Creator Mundi showcases news from the religious world.
I am wondering if the experiences of choir directors out there confirm an observation of mine about the power of a drone – that is a continuously sung note alongside the melody – to help engage people with sacred music in the right way? I have seen the drone used in Gregorian chant and Byzantine chant to powerful effect. I suggest that this is something that could be used more, especially in modern churches which are not designed with an acoustic that produces a harmonic resonance naturally. In my opinion, chant requires that faint suggestion of harmony that such a resonance lends to it, as one might hear in a gothic abbey for example, in order to have full effect as sacred music (I will explain my reasons for saying this later).
Here are my thoughts as to why this might be. One of the attributes of beauty, famously listed by St Thomas, is due proportion. When something has due proportion, each part of an object must be in right relation to each other in a way that is appropriate to the purpose of the whole. What constitutes due proportion in any particular situation is to a degree a matter of judgment, but there are geometric and arithmetical guidelines that can inform that judgment.
Beauty it seems is ordered by the number three. Going all the way back to pre-Christian classical culture, it was noticed that in the human response to things in combination – that is, in relation to each other – a minimum of three things were needed to constitute some sense of completeness in the arrangement. If there are just two in combination there can still be beautiful combinations, but there is inherent within it a sense that it is incomplete.
This is most easily explained in the natural response of most people to the combinations of notes in music. When two notes are placed in a relationship to each other, it is called an interval, and when it is pleasing it is described as ‘consonant’ meaning literally, ‘sounding together’. However, it was also noticed that when people hear a harmonious interval, it still seems to lack something. If you ask the music theorist why this is, they will tell you its because an interval could be the basis of either a major or a minor chord, and you don’t know which until the third note is supplied. When (Read More)
A video commentary by Bill Donaghy of the Theology of the Body Institute.
Here is the third in the series of 12 short videos on art by Bill Donaghy of the Theology of the Body Institute in Philadelphia. I encourage all to investigate the courses they offer, by the way, which are available through their website.
Once again there are great insights here. Here is one little nugget to tempt you with, if you will forgive the pun, is the play on the word ‘adoration’. Bill explains how this word is derived from the Latin, ad-oratio, that is ‘to the mouth’. To adore is to love intimately – mouth-to-mouth contact – as the imagery of the root portrays. As we see in this painting, the destruction of the harmony between God and man is brought about by a perversion of this, in which Blake show a mouth-to-mouth temptation by the serpent. I suggest that the restoration of this harmony, brought about by Christ, is a spiritual mouth-to-mouth resuscitation!
Again this is exquisitely rendered in a neo-classical form by Blake.
Temptation And Fall
I offer the following as a complement to your celebrations of the Nativity of Our Lord, not as a replacement! Like someone whose birthday is on Christmas Day, St Anastasia is not often commemorated. A separate Mass for her can be said on December 25th, but given the unlikelihood of this happening, I suggest that perhaps in order to revive her momory, as one of the saints of the Roman Canon, we could find a way of adding a veneration to her without distracting from the Nativity – perhaps though the insertion of her name at the prayers of the day in the Mass or the Divine Office, or through a veneration of her icon in the processions in such a way that it supports, rather than distracts from the main focus of the day, the Nativity of the Lord.
Perhaps we could take a lead from the Eastern Church which always commemorates the saints of the day even in Sunday liturgy by the singing of the multiple troparia (one-verse hymns) of the day at the appropriate juncture.
Not much is know about the saint, except that she was a Roman by birth who was martyred at Sirmium in modern-day Serbia during the persecution of the Emporer Diocletian. You can read about her in New Advent here.
This Western depiction of her shows her with the idealized features of a Greek goddess as would have been the norm in the neo-classical art of, for example, the High Renaissance or of the early 19th century.
Eastern icons of her show her with a bottle as ‘deliver from potion’ symbolising the power of her prayers to cure the sick.
This is one of a series of articles written to highlight the great feasts and the saints of the Roman Canon. All are connected to a single opening essay, in which I set out principles by which we might create a canon of art for Roman Rite churches, and a schema that would guide the placement of such images in a church. (Read it here.) In these, I plan to cover the key elements of images of the Saints of the Roman Canon – Eucharistic Prayer I – and the major feasts of the year. I have created the tag Canon of Art for Roman Rite to group these together, should any be interested in seeing these articles as they accumulate. For the fullest presentation (Read More)
A Survey of the Philosophy of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. An Online Course taught by Dr Carrie Gress for Pontifex University
When I first decided, many years ago now, to become an artist, I wanted to know how to create beautiful art. Given this goal, it seemed obvious, along with all the other aspects of my formation, that I should start reading about beauty itself.
