle of misery by becoming a virtuous, loving man. After countless failed attempts at getting the same day right, he finally succeeds by acting selflessly and is permitted, by the unidentified force that controls the rules of this make-believe world, to return to a familiar reality in which time moves forward.

Why are these films successful?

Prof Caleb Brown, whom I met recently is a screen-playwright and teaches a online film appreciation class called Christian Humanism in Modern Cinema told me that it is generally accepted that in the drama of film the highest stakes – what audiences fear most, generally speaking – is not death, but rather eternal damnation or eternal misery. This is, according to Hollywood, the audience’s greatest fear regardless, it seems, of whether or not they acknowledge the existence of an afterlife.

This is part of a simple, deeper answer, which is true of any drama. And that, strange as it may seem, is that these films speak in some way to our natural sense of the story of our own lives, which is as yet not fully realized. Any film will connect with an audience if at some level – albeit sometimes superficially or falsely – it seems to strike a chord in response to the basic questions of life – where do I come from? Where am going? And Why?

The Christian film, in common with every aspect of the culture, evangelizes by illuminating the fact that the story of our own lives is a participation in the grand drama of salvation. This may be done explicitly or subtly, directly or indirectly, but this is what it must do. Then it will stimulate the facility in us to recognize our true story in the Faith and lead us to it. There is even a place for the horror movie within this, I suggest, provided that they portray a message of hope. Regardless of the terror that is protrayed, real or imaginary, if it is portrayed as either redeemable or avoidable by means that is in some form that is analagous, at least, to God’s mercy then it will lead people in the right direction. Furthermore, because these are the fundamental questions that we all want answered, this is the film producers’ guide to greatest box office success, I suggest.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells (CCC282) that the bible tells us a story that relates to ‘the very foundations of human and Christian life’. And the story of the bible is told most effectively in the context of the liturgy as Fr Jean Danielou tell us in his influential book, the Bible and the Liturgy. I recently read Robert Taft’s book, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West, and he makes a similar point. He tells us, p 371, that in order to profit from praying the liturgy as a whole, including the hours, as a school of prayer:

…one must e a person who prayes and whose life is penetrated with the Scriptures. The Bible is a story of God’s ceaseless calling, drawing, gathering and of his people’s constant waywardness. And the Fathers and monks of the early Church, in their meditation on this ever-repeated story, know that they were Abraham, they were Moses. They were called forth out of Egypt. They were given a covenant. The knew the wandering across the desert to the Promised Land was the pilgrimage of their life too. The several levels of Isreal, Christ, Church, us, are always there. And the themes of redemption, of exodus, of desert and faithful remnant and metaphors of the spiritual saga of our own lives.

And it is the first three chapters of Genesis  are crucial to this story. They express in unique way the

‘truths of creation – its origin and its end in God, its order and its goodness, the vocation of man and finally the drama of sin and salvation’ (CCC 289)

I recently heard of an interesting intepretation of the expulsion from Eden, as related in these early chapters of Genesis by Ephraim the Syrian, 3rd century Doctor of the Church.

He suggests it took place not as a punishment, but as an act of mercy to save mankind by preventing Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the tree of life as fallen people. This would have condemned them, and us, permanently to an eternal life of misery without death, as fallen people.

Rather than allow that to happen, the expulsion took place and then salvation was offered through the Christ and his Church. Through the triple sacrament of Baptism, Confirmation and Communion we die spiritually but then are raised up, again spiritually, and partake of the fruit of the new tree of life, which is Christ. This tells us that the possibility of an eternal but miserable life without death is not even possible – so we don’t need to fear vampires!

We can choose eternal misery after death, but through the mercy of God we never need to. This is the good news.

Just yesterday I read the following in the Office of Readings from St Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on the gospel of John which relates to this:

When the life-giving Word of God dwelt in human flesh, he changed it into that good thing which is distinctively his, namely, life; and by being wholly united to the flesh in a way beyond our comprehension, he gave it the life-giving power which he has by his very nature. Therefore, the body of Christ gives life to those who receive it. Its presence in mortal men expels death and drives away corruption because it contains within itself in his entirety the Word who totally abolishes corruption.

