Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bach Passions

For Holy Week and Easter, this weekend, I am going to start singing a Bach passion.  Because I only own a minature, full version of the St. Matthew's Passion, that will have to be the one, even with eyestrain.

I am going to indulge in new large scores.  On my way to Amazon, now.

Here is a nice Youtube version of St. John's with English words.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chesterton 3/ The most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe.

Examples are scarcely needed of this total levity on the subject of cosmic philosophy...  This was certainly not the idea of those who introduced our freedom.  When the old Liberals removed the gags from all the heresies, their idea was that religious and philosophical discoveries might thus be made.  Their view was that cosmic truth was so important that every one ought to bear independent testimony.  The modern idea is that cosmic truth is so unimportant that it cannot matter what any one says.  The former freed inquiry as men loose a noble hound;  the latter frees inquiry as man fling back into the sea a fish unfit for eating.  Never has there been so little discussion about the nature of men as now, when, for the first time, any one can discuss it.  The old restriction meant that only the orthodox were allowed to discuss religion.  Modern liberty means that nobody is allowed to discuss it.  Good taste, the last and vilest of human superstitions, has succeeded in silencing us where all the rest have failed.  Sixty years ago it was bad taste to be an avowed atheist.  Then came the Bradlughites, the last religious men, the last men who cared about God;  but they could not alter it.  It is still bad taste to be an avowed atheist.  But their agony has achieved just this--that now it is equally bad taste to be an avowed Christian.  Emancipation has only locked the saint in the same tower of silence as the heresiarch.  Then we talk about Lord Anglesey and the weather, and call it the complete liberty of all the creeds.
But there are some people, nevertheless--and I am one of them--who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe.  We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy.  We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy's numbers, but still more important to know the enemy's philosophy...  In the fifteenth century men cross-examined and tormented a man because he preached some immoral attitude;  in the nineteenth century we feted and flattered Oscar Wilde because he preached such an attitude, and then broke his heart in penal servitude because he carried it out.  It may be a question which of the two methods was the more cruel;  there can be no kind of question which was the more ludicrous.  The age of the Inquisition has not at least the disgrace of having produced a society which made an idol of the very same man for preaching he very same things which it made him a convict for practicing.   (Heretics.  Introductory Remarks)

We have not got very far into the book, but I find the introductory remarks very powerful.

We have ceased taking interest in a man or woman's general outlook on life.  As a society, Chesterton must mean, because, certainly, many of us still take such things into consideration.  For example, I would have never considered marrying a man without a solid church association.  Or, on the other hand, we have made business deals with individuals of different world views and lived to regret this most bitterly.  It turned out that their philosophy had much more to do with how things would turn out than we would have dreamed.  Or there are some people who love to entertain, do arts and write a poetry.  It starts out fun.  When they are on their first beer or glass of wine everyone is thinking well, and the curses are few and far between;  it looks quite sociable.  But the drinking keeps going on, and the conversation, art and poetry degrades. I do not understand how they consider this a positive development of the get-together.  It starts out enjoyable enough, and then when partying is the sole objective, the fun goes right out of it.  It really does, but they don't seem to perceive it as such.  It seems like a different philosophy of social gathering.

Anyhow, this might connect us to Oscar Wilde.  He supposedly died a Catholic convert on his death bed, as I read in "Literary Converts".  I think he is known for pleasure-seeking (I have not read him, at all) and ended up dying somewhat early and destitute.  They also put him in prison.  Apparently he met a sad but Catholic end.    It would indeed be debatable if he had been better off being censured by the Inquisition earlier on.  I believe Chesterton has his tongue somewhat in cheek, but he raises a question.  What is this liberty for?  What is it we are seeking?  Oscar Wilde can't be the example we are trying to follow.