However, to my surprise, I found very little to help me from Catholic writers. Books on aesthetics talked at length about the nature of beauty – and some seemed true (although many didn’t) but barely anyone seemed to offer anything that was of practical use to an artist.
Everyone told me to read Jacques Maritain. I’m probably going to commit a heresy that will offend Thomists here, but I wasn’t at all convinced by him either. As I read through Art and Scholasticism, which was admittedly, full of complex reasoning about the nature of beauty, I still wanted to ask the question: and how do I use all of this to help me judge what is beautiful? I am an artist, how is all this going help me to decide whether or not to direct the brush to the left or to the right? But there was very little there to help me.
Finally, right at the end of the book, he told us that the embodiment of all that he had been describing was in the paintings of Braques and Picasso. You have to be joking, I thought. I knew that their work was designed so as to promote an anti-Christian worldview, yet he seemed to be unaware of this. After pages and pages of proofs justifying the objectivity of beauty, in the end, even for Maritain it came down to an arbitrary application of personal taste to tell us that beauty is what he happens to like. Why not just forget the first 300 pages, I thought, and tell us that the answers to what is beautiful, is that it is what clever philosophers say it is? This principle of elitism was no different from any university in the country, where the intellectuals use wordy arguments to tell you what they like is good and you’re a Philistine if you think differently.
Although many Church Fathers had written about beauty, they didn’t treat the subject separately and so it was difficult to know where (Read More)
Simple and Practical Ways to Promote and Preserve Spiritual Joy, Inspired by St Paul
There is a series of wonderful meditations on the Claritas blog at the moment by priests from the Argentian order, the Institute of the Incarnate Word. I wanted to highlight this, and also share with you here third in the series of meditations for this third week of Advent, based upon the readings from last Sunday. It is by Father Nicholas Grace who is in Cowdenbeath in Scotland. It is so refreshing to hear a priest actually confirming something that I have long believed, that happiness is a choice we can make, provided know how to make the choice. This is simple but profound advice!
We have a wonderful topic this 3rd Sunday of Advent because the readings the Church presents give us the opportunity to speak about that most desirable Catholic disposition of soul, that is, Spiritual joy.
The readings offer plenty of material for speaking about spiritual joy. The spiritual joy of the glad tidings that Isaiah was asked to bring to the poor or the spiritual Joy expressed in the Psalm we heard. The Psalm which was an echo of Our Lady’s Magnificat, an expression of spiritual Joy in its purest form.
However, we will focus instead on the 2nd reading from the letter of St. Paul where we are encouraged to rejoice always, to rejoice in God.
I would like to focus on three of the means Paul offers to cultivate and maintain spiritual joy. I will mention three ways to pray without ceasing, and three ways to avoid quenching the spirit. Finally, both of these means will be summarized in Paul’s admonition to retain what is good and refrain from what is evil.
First: Paul urges, pray constantly. How is this possible? It is possible in three ways.
1st: He constantly prays who does not neglect the appointed time for prayer. This begs the question, do I have an appointed time for prayer? If not, why not?
2nd: Always cultivate good desires in the heart. “Lord, you hear the desire of the meek”.
We pray for the good, we desire the good and we do the good. Prayer is always present in the good things we do. For this reason, the wise man says, “He does not cease praying who does not cease doing good.”
Therefore, to constantly cultivate good desires in the heart, is to constantly cultivate prayer.
3rd (Read More)
I was delighted to receive notice of the completion of a major commission by Thomas Marsh.
It is of the Holy Spouses, Patrons of the Unborn and is located at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Bakersfield, CA.
I love the restrained use of color as applied to the bronze. Also, note that the faces are not portraits of a model, but rather they are idealized, taking inspiration from the Greek ideal, that was used by High Renaissance and Baroque masters. This is something that is so important in sacred art, yet is not understood by so many artists who work in naturalistic styles. I explain the reasons why idealization is important in sacred art in an earlier blog post here.