I don’t mind a portrayal of flesh eating zombies or blood sucking vampires provided that they direct us to the flesh and blood that will genuinely give us eternal life. This is story that is worth telling and it is one that everyone wants to hear. We just have to tell it and maybe the horror genre is one way to do it.

No More Christian Bar Mitvah! Thanks to Bishop Libasci

The Proper Order of Baptism, Confirmation and Communion Restored in Manchester, New Hampshire

A friend recently alerted me to a diocesan newsletter sent out by His Excellency Peter Libasci, Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire, in which he explains how he is initiating a three-year plan to reintroduce the historical order of the Rites of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and Communion. While this isn’t the only step necessary to a revival of the Faith, it is a hugely important one, in my opinion, one that helps to create the foundation for long term and beneficial impact on the formation of the faithful in his diocese. It is consistent with the way that the Catechism describes them.

As anyone who has been taking Fr Sebastian Carnazzo’s scripture classes in the Pontifex University MSA will know, (along with attendees at the recent webinar open to all Pontifex University students), these three sacraments form a natural unity and each makes sense in relation to the other two which is consistent with the goal of Christian life, eternal salvation; in the traditional order, this becomes clearer and more understandable. In simple terms, and as best as I can understand it, Baptism is the dying of the old self, united to Christ on the cross; Confirmation is the descent of the Holy Spirit on the person as experienced by the Apostles at Pentecost; and the Eucharist imparts the resurrection of the new person united to the resurrection of Christ and the partaking of the divine nature.

Regarding the improvement of ongoing formation that might result from this, Bishop Libasci gives the example of the potential for the revitalization of youth ministry. One other occurs to me; to my knowledge there is no commonly accepted articulation of the basis of a schema for the art in churches of the Roman Rite. It seems to me that the visible communication of the truths of this triple sacrament should be a guiding principle for the art that is permanently in our churches. The very architecture of the church should be ordered to reveal these mysteries week on week, day on day, whenever anyone goes into the church building. Even if this were present in a church, if the order in which the sacraments are given to people is wrong, then the message conveyed by the visible aspects of the interior is at odds with what is actually happening. Confusion results.

Furthermore, in the ideal, it seems to me that the whole congregation should be engaged with the celebration of each of the rites of initiation, so that the idea that someone is coming into their community within the Body of Christ may be clearer to all. The fundamental truths of the Faith are imparted for everyone present through the harmony of art, architecture and liturgical action – not just the select few present on a quiet Saturday morning.

The Old and New testaments types that point to the Sacrament can be portrayed in pictorial arrangements that enable the congregation to engage with them at the appropriate time. For example, in a baptistery, there may be images of the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites, the crossing of the Jordan led by Joshua, scenes of the Flood and Noah’s ark, as well as the Baptism of Christ; there are many other possibilities, of course.

This is how a participation in the liturgy might more powerfully evangelize and catechize, both prior to the rites of intitiation, and as a mystagogical catechesis to all on an ongoing basis.

My education in this comes, via Fr Carnazzo, through the books The Bible and the Liturgy and Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity, in addition to the Catechism, (and now Bishop Libasci).

Understanding of what is happening is not necessary in order for these Sacraments to be valid and effective. So, Confirmation is not a graduation ceremony that marks the completion of confirmation classes or a rite of passage for teenagers. In fact, this full three-fold initiation into the Church should be done as early as possible in life, as it opens up the person to grace and a spiritual maturity that is more likely to deepen and maintain his faith into adulthood, and keep people in churches after adolescence. The Catechism quotes St Thomas in this regard, explaining why people do not need to be aware of what they are going through in order to benefit from this triple sacrament. Salvation is as open to infants, the mentally handicapped and the uneducated as it is to the intelligent and educated:

Age of body does not determine age of soul. Even in childhood, man can attain spiritual maturity: as the book of Wisdom says: “For old age is not honored for length of time, or measured by number of years.” Many children, through the strength of the Holy Spirit they have received, have bravely fought for Christ even to the shedding of their blood.

