Friday, April 28, 2006

misinterpreting the middle ages yet again

I have instructed Yahoo to send me an email whenever it comes across an article that contains the words "medieval" [because that's what I study], "professor," [because that usually means there is an academic voice commenting on whatever the issue at hand is], and "king," [because I study kinship]. More often than not, the stories they send me are extremely arbitrary, but sometimes I find something fun, and on rare occasions, I find something useful.

Today I got this story from the BBC. It is about something someone told me in high school: that the musical interval known as the tritone (e.g., the diminshed fifth or augmented fourth) was thought to be "Satanic" in the "Middle Ages," and was "banned" by "the Church" (quotation marks provided not by