Beautiful art is as important to the creation of a culture of life as the noble political battles fought by those in the Right to Life movement, I suggest!
Below is a detail of the original clay model that the cast was based on:
Thomas has been an advisor to me in the creation of the Masters of Sacred Arts program at www.Pontifex.University, which offers the all-round formation, the Catholic inculturation that would tell an artist how to direct his brush or chisel, and a patron which artists to commission!
He is also the teacher of Deborah Samia who has created one of the two online studio classes required for the MSA program, an Introduction to Sculpting the Figure.
Anyone who wants to learn to draw and paint in the naturalistic style should consider classes at the atelier of Catholic master artist Anthony Visco. The perfect combination would be to learn your practical artistic skills with Anthony at his Atelier for Sacred Arts and take the Master of Sacred Arts with www.Pontifex.University in order to have the all-round formation and Catholic inculturation that will help direct your brush…and chisel…and crayon!
A video commentary by Bill Donaghy of the Theology of the Body Institute, Here is the second in the series of 12 short videos on art by Bill Donaghy of the Theology of the Body Institute in Philadelphia.
This week and next he discusses two paintings by William Blake the poet and artist. In this case, he discusses illustrations to Milton’s Paradise Lost. First is Satan Watching the Caresses of Adam and Eve.
At first glance, the art of Blake may seem a world apart from the grand fresco of Adam and God in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. However, both draw on the ancient Greek ideal of the human form for inspiration. This can be seen if you compare the paintings in each case with any Venus or Hermes (as below)
This is appropriate to the subject matter and consistent with the ideas of John Paul II because he stated that in his view the Greek ideal might be the starting point for the art of the Theology of the Body.
Here is the video:
It was recorded in April last year and so the course that Bill refers to is past, but I would encourage people to look for courses in the coming year. His approach to art and beauty is fully in harmony with that of Pontifex University and my own Way of Beauty book.
St Lucy is a 3rd-century saint, a virgin martyr who was venerated from the moment of her death and whose feast is celebrated on December 13th in both East and West. An account of her life can be found here. As with all worthy images intended for worship, we see in this portrayal of her (by the great 18th century Venetian, Tiepolo) we see an account of her story and the characteristics that identify her uniquely. So we see her receiving communion just at the moment of death caused by being stabbed in the throat. As the instrument of her death, the dagger is placed bottom right in the composition, along with her eyes on a plate. This latter symbol is most commonly associated with her, although it is developed relatively late, in the middle ages, linked to her name which is derived from the Latin word for light. Other attributes we will see are a palm branch – which is appropriate to all martyrs – as seen in this famous Renaissance period painting by Francesco de la Cossa And, people struggling to move her. The consul Paschasius ordered that she be removed to a brothel and abused until she died. However, teams of men tried but failed to move her. We see this in the painting below in this 15th-century depiction. Teams of oxen are being used. A tradition iconographic image has the saint holding a cross as a sign of martyrdom as in the beautiful fresco: I finish with Caravaggio and his burial of St Lucy. This is a late painting done when he was in exile, so to speak, from Rome and living in Sicily, the home of St Lucy. It is an altarpiece and in my opinion, one of the most brilliant paintings he has done. I do not know if the stylistic development is by accident or design, but regardless I like the result. Notice how much more this reflects the developing baroque style than his early work. It is shrouded in more mystery, with disappearing edges, far more numinous monochrome rendering and less colouration than he might have painted in his youth. The composition is brilliant, with the arcs of the arcs of the limbs of the two figures in the foreground creating a mandorla, which frames the figure of St Lucy. This is one of a (Read More)
In the first of a series that will run for the next few weeks, here is a beautiful and simple analysis of this scene from the fresco by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. It is presented by Bill Donaghy of the Theology of the Body Institute in Philadelphia. The Institute offers a series of intensive classes for a certificate on the writings of St John Paul II, which I recommend wholeheartedly. They focus especially on their relevance to the culture and the New Evangelization, as well as marriage and the family. In this five-minute presentation, we see all three come together!
John Paul II was a great admirer of Michelangelo and his style. He suggested that idealized naturalism, which draws on the ancient Greek ideal, might be a way to represent mankind ‘naked without shame’.