Paradoxically, the ability to understand what they have been through and its importance in their lives at any subsequent point will be enhanced by this in those who receive it early and in the right order, as will the desire to do so.

Icon of the Baptism in the Jordan with the personifications of the Jordan and the Red Sea being driven back (cf Ps. 113)

Below is an image of Noah’s ark from the 12th-century Winchester Psalter.

The Baroque Dome of the Karlskirche

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Over at the New Liturgical Movement, Peter Kwasniewski reports on a “unusual Viennese liturgical use.” But along the way he offers up some pictures of the beautiful Baroque artwork  in the dome of the church, along with an explanation of what you’re seeing.

Take a look.

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

What the Medievals Got Right about Light by Carrie Gress Ph.D.

It is no accident that Easter happens in the spring, during that time of year when the earth is reawenaking (at least in the northern hemisphere). The days are growing longer, trees are nearly luminous with green budding leaves, and blossoms are bursting vibrant pinks, purples, reds, and white. Trumpeting Easter lilies announce the Resurrection best with their bright fragrance and simple purity.

We take for granted that Christ is the Light of the World. The role of darkness and light has a long and illustrious history in understanding the Christian moral order.

Christians certainly aren’t the only ones to recognize the value of light. In Plato’s cave allegory in The Republic, most souls are chained in position in the cave, looking at shadows cast on a cave wall by fire, believing the shadows to be the really real. The wise souls, on the other hand, are able to ascend up into the light of day outside the cave and see things as they really are. What Plato and Socrates did not know, however, was that the light of the world wasn’t an element of nature, but an actual person, both man and God.

Light became a particularly important theme early in the Christian story; Christ and sacred scripture gave the notion of light a new blessing. A deeper understanding of the luminous concept started at the end of the Dark Ages and the dawn of the Medieval Period. St. Bernard of Clairveaux, explaining the role of light in the moral and intellectual life, wrote: “He who is by his former life and conscience was doomed as a true son of perdition to the eternal flames, draws new life and hope beyond all expectation. [He is] rescued from a most deep and dark pit of horrible ignorance, and plunged into a pleasant region bright with eternal light.”

In the realm of scholastic philosophy, Robert Grosseteste, building upon St. Augustine’s use of light, would look at it with new eyes – both theological and scientific. “No created truth,” the English bishop explained, “can be perceived except in the light of the supreme Truth, God.”  Even today, Grosseteste is given credit for as a first spark for the scientific method, having experimented extensively with the in the physical form, while grappling with it intellectually.

Other thinkers would develop their own theories of divine illumination – a distinctively medieval notion that considers an enlightening of the mind directly or indirectly by God (depending upon the theory). This theory, however, while important in understanding eternal and philosophical truths, was also tightly connected to the idea of virtue and growing in sanctity. Without out The Light, there is only moral darkness.

It is no accident, then, that the promoters of these theories have similar titles: Saint Bonaventure, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Anselm of Canterbury, Saint Albert the Great, and Blessed Duns Scotus. All were scholars and holy, holy men.

Beyond the Schoolmen, there was also Saint Hildegard of Bingen, who, though not at all well educated, understood a type of illumination theory given to her directly by God. Hildegard, made a saint and doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI, wrote many divinely inspired books about the Trinity, with the recurrent theme of light and fire. “Heaven was opened and a fiery light of exceeding brilliance came and permeated my whole brain and inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast.” Light, particularly as a concept to understand God’s nature and power, is explained in very detailed and compelling terms.

