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Posts by carriegress1

If There is an Antichrist, What About an Antimary?

No matter how strong the “spirit of antimary” may be, Mary still remains the most powerful woman in the world.

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By Carrie Gress, Ph.D.

While writing my latest book, The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis, (TAN Books, May 2017), I stumbled upon the idea of an antimary.

I kept running across the notion that Mary is the New Eve—an idea that goes back to the early Church Fathers. Mary as the New Eve is the female complement to Christ, the New Adam. In Scripture, St. John speaks of an antichrist as a man, but also as a movement that is present throughout history (1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7). This got me thinking: if there is an antichrist, perhaps there is a female complement, an antimary? What, then, would an antimary movement look like, exactly?

It was not hard to come to some picture of what it an antimarian movement might look like, given that the examples in our culture today are legion.

While this article offers a basic blueprint for understanding the antimary, it scarcely scratches the surface about why Our Lady is the most powerful woman in the world. Nor does it get at the role she plays in culture, geopolitics, and even in the mundane details of our daily lives. For these and more, I’m afraid you will have to wait for the book. I  will let you know when it is available for purchase.

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Culture is Key in Evangelization

By Carrie Gress, Ph.D.

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Long before I learned about Pontifex University, I was thinking about culture and beauty, and their relationship to God.

One of the struggles most Catholics face is that members of their family are away from the Church. The reasons for this are legion, but the solutions aren’t as complicated as most people think. My book, Nudging Conversions: A Practical Guide for Bringing Those You Love Back to the Church, looks at what is actually effective in when it comes to helping our loved ones come back to the faith. One chapter in particular emphasizes the role of culture, and how it can be a much easier route to starting a conversation about faith than apologetics. While apologetics has its place, starting with culture reaches deeper into a soul because it goes beyond shallow day-to-day realities, and stirs that interior place where we all thirst for meaning, happiness, and wonder. Authentic culture, pointing beyond itself to God, opens the door to all of these.

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Here’s more from Chapter Seven:

Culture is an abstract word that can often be hard to wrap one’s head around. During the two years I spent researching it for a doctoral dissertation, I heard a wise priest articulate it very succinctly: “Culture is God’s love made visible.” After I let it sink in for a while, it occurred to me that what most consider historically the heights of culture in music, poetry, literature, clothing, architecture, and art are all beautiful. They are not tawdry; they do not denigrate the human person; and they aren’t simply useful. They reflect God’s love for us.

Culture, like all good gifts from God, is meant to be shared. No architect expects his work to merely be seen by just one person. No symphony practices tirelessly just for itself. Talents are gifts that God gives us to enjoy, but we enjoy them even more once shared. Every gift we have been given is meant not just for ourselves, but to passed along to others. Culture is simply the manifestation of these gifts being passed along.

Somehow, over the last several centuries, the centrality of beauty, truth, and goodness to the Catholic faith – all elements that make up culture – have been lost from a collective consciousness about the Church and its history. It is an odd reality, if one thinks about it for very long, considering the churches, architecture, paintings, music, poetry, literature, and other important elements of material culture and style that have been crafted by Catholics living out their faith over the centuries. Think of Michelangelo, Fra Angelico, (Fr.) Vivaldi, Dante, Bernini, Brunelleschi, to name a few.

Like a blank canvas, culture is a neutral expression that takes on the characteristics of those who live in a given society. It can become something beautiful and compelling, or something ugly and horrifying. I am convinced this is one of the reasons why people love Europe so much, because of the remnants of Catholic culture that remain. Much of Europe was build long ago when people still had faith in God and it is reflected certainly in the continent’s churches, but also in its roadside Grottoes one still sees in Poland and Greece, or the ornately fashioned Madonnas nestled in the second-story corners of buildings, the medieval Latin phrases still inscribed on stone arcades, or the sometimes capricious, but always enthralling fountains in Paris or Rome. The list continues with the imagination, architectural feats and breath taking beauty of European churches, including the awe-inspiring soaring ceilings of Chartres Cathedral, the embrace of St. Peter’s Square, or the radiance of the stained glass at Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. (Nudging Conversions, excerpt from Chapter Seven)

img_2704        It can be easy to overlook the role culture plays in our lives and our faith. Finding ways to “breath in authentic culture” isn’t always easy, but like most things in the Catholic faith, even the very smallest things – a beautiful card, a simple piece of well-made jewelry, a striking icon, an elegantly arranged bouquet of flowers – can be enough to spark wonder and awe in a soul suffering from despair, angst, or boredom.