And How the Sacred Art Reveals It
Have a look at this ancient wall painting of the prophet Daniel’s companions in the fiery furnace. It is from the Roman catacombs and is one of the images that is included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Scripture tells us of the fate of Daniel’s three friends (Daniel 3: 49, Knox translation). It says that an ‘angel of the Lord had gone down into the furnace with Azarias and his companions and drove the flames away from it, making a wind blow in the heart of the furnace, like the wind that brings the dew. So that these three were untouched, and the fire brought them no discomfort. Whereupon all of them, as with one mouth, began to give praise and glory and blessing to God, there in the furnace.’ Afterwards, the king who had thrown the youths into the fire, Nebuchnudnezah said he saw four figures, and the fourth was ‘as it had been a son of God’ (v92).
I recently examined this passage in scripture because the song that the three subsequently sang is known as the Canticle of Daniel and is sung on Feast days at Lauds. I was looking at the background to this and considering why it is sung in the liturgy.
My understanding is that in the interpretation of the Church Fathers, the reference to the wind and the dew in the scriptural account has been connected to the Creation story in which the Spirit of God was over the water, and then to the baptism of Christ in which the Holy Spirit comes down and the sacrament of baptism is initiated. Baptism is, through water, the instrument of the death of the old self spiritually so that we can be resurrected, also spiritually, in Confirmation or Chrismation by the action of the Holy Spirit.
There is a similar connection to the passages describing the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan by Joshua, in which the water and wind are connected. Wind is the action of the Spirit, as is fire (as at Pentecost which the Church Fathers also connected to the burning bush).
These common themes are the reason why traditionally in baptistries we would see portrayals of all these scenes, as described here.
So who is the fourth figure?
He can be represented simply as ‘an angel of the Lord’, as in this contemporary (Read More)
How about this from Durham Cathedral – St Cuthbert in the style of the School of St Albans? It is in the Galilee Chapel at the Romanesque cathedral in northern England. I suggest that this approach of simple line drawings describing form, and simple coloration is one that artists of today could adopt. If they do so, a wonderful new 21st-century gothic style can emerge for the greater glory of God and the Church! If done’ properly this would be simultaneously contemporary and traditional in a way that speaks powerfully of the Faith.
This shows that the miniature illuminations of Matthew Paris, which www.Pontifex.University promotes, can work well on a grand scale on walls too. Here is a miniature by Matthew Paris, from the 13th century.
I say on this pilgrimage of life, let’s set the bow of the barque headed firmly towards heaven, with tradition at the tiller!
Artists! Learn to paint in the style of the School of St Albans in the www.Pontifex University. My course, A Study of Artistic Method for Patrons and Artists not only teaches you how to paint in egg tempera, but it explains the principles by which you can make any style of art you like your own; and it so happens that the style I focus on in the class to illustrate is the School of St Albans style, as seen in the Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral!
Here are some more photos of Durham Cathedral to give you some context.
The Norman nave of Durham Cathedral, a World Heritage Site, Durham, County Durham, England, UK.
Today is the Feast of St Andrew who, as an Apostle, is mentioned in the Roman Canon of the Mass.
Before he was called to follow Christ he was a follower of John the Baptist and like him, he is depicted with unkempt hair.
Here are two more icons that caught my eye. The second of the two was painted by Sr Petra Clare and it hangs in Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. I remember seeing it many times when I visited.
The cross upon which he was martyred, during the persecution of Nero, is a characteristic X shape. As someone from the British Isles, I am well aware of this because he is the patron saint of Scotland and the Scottish flag depicts it symbolically. This was incorporated into the Union Jack sometime after the formal union of the two countries in the 18th century.
The martyrdom itself is depicted in Western portrayals of the saint. For example here is one by Rubens in characteristically dramatic style. In accordance with tradition he is shown bound, not nailed, to the cross:
Andrew was the brother of St Peter and the portrayal of the calling of the two as fishermen who will become ‘fishers of men’ is another common scene in Western portrayals.
Here is Duccio’s painting…
…an early mosaic from Ravenna (note how Christ is beardless)…
I do not know who the figure in the toga is on the right. Below is a baroque painting of the same scene.