This love of light bled out also into architecture. The New Style (as it was known then), or Gothic architecture pulled out all the stops to move away the dark shadows, heavy columns, and narrow windows of the Romanesque period. In their absence, soaring ceilings and expansive windows let in more light than was ever-dreamed possible. Even the flying buttresses were frozen in place so more heavy stones could be removed, with glass to go in their stead. Abbot Suger, who commissioned the Church of St. Denis to be built, wrote: “If a church’s interior should be an image of heaven for the faithful, then entering the Church of Saint Denis meant entering a heaven of light and color and a radiant, eternal divine proportion.”

Even a child knows that when there is no light, there is only darkness. Ironically, after this era of so much light, the philosophies that followed it were given the name “enlightened.” The Enlightenment philosophers rejected all that they considered dark, backward, and superstitious, which ultimately meant extinguishing the Eternal Light.

Our contemporary culture lives in the shadow of the enlightenment, placing much more trust in science than the God who gave us science. The fruit of it, on the one hand is the ability to flip on a switch and light up even the darkest night (gratefully). But what have we to show for it in our souls? What remains looks a lot more like the poor souls stuck in Plato’s cave – where we sit and look at images on the wall, believing them to be real (the irony that I’m writing this in a dark room looking at a glowing screen is not lost on me). Meanwhile the Eternal Light, the Divine Truth, and the brilliance of the really real wait quietly for our restless souls to ascend to up into their radiance again.

Carrie Gress is on the faculty of Pontifex University, her unique course, which will be offered as part of the Masters in Sacred Arts starting this summer, is A Survey of the Philosophy of Beauty, Truth and Goodness from the Ancient Greeks to the Present Day.

Her latest book, The Marian Option, God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis is published by Gracewing.

Pictures: the interior and stained glass of the upper church; and the painted lower church of the gothic Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

Learn Academic Drawing at One of the Best Known Ateliers in the US; and Earn Credit Towards a Masters in Sacred Arts

Learning to draw is to the visual arts what learning to play musical scales is to learning play a musical instrument. It is the foundation skill of visual art.

The artist’s skill rests in being able to realise the idea in his mind in his chosen medium. This idea might correspond closely to what he sees in front of him; or it might eminate from his imagination – which usually is derived from composites of memories of what he has seen in the past.

The skillful artist is one who can represent that idea accurately, and to do so he needs to be able to draw.

The good artist is the one who knows how to direct this necessary skill so that his art is a virtue – that is so that it gives glory to God and joy to mankind’. This is the Christian virtue of art; and work of such an artist will be beautiful! Pontifex University’s Masters in Sacred Arts aims to turn the skilful artist into the good artist!

The most rigorous method of learning to draw is the ‘academic’ method. John Foley teaches  at the Ingbretson Studios in Manchester, New Hampshire, which can trace it’s lineage of teachers and students back to the Boston school of the early 20th century, and before that to the academies of Italy and France. John is an up and coming Catholic artist and an experienced teacher. His summer drawing workshop can be taken for credit.

To get the credit attend the class and submit work to the teacher’s satisfaction. Once this is done pay a fee of $150 for the credit from Pontifex University that can be applied. There may be a requirement of some project work at home in order to complete the required hours of study. This week long workshop will qualify for one credit.

This is the method of teaching that goes all the way back to the giants of the High Renaissance such as Leonardo and Michelangelo. Even if you wish ultimately to draw and paint in a different style – for example the gothic or iconographic – your work will benefit from being able to draw skilfully and by learning in this method. I found that the quality of my own work went up orders of magnitude in short time by attending such an atelier in Italy.

To participate in the class contact John directly – see the poster below for details.

 

Classical Drawing Workshop

Here’s a great opportunity to take a drawing workshop from one of the finest traditional ateliers currently operating in the states, Ingbretson Studios of Drawing and Painting.

FlierIngbretson

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

Talk on the Marian Option by Dr Carrie Gress, Washington DC, June 8th

Carrie Gress in giving another talk on her new book, the Marian Option early next month. It is at the Catholic Information Center, 1501 K Street NW, Suite 175, Washington, DC 20005 and it starts at 6pm. For more information go to the CIC website here.

Carrie is a great speaker and this is an important topic.