Get a free copy (+shipping and handling) of Nudging Conversions at Dynamic Catholic.

 

In the Mail: Dietrich von Hildebrand’s “Aesthetics Vol. I”

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By Carrie Gress, Ph.D.

I just got my copy of Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Aesthetics Vol I, released this fall by the Hildebrand Project.

I’ve been waiting to read this book for 20 years. I was never courageous enough (nor had the time) to tackle it in the original German.

Much of the book’s appeal is that Hildebrand defends an objective understanding of beauty against relativism. Additionally, his life, which reads like a novel, was a testimony to the power of beauty in transforming a soul and leading one, via pulchritudinis, to the heart of the Church. Hildebrand’s Aesthetics is reputed to be one of his finest works.

Hildebrand is best known for his social and political philosophy, particularly his Ethics, wherein he gives careful attention to the movements of the human heart.

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The son of a renown German sculptor, Adolf von Hildebrand, Dietrich was born and raised in Florence, Italy. The renaissance city, family manor, and his father’s artistic eye made a deep impression on the young man raised without religion. He converted to Catholicism at the age of 24 and led countless others to Roman Catholicism. His repudiation of Nazism and Communism made him a target high on Adolph Hitler’s list of enemies, which eventually forced him to immigrate to the United States.

Hildebrand wrote his Aesthetics near the end of his life. His widow, Alice von Hildebrand, has said, “Aesthetics [is] best understood as an explosion of insights. He knew he was running out of time, and so he tried to capture the Niagara Falls of ideas that flowed out of him.”

Alice von Hildebrand also tells a story indicative of her husband’s character. There was concern he had cancer and so he had a colonoscopy. Alice, terrified of what the results might be, prayed the rosary ceaselessly during the procedure. The doctor finally emerged to tell her that her husband would be fine, but just needed a change in diet. Much relieved, Alice waited for her husband to emerge from the procedure. She recounts, “Some moments later my husband came out. Looking at me with a radiant smile, and without even alluding to the good news, he said to me “while the doctor was examining me, I had such deep insights into beauty! Let us rush home so that I can immediately incorporate these into the text!” Clearly, this was an intellectual, an artisan of words and ideas, awash in the wonder of beauty and love, even under the most dire of circumstances.

The ever-thoughtful Dana Gioia, former Chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts, wrote the book’s foreword, and philosopher Dr. Robert Wood, and Dr. John Crosby, one of Hildebrand’s students, have also made contributions.

I look forward to writing more once I finish the book.

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This stone in Vienna, Austria, at Hildebrand’s 1930s apartment building commemorates his witness to the truth of the Catholic Church and his outspokenness against National Socialism (Nazism).

 

Seeing God in Bronze and Clay

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Interview with Sacred Artist Thomas Marsh

By Dr. Carrie Gress

For sculptor and painter Thomas Marsh sacred art doesn’t need to fall into the trap of religious kitsch or modernist fads. From Santa Cruz to Washington, D.C., Marsh’s work can be seen in churches, monasteries, monuments and memorials.

Trained in the realist school of painting and sculpture, Marsh works to capture something unique about the human spirit that conjures up something deeper in the soul than novelty or saccharine sentimentality. Through his work of both the sacred and secular, Marsh is trying to capture a type of contemplation akin to prayer.

I spoke with Marsh about his realist training and its evangelizing potential.

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Gress: You are a sculptor, specializing in sacred art. What led you to this vocation?

Marsh: My love of sculpting the figure goes back to childhood, at about age 8, when I borrowed some plastilina clay from my sister who was a college art student at the time. I made a number of character studies simply because it was fascinating.