FIT58808 The Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew, c.1626-30 (oil on canvas) by Cortona, Pietro da (Berrettini) (1596-1669); 28.7×57.4 cm; Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK; Italian, out of copyright
This is one of a series of articles written to highlight the great feasts and the saints of the Roman Canon. All are connected to a single opening essay, in which I set out principles by which we might create a canon of art for Roman Rite churches, and a schema that would guide the placement of such images in a church. (Read it here.) In these, I plan to cover the key elements of images of the Saints of the Roman Canon – Eucharistic Prayer I – and the major feasts of the year. I have created the tag Canon of Art for Roman Rite to group these together, should any be interested in seeing these articles as they accumulate. For the fullest presentation of (Read More)
I have just been creating a new online course on the mathematics of beauty and as part of this, I wanted to show how to represent the symbolic meaning of number in the context of the liturgy in such a way that it might deepen participation. The obvious way to do this is to have a pattern with the symmetry of the number. This will require also some catechesis of the congregations so that they are reminded of what it is pointing to every time they see it.
It can be part of the decoration of the church, incidental, as it were, to the structure:
Or it can be more intimately and obviously bound with the form of the church, as it is in the medieval rose window. Here is a window dating from about 1500 in the cathedral at Amiens in France:
It is important to awaken our innate sense of the symbolism of the natural world and all that is created as this stimulates also our natural sense of the divine. The awe and wonder that we feel when we contemplate the world around us is, for all that it seems profound, little better than a shallow emotion generated artificially by a drug if we stop there and do not allow it to draw us closer to its source – God. This is its true consummation, we are made to see the glory of God in his creation and it will be to his greater glory and our greater joy if we allow the beauty of the world to take us to what it points to.
We can consider this to be a form of relation. Creation is in relation to its Creator. By virtue of its existence, it is relational, for it is connected to its Creator by the mark of divine beauty He has impressed upon it. This interconnectivity of all that exists, therefore, is not a mental construct thrust upon the cosmos artificially by mankind. Rather it is a property of the object that we see. All being is relational by nature and is patterned lattice that has the Creator at its heart.
As created beings ourselves, we participate in this dynamic too, seeing a natural connection between ourselves and the rest of the cosmos. All of mankind is endowed by the Creator with an intellect and the capacity to observe the world around us in such as way (Read More)
Painting the 21 Christian Coptic Martyrs
Anyone who has ever seen an icon of St Therese of Lisieux painting or John Paul II will know how difficult it is to paint an icon of a modern figure. There are two problems associated with them that I can think of:
Firstly, when the facial features are well known through photographs, there is a tendency to over naturalize the facial and the mismatch with the stylization of the rest of the figure and it ends up looking like an iconographic version of a head-in-the-hole picture
Second is dealing with contemporary clothes. While it seems to have been fine in the middle ages to paint the soldiers of their past in contemporary chainmail because the idea of awareness of what the biblical soldiers might actually have worn was different (here’s Samual anointing David and David slaying Goliath).
…I don’t think it would work today. We would use historical dress. When it comes to contemporary saints, such as the 21 Coptic Christian martyrs beheaded by ISIS, the iconographer can’t suddenly put them in historical clothing to give the aura of holiness but must aim to represent the clothes they wore in an iconographic way.
Here is an icon by a neo-Coptic iconographer of the 21 martyrs. Notice the sensitive way that the painter has handled the faces and the clothes, to create a contemporary icon very well, even portraying the bright orange jumpsuits that the prisoners wore.
Artists! Do the Master’s in Sacred Arts at www.Pontifex.University
By Administrator1 Margarita Rodriguez holds a flashlight as she quizzes her 11-year-old daughter, Isel Martinez, about homework outside their home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 25. Most of Puerto Rico has been without power and water for more than one month after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See HURRICANES-CARIBBEAN-DEBT-RELIEF Oct. 27, 2017.