My feeling is that the parish is the natural community for most (but certainly not all) Christians who are not called to the religious life and so it is through the regeneration of parishes that we will change society today. Carrie Gress’s book was mentioned in the discussion and my response is that this is absolutely something that can work within the model of the New Evangelization based in parishes. Mary is the New Evangelist par excellence whose every action directs us to her son.

Raphael, The Small Cowper Madonna, Italian, 1483 – 1520, c. 1505, oil on panel, Widener Collection

A true devotion to Mary, therefore, is one that leads us to devotion to her Son and through Him, to the worship of the Father in the Spirit in the Sacred Liturgy.  By this we are supernaturally transformed as part of the mystical body of Christ, His Church. This would always be in harmony with parish life and the home life of people who are members of the parish.

We need look no further, to use just one illustration, than the praying the Liturgy of the Hours in the home to see how this works. By doing this we will inevitably mean that we invoke daily the name of Mary in the hymns and canticles of the Office. For example Marian hymns such as the Salve Regina are sung every day at Night Prayer and the canticle of Mary, the Magnificat, is sung at every Vespers in the Roman Rite. Then in addition there are the Feasts of the Liturgy that commemorate Mary particularly. All of these redirect our focus from her to Him. Furthermore, if we have an icon corner set out in the traditional manner (as described in the book The Little Oratory) then Our Lady is always there. So many of these images will actually have her directing us to her son. If pray as we should and address her through her image in the holy icon, then this well in turn naturally reinforce the impetus to move on in our attention to Our Lord.

This will in turn reinforce the parish as a model of Christian community that evangelizes – to see how read my previous article, The Apostolic Model of the Parish as a Christian Community for Today.

 

How Can Art Dispel Our Doubt?

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Doubts about God, the Church, and Christian Truth are nothing new. In our of relativism and hyper-sensitivity, doubt seems to have a stranglehold on much of her population. How can artists address this spiritual crisis?

Art historian tells us how artists approached this problem three hundred years ago, and strengthened the faithful in the wake of doubt left by the storm that was the Protestant Reformation.

Read her article here.

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

CMAA Chant Intensive

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June 26–30, 2017
Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA
Offered by the Church Music Association of America (CMAA)
Taught by Dr. Jennifer Donelson, Director of Sacred Music, St. Joseph’s Seminary

The Chant Intensive lives up to its name: though no previous experience with chant is required, beginners and intermediate chanters should be prepared for full immersion from the start. You will learn or review how to read and fully navigate all aspects of traditional Gregorian notation (square notes), as well as an introduction to chironomy (directing chant) with a masterful teacher.
The course will also address correct Latin pronunciation, the sound and mystery of the eight Church modes, Psalm tones and their applications, questions concerning the rhythm of plainsong, and more. Compline will be sung to allow participants to experience the beauty of a portion of the sung Divine Office. Gregorian repertoire will be used for Divine Office and Mass.

The CMAA Summer Chant Intensive is intended for beginning and continuing students and all who love and appreciate the central role that chant plays as the prayerful song of the Roman Rite–not only at cathedrals and basilicas but in any parish. The conference will inspire and prepare participants to continue the renaissance of sacred music in our time, in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Mass. In the years since the first CMAA Chant Intensive course was taught in 2008, hundreds of students have benefited from this in-depth course in Gregorian chant.

This summer’s course will be taught by instructor Dr. Jennifer Donelson in one section including men and women.

Register here

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

The “Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages” Reopens

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Buried underground for 1500 years, Santa Maris Antiqua escaped the destruction of the iconoclast periods. Recently reopened it is a valuable reference for liturgical art from the  7th and 8th centuries.

Daniel Esparza has the story (with pictures!) at Aletia.

Jonathan Pageau, at the Orthodox Arts Journal, a partner of Pontifex University, also has an article on this byzantine treasure submitted by Fr. Paul Walker, an Anticham Orthodox priest.

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the diocese of Sacramento as well as a working artist, he writes on art and faith at www.DeaconLawrence.org