I didn’t consciously focus on being a sculptor as my vocation until I was 18 and had just enrolled as an architecture student at Iowa State University. I took as many art classes as ISU had to offer taken mostly through the Architecture Department which, fortunately, had not abandoned classical principles of training in realism in their drawing classes.

I then transferred to a small, private, heavily endowed art school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Layton School of Art, and earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Painting in 1974. As was the case with the Architecture Department at ISU, the Painting Department at Layton maintained a high degree of classical training, where the Sculpture Department did not. However, I was blessed to be given the use of a professional sculpture studio (the sculptor had recently passed away) so at ages 21-23 I had a marvelous, private, professional studio for my sculpture work.

From 1974-77 I studied sculpture at California State University, Long Beach, where I received my Master of Fine Arts in sculpture. Through my graduate professors I had direct artistic genealogical links to Ivan Mestrovic and Rodin. After receiving my MFA, I became the apprentice to the modern figurative master Milton Hebald for a year in Italy. The time spent in Italy, many trips since, has been deeply formative of my love for great Christian art.

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Gress: How did you go about following your passion for art and the beautiful?

Marsh: “Art” and “the beautiful” are not synonymous, since one is human action producing a creative structure with aesthetic attributes, for the perceiver’s aesthetic experience; and the other, the concept of “beauty” or  “the beautiful” is a principle, a universal in the world of the spirit, which is no less real than the material.

My passions for each are inextricably intertwined. From that early childhood love of sculpting the figure, my passion for beauty in art evolved as my level of aesthetic understanding grew.

Looking back, it felt more as if my passion had been “drawn out” or “pulled out” by the great universal principles of art, such as, form, representation, complexity, emotional intensity, and beauty… rather than my having “followed my passion.”

Gress: Do you consider your work to be evangelical?

Marsh: Yes, I pray to God that my work is evangelical! In 1987, I gave a public lecture at the University of San Francisco titled “Figurative Art and the Human Spirit.” In it, I outlined my theory that the era of modernism in art was dying or even effectively dead. History has to a large extent, borne out that prediction.

My reasoning was and is as follows: expression theory is the intellectual foundation of modernism. Put simply, that means that the idea or concept of the work of art, its “expression,” is more significant than the attributes of the work of art itself. In order to aesthetically evaluate works of art based on their ideas alone, there is no fundamental criterion for aesthetic value, except “the new.” Hence, we witnessed the ever faster spiraling of art movements for most of a century. But this spiral eventually negated itself, when the “new” became tedious: it was no longer shocking or novel or exciting.

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I predicted that a different, though not new, dominant role for art in human life would emerge: art as a vehicle for personal and social transformation. This transition from modernism based on expression theory to art as a vehicle for transformation is still in process, and is quite visible now. The mainstream art world, including major museums, serious galleries, and art critics in major publications, still holds fast to the modernist premise. But it’s clear that their citadel is crumbling, and that now the dominant role of art in human life is art as a vehicle for personal and social transformation.

Art in the service of evangelization is certainly transformative art! On a very particular level in visual art, my own work attempts to embody the work of art with forms that facilitate heightened awareness of our human spirit, or personhood. It is this experience of personhood that is the manifestation of the soul in human earthly life. My work is evangelical even beyond literal representations of Biblical figures because the human figure in art has the capacity to draw us into this experience, and such experience, as a parallel to prayer, has the power to draw us closer to God.

I also have done secular work all my life as a sculptor, painter, and drawer. Even secular work, such as the surfing monument in the Santa Cruz, California or the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C., or (especially) portrait work, has the capacity to bring us closer to God.

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Gress: What have been some of your recent projects?

Marsh: In 2013, I completed a St. Joseph, Patron of the Unborn figure for St. Vincent’s Hospital in Orange Park, Florida near Jacksonville. This is a small healing shrine, though the figure is life size, in the vestibule of the Chapel at the hospital. It is meant to facilitate the prayers for and about those women who have had abortions, or who have suffered miscarriages. It is patterned after a larger version of this same concept, installed on the grounds of the Oblates of St. Joseph in Santa Cruz, CA in 2001.