” data-medium-file=”https://cnsblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/20171027t1110-0197-cns-hurricanes-caribbean-debt-relief.jpg?w=640&h=427?w=300″ data-large-file=”https://cnsblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/20171027t1110-0197-cns-hurricanes-caribbean-debt-relief.jpg?w=640&h=427?w=3000″ src=”https://cnsblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/20171027t1110-0197-cns-hurricanes-caribbean-debt-relief.jpg?w=640&h=427″ alt=”Margarita Rodriguez holds a flashlight as she quizzes her 11-year-old daughter, Isel Martinez, about homework outside their home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 25. Most of Puerto Rico was without power and water for more than a month after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. (CNS/Bob Roller) ” width=”640″ height=”427″ srcset=”https://cnsblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/20171027t1110-0197-cns-hurricanes-caribbean-debt-relief.jpg?w=640&h=427 640w, https://cnsblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/20171027t1110-0197-cns-hurricanes-caribbean-debt-relief.jpg?w=1280&h=854 1280w, https://cnsblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/20171027t1110-0197-cns-hurricanes-caribbean-debt-relief.jpg?w=128&h=85 128w, https://cnsblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/20171027t1110-0197-cns-hurricanes-caribbean-debt-relief.jpg?w=300&h=200 300w, https://cnsblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/20171027t1110-0197-cns-hurricanes-caribbean-debt-relief.jpg?w=768&h=512 768w, https://cnsblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/20171027t1110-0197-cns-hurricanes-caribbean-debt-relief.jpg?w=1024&h=683 1024w” sizes=”(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px”>
Margarita Rodriguez holds a flashlight as she quizzes 11-year-old daughter Isel Martinez about homework outside their home in San Juan Oct. 25. Most of Puerto Rico was without power and water for more than a month after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. (CNS/Bob Roller)
By Greg Erlandson
Catholic News Service
Hurricane Irma and Maria had a devastating impact on the island of Puerto Rico. As the U.S. bishops have described it, “the people of Puerto Rico face an unprecedented level of need” as a result of these storms.
A U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Rico has a population of 2.7 million Catholics, with 1 archdiocese, five dioceses and 329 parishes. For almost two months the island has dealt with the aftereffects of the storms, including a collapsed power grid and a lack of clean drinking water or other assistance in many parts of the island.
A prekindergarten student looks at the photographer in the classroom at Good Heart of Mary Catholic School in San Juan, Puerto, Rico, Oct. 26. (CNS/Bob Roller)
Catholic News Service was the first major Catholic news organization to send a photographer and a reporter to tour the island and document the efforts of the church and other organizations to help many of the people far from the capital of San Juan.
In addition, the team interviewed Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan, Bishop Daniel Fernandez of Arecibo and countless others intent on helping these American citizens get back on their feet.
Here are links to the four stories the team produced in Puerto Rico for CNS and its clients:
Catholic organizations, groups actively working on Puerto Rico’s recovery https://t.co/5KwCjrx5Aw pic.twitter.com/EIE0J9nsVu
— Catholic (Read More)
By Matthew Fowler
ROME (CNS) — The historic tomb of Michelangelo and the Buonarroti family altarpiece in the Church of Santa Croce in Florence are in dire need of cleaning and restoration due to sustained damage over the past 50 years.
“In the Name of Michelangelo” is an international fundraising campaign being launched by the Opera di Santa Croce foundation to raise €100.000 ($118,105) by Oct. 30 to fund these repairs.
The altarpiece (left) combines with the tomb (right) to honor Michelangelo and the Buonarroti family, while attracting the eyes of tourists. Photo credit: Opera di Santa Croce.
Michelangelo, who is well known for his work in the Sistine Chapel, became very ill and died in 1564. Although Pope Pius IV ordered for his body to be buried in Rome in St. Peter’s, Michelangelo’s body was ‘stolen’ and returned to Florence where he was then buried in Santa Croce.
By Mark Pattison and Julie Asher
WASHINGTON (CNS) — It’s summertime and the movies are plentiful.
As everyone knows the summer movie season is a big one for Hollywood, and when it comes to a close, it is followed closely by a few select September and October film festivals where moviemakers usually debut their fall releases – and their hopes the movies will be Oscar contenders. Catholic News Service reviewers keep up with the best of them.
(Photo by Lori Bucci, Flickr/via LA Tourism)
All this talk of movies and reviews brings to mind something CNS/USCCB archivist Katherine Nuss recently unearthed from an archival box – the pledge Catholics used to take called the Legion of Decency.
The Legion of Decency assumed the U.S. Catholic Church’s mantle in keeping objectionable material — well, most objectionable material, anyway — out of Hollywood films.