I meet people who are very much dedicated to being gracious.  They are a true salve to my soul.  You meet them here or there, or you  are able to have them as long term friends, if you are blessed so.  We can have a heart to heart discussion, very honest, and I know that they will still love me and be the kindest they can possibly be under the circumstances.  It makes all the difference.  These are the people you can cry with and let it all hang out.  This is what they mean when they say that we want to have and cultivate the mind of Christ.  Graces is at the very bottom of it.  We can always try over.  Underneath are the everlasting arms. (Thanks be to God.)   Chesterton seems very gracious, too, even while sounding quite boisterous.  It is not a contradiction.  Someone can be boisterously gracious.  We see it displayed, here. I like him.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chesterton 2 / "The Golden rule is that there is no golden rule"

It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield market because they do not agree in their theory of the universe.  That was done very frequently in the Middle Ages, and it failed altogether in its object.  But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy.  This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period.  General theories are everywhere contemned;  the doctrine of the Rights of Man is dismissed with the doctrine of the Fall of Man.  Atheism itself is too theological for us today.  Revolution itself is too much of a system;  liberty itself is too much of a restraint.  We will have no generalizations.  Mr. Bernard Shaw has put the view in a perfect epigram:  "The golden rule is that there is no golden rule."  We are more and more to discuss details in art, politics, literature.  A man's opinion on tramcars matters;  his opinion on Botticelli matters;  his opinion on all things does not matter.  He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe;  for if he does he will have a religion, and be lost.  Everything matters--except everything.

(Heretics.  Introductory Remarks.)

What is he doing here, again?  He is contrasting the zeal of the Middle Ages, which resulted in the burning of heretics, with the current refusal to come to any rules, at all.  As silly as the former approach may seem now, we seem to have overcompensated to a point where we will have no generalizations, no doctrines, no golden rules--except that there is no golden rule--no theory of the universe, no religion.

I am not sure if that is the same as existentialism.  Make up your own individual meaning.  Probably.

What do I know.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Luther on Heathenish Reasoning

"By worshiping the sun and the moon--which they considered the true worship of
God--the heathen have committed what is by far the greatest of their sins.  This is why man-made godliness is sheer blasphemy of God and the greatest of all the sins a man commits."

"The heathen recognized that being mighty, invisible, just, immortal, and good are characteristics of divinity or of the Being who is God.  Therefore they recognized God's invisible Being, His eternal power and Godhead.  This major premise of the practical syllogism, this inborn theological sense of what is right (synderesis theologica), cannot be obscured in any people.  But they erred in the minor premise when they said and maintained:  Here, this Jupiter or someone else, represented by this likeness, possesses these characteristics.  Here the error began, and idolatry was committed, everyone wanting to subsume according to his inclination."

"Such monstrous infamies were actually considered religion and righteousness among the heathen;  for there really is nothing so ridiculous,k so foolish, so obscene, so foreign to all decency, that men who lack the Word of God cannot be talked into it (bereden) as religious worship at its best."

"The heathen, who do not have the Word, never correctly understood these matters even though evils engulfed them;  for they held that death is a natural necessity, not a penalty for sin.  so they cannot judge the whole nature of man, since they do not know the spring whence these calamities came upon the human race."

"Therefore whoever wants to learn and become wise in secular government, let him read the heathen books and writings.  They have truly painted it and portrayed it quite beautifully and generously, with both verses and pictures, with teachings and examples;p  and they became the source for the ancient imperial laws.  I am convinced that God gave and preserved such heathen books, as those of the poets and the histories, like Homer, Virgil, Demosthenes, Cicero, Livy, and afterwards the fine old jurists--as He has also given and preserved other temporal goods among the heathen and godless of all times--that the heathen and godless, too, might have their prophets, apostles, and theologians or preachers for the secular government.  In this sense St. Paul also calls the Cretan poet Epimenides "their prophet";  and Matthew calls the three holy kings "Magi" because of the fact that they were the priests, prophets, or teachers of the Arabs.  Thus they had their Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Ulpian, and others, even as they people of God had their Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, and others;  and their emperors, kings, and princes, like Alexander Augustus, etc., where their Davids and Solomons."