In 2014, I completed two castings of a work, St. Joseph, Protector of Preachers, one in bronze for the Priory of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, and one in gypsum cement casting for the interior entrance to the church. This work has a narrative dimension, and at the same time facilitates our human spirit experience through the stylistic character of my figures. St. Joseph, and a dog – these are the Dominicans!

I am poised to begin a major work: a Marian Rosary Prayer Walk which integrates a larger than life figure of Mary and a 75’ long landscaped rosary prayer walk.

Gress: Your work, particularly when it comes to Christ and the angels, offers a very lifelike representation emphasizing their strength and masculinity. Is this intentional?

Marsh: This approach emphasizing the masculine strength of Christ and the archangels Gabriel and Michael, and also St. John, all at St. Mary Catholic Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is very deliberate! I have also tried to bring this approach to the figures of St. Joseph, Patron of the Unborn, in Santa Cruz, California and in Jacksonville, Florida; the figure of John the Baptist at Mission San Juan Bautista, California; and the figure of Christ on the cross at St. Joachim Catholic Church in Madera, California.

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I’m a realist sculptor who strives to create original and meaningful work in the genre of ecclesiastical and liturgical sculpture. Unfortunately, much of the sculpture in today’s Catholic art world is filled with clichés and copies (just pick up any religious art catalogue), not to mention mediocre sculpting. I feel strongly that the fortis et suavis (strong and gentle) character of Joseph, and Christ, should be the model for male figures, and for the overwhelming/terrifying/awe-striking figures of archangels. In today’s social and political context, where the natural complementarity of the sexes is being questioned, I feel is it critical to imply the God-created natural law basis of the male side of human male-female complementarity.

 

 

 

 

 

Chartres Cathedral and Philosophers

By Carrie Gress, Ph.D.

I’ve just started doing some research on Chartres Cathedral and ran across this quotation from 11th century Thierry of Chartres.

In his work, the Heptateuchon, Thierry says, “Philosophy has two principal instruments, the mind and its expression. The mind is enlightened by the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music), its expression, elegant, reasonable, ornate is provide by the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic).”

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These seven liberal arts and the artists who most exemplify them are featured on the Royal Portal of Chartres Cathedral. (Geometry: Euclid, Rhetoric: Cicero, Dialectic: Aristotle, Arithmetic: Boethius, Astronomy: Ptolemy, Grammar: either Donatus or Priscian)

What is striking about this is:

A) How foreign the notions of the Quadrivium and Trivium seem to us today. What does astronomy have to do with philosophy?

B) How technical and abstract philosophy has become. Philosophy, the love of wisdom, has only a few academic corners where it can actually call itself that. In most university settings, philosophers resort to very precise language and techniques that strike most on the outside as, at best, impenetrable, and at worst, nonsensical.

The one semester I spent doing doctoral studies at a well-known university drove this home to me. The methods of logic have overtaken the field in strangely anachronistic and confounding ways. For a course on Plato, a general assignment would be to read five paragraphs from a given text and then evaluate the argument as logical or illogical, while the rest of the text was of no consequence. When I suggested that one paragraph was made clearer by understanding what Plato said in another book, my comment was met with glazed eyes and a quick changing of subject. Such elements were simply irrelevant. The imposition of twentieth-century techniques upon an ancient text was really what we were after.

Thinking of Thierry of Chartres, few philosophers today give much if any consideration to the elegant, ornate, reasonable expressions available to their trade. For all the efforts to understand the logic of great thinkers, philosophers in the trade have left entire generations of philosophy students empty-headed about great works. Ironically, because philosophy has become so off-putting in content, it has also left students bereft of its modern raison d’etre, the use of logic.

Below: the portal on the right at Chartres is the sedes sapienta, the seat of wisdom. This is Our Lady with Our Lord sitting on his lap. The personifications of the liberal arts are in the archway above her.

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And here’s some more photos of Chartres Cathedral!

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