Here’s an excerpt from a 1936 Legion pamphlet:
The Legion of Decency is concerned not so much about the materials selected for a story as about the moral treatment of those materials. … The Legion of Decency, in short, does not object to human problems being dramatized on the screen; it does not deny that sin and crime may at times be necessary ingredients of a plot; but the Legion is deeply concerned with what elicits the sympathy of the audience and influences its judgment. The audience must not be led to accept false principles and to condone wrong-doing. When moral evil is portrayed in a film, it should never be pictured as good, admirable, or justifiable. And, conversely, moral good should never be proposed as evil, foolish or despicable.
It was the Legion of Decency that came up with the classification system — modified in the ensuing decades — still in use by CNS to assess the moral suitability of films. Because it’s been around for 80 years, there are thousands upon thousands of movies that use Roman numerals in the classification — I, II, III — rather than the far more commonplace 1, 2, 3.
It was a big, big deal in 1939 for Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) to say onscreen to Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind,” “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” That remark might very well have earned the film a “B” rating from the Legion. For the uninitiated, “B” meant “morally objectionable in part for all.” It was later (Read More)
Here is an exciting and innovative approach to financing original works of sacred art. It comes from the recently formed John Paul II Foundation for Sacred Arts.
It is a free market approach in which artists are motivated to create work of sufficient quality that it will fulfil its purpose fully, which means that it will connect with congregations in their worship. If he fulfils both of these criteria, then through this system, he will generate enough return that he will have more than a living wage.
Instead of a traditional endowment or commission model, the Foundation partners with artists in an entrepreneurial venture to fund a given project at cost. This format makes funding sacred art financially accessible to donors of all levels. Grants are crowd-funded and paid in installments throughout the creative process to pay the artist’s material costs and living expenses. Upon its completion, the artist retains primary ownership of the work, while the Foundation enjoys a share in the proceeds of any sale of the work, associated prints, or revenues from displaying the work.
The great strength of this, is that once the artist is selected for crowd-funding, he is still not guaranteed success. The funding will only come if the crowds are interested, so to speak. In other words, it must appeal to large numbers of ordinary, non-elites as well.
This is the ultimate test of beauty – it appeals to the cognoscienti and hoi polloi alike. As Benedict XVI said in A New Song to the Lord (p123): “It is precisely the test of true creativity that the artist steps out of the esoteric and knows how to form his or her intuition in such a way that the other – the many – may perceive what the artist has perceived.”
This is saying that while all that is popular is not beautiful; all that is beautiful will be popular (provided enough people are exposed to it). Therefore, the judges who consider its appropriateness for sacred art must consider also whether this is likely to connect with congregations. If they get it wrong and no one wants to fund it, they won’t make the same mistake twice! It is, in part at least, self-selecting.
Some artists may still argue that they won’t be able to access this funding unless they can first jump through the hoop of judges’ selection. This is true. But if that happens to you…start your (Read More)
Here is a fascinating paper by Dr Tom Larson of St Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire entitled Man, Music and Catholic Culture. He presented it at the Institute of St Anselm Studies, an annual symposium which takes place the college campus each summer. It has just been published in the proceedings and is now online.
Dr Larson examines first the place of music in Greek philosophical tradition and compares this with accounts of two modern commentators. The first, a non-Christian philosopher Allan Bloom, whose thoughts he presents as a foil to a modern Christian view, that of Pope Benedict XVI.
Larson’s discussion clearly applies to sacred music and reinforces all that has been said on the importance of music in the liturgy. But he extends this also to the profane and considers the place of music in the wider culture too.
Here is the abstract for the paper:
The topic of this paper is the place of music within the Catholic intellectual tradition. The paper discusses the dignity of music, its relationship to man, and its place in education. The paper begins with the pagan classical treatment of music. The classical account of music is bound up with certain claims about human psychology, education, and culture, as well as certain claims about the universe. Allan Bloom’s discussion of music in the Greek philosophic tradition is examined as a foil to the Catholic vision discussed in the second part of the paper. The second part presents Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI’s understanding of music’s place in Catholic culture. Music, along with laws of beauty and order, has its source in God; it contributes to the re-integration of Man and directs him toward union with God in prayer; it has an intimate relationship with the human longing for transcendence; as a universal language, it has a role in evangelization and facilitating inter-cultural dialogue; in its beauty we are enabled to experience the presence of Ultimate Beauty; and in its own and very powerful way, the beauty of the music that has grown out of Christian culture serves as a kind of verification of the Christian faith.