"According to their own testimony, whatever the Romans did in the matter of virtue they did from a burning desire for glory.  So also the Greeks, so also the Jews, so also the entire human race.  But though this may be worthy of honor before men, nothing is more dishonorable before God;  nay, it is most godless and the height of sacrilege, because there people did not act for the glory of God or in order to praise God.  On the contrary, robbing God of His glory by the most impious of thefts and taking it to themselves, they were never more dishonorable and base than when they were shining in their most exalted virtues.  But how could they act for the glory of God when they know neither God nor His glory?"

(All from "What Luther Says"  pp. 616-618;  one of my favorite books and a great introduction to Luther.)

Wittenberg -- The German Athens

Ayaan Hirsi Ali denied honorary degree

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the most courageous people of our time.  She has been cast into the cauldron of the most powerful ideas of our time.  Our fates are entwined with hers.  Rex Murphy wrote a good commentary on the latest controversy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Chesterton / Heretics 1 / Definitions

Ok, as time permits, I do want to re-read G.K. Chesterton, quote him some and ponder what he is saying.

--I rarely re-read books (except for the basics) and re-watch movies, but Chesterton gave me such great belly laughs along with good insights, all in his inimitable fantastic English style, that I consider him worth a second look.  The fact that he is deconstructing 19th century philosophy and evil things such as Eugenics, Marxism and so on, of course, factors hugely, here.

So, let's put some more work into it.

Nothing more strangely indicates an enormous and silent evil of modern society than the extraordinary use which is made nowadays of the word "orthodox."  In former days the heretic was proud of not being a heretic.  It was the kingdoms of the world and the police and the judges who were heretics.  He was orthodox.  He had no pride in having rebelled against them;  they had rebelled against him.  The armies with their cruel security, the kings with their cold faces, the decorous processes of State, the reasonable processes of law--all these like sheep had gone astray.  The man was proud of being orthodox, was proud of being right.  If he stood alone in a howling wilderness he was more than a man;  he was a church.  He was the center of the universe;  it was round him that the stars swung.  All the tortures torn out of forgotten hells could not make him admit that he was heretical.  But a few modern phrases have made him boast of it.  He says, with a conscious laugh, "I suppose I am very heretical," and looks round for applause.  The word "heresy" not only means no longer being wrong;  it practically means being clear-headed and courageous.  The word "orthodoxy" not only no longer means being right;  it practically means being wrong.  All this can mean one thing, and one thing only.  It means that people care less for whether they are philosophically right.  For obviously a man ought to confess himself crazy before he confesses himself heretical.  The Bohemian, with a red tie, ought to pique himself on his orthodoxy.  The dynamiter, laying a bomb, ought to feel that, what-ever else he is, at least he is orthodox.  

(Heretics, introductory comments.)

This opening already gives me such pleasure, that I, for once, am interested in "process" skills.  What did he do here?

He is giving the most basic of all introductions, an exploration of what terms mean, or used to mean.  I remember beginning essays that way in High School.  As he does in many places, he shows how things have been turned upside down.  It always makes you wonder how he can be seemingly the only person who has figured this out or can really show it clearly.

The matter in fact is so preposterous, that one must practically slap one's forehead with the goofy-ness of it all. A man used to be proud of being right and stake his life on it.  Now a man is proud of being "heretical", and does not seem to care whether he is right or wrong, as long as he is dynamiting something.

Of course, it entertains, how Chesterton moves from the kingdoms of the world, the state, the king, the decorous, to the howling wilderness, to the center of the universe, and the swinging stars.  It is beautiful and exciting.  We are with the rebel and his cause.  Indeed, there are weighty matters for which one may stand up and fight.

Contrast this person with the modern "heretic", who is basically looking for applause, or maybe chicks, or who knows what, for being a bad boy. He really looks shabby and tawdry by comparison, in the end. You want to dynamite but for what purpose?  Does it matter if you are right or wrong?

This is really, really good stuff.

For example, when we talk about Luther, we see that he was labeled a "heretic" and excommunicated by the Roman church.  Hence the movement was termed "Lutheran", to signify its heretical-ness.  But the objective of Luther and every Lutheran has ever only been to be "orthodox" and "catholic."  He stood and could do no other.  The people moved with him because he was right.  The time was right.  And a movement born in the monastery and the university resonated with the famous average citizen.   The stars swung around him.  And a heresy it was not that spread like wild-fire.

So much for today.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Crabby Men of the Club

There are people who claim to be the most creative because they don't hold to any doctrine.  They also claim that they don't just hang out with their buddies.

But they are fooling themselves; they say the same thing over and over again in their skeptical way and scratch each other's backs for being the only smart ones.   Really, they are a club, a doctrineless club--according to their doctrine.

They are interesting for a bit, but they have no story.  They also don't have variety because they are only united by their lack of doctrine.  People united by doctrine come from all walks of life and nations.  Without creed, there is no life and no newness, just crabby old people with the most unnatural ideas, which they consider "new".

As Chesterton said last post:  "Only when I latched on to Orthodoxy did I become emancipated."

The never-ending and vast vista of German philosophy didn't do it for him.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Whatever I am, I am not myself.

"All the real argument about religion turns on the question of whether a man who was born upside down can tell when he comes right way up.  The primary paradox of Christianity is that the ordinary condition of man is not his sane or sensible condition;  that the normal itself is an abnormality.  That is the inmost philosophy of the Fall.  In Sir Oliver lodge's interesting new Catechism, the first two questions were:  "What are you?" and "What, then, is the meaning of the Fall of Man?"  I remember amusing myself by writing my own answers to the questions;  but I soon found that they were very broken and agnostic answers.  To the question, "What are you?"  I could only answer, "God knows."  And to the question, "What is meant by the Fall?"  I could answer with complete sincerity,  "That whatever I am, I am not myself."  This is the prime paradox of our religion  something that we have never in any full sense known, is not only better than ourselves, but even more natural to us than ourselves.  And there is really no test of this except the merely experimental one with which these pages began, the test of the padded cell and the open door.  It is only since I have known orthodoxy that I have known mental emancipation."

(Chesterton, "Orthodoxy")

What is he saying?  He sounds like Paul in Romans 5 and 6, but he does not finish with the exclamation about Christ. He finishes with "joy", and how Christ must have hid his "mirth".

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Defiant Requiem" / Verdi

Requiem masses have been part of my life for quite some time, since childhood in fact, as my mother played Mozart's Requiem for one year straight.  This was when she was practicing it for the Kantorei choir in a city church.  After they had practiced it for a year, the Bamberg symphony orchestra came out and helped them put it on.

More recently I have come to appreciate and love Brahms' German Requiem.  And more recently still, I have been trying to enter into the world of Verdi's Requiem.  Here it is, below:  my Verdi score! -- I have been trying to sing it, in my kitchen.  Emphasis on "trying".

More to my point, I came across the Verdi Requiem in a surprising context this week.  Netflix suggested I view:  "Defiant Requiem". -- This video is a BBC documentary quite unlike any other.  I would suggest you definitely watch it.  It deals with the Holocaust and specifically the Theresienstadt concentration camp in a highly moving and also deeply ironic way.  We do hear about the atrocities, but we need not look again at piled up emaciated bodies. We have seen them.  We have been shocked at them.  We have cried over them.  We are scarred for life looking at them.  We all are.  What humanity can do is unbelievable, incredibly shameful.  This week also was a memorial time for the atrocities in Rwanda.  Instead, we learn that the victims at Theresienstadt were shipped to Auschwitz from there, but we also learn that they had no idea what any of it meant or what happened in Aschwitz.  Many pieces of evidence corroborate the strange and unbelievable fact that so many seemed to be completely in the dark about the "final solution."

It happened that there, in Theresienstadt, and this is what the story is about, that the Jewish people organized many entertaining performances, at night, to keep their spirits up while interred.  The circumstances were inhumane, as we know.  They also studied and performed Verdi's Requiem.  I won't give away any more than that, because I really think you should watch the documentary.  It is also available on Youtube, here ( 1 hour and 20 min.):

In terms of the Requiem itself, here is a good performance, with English translations on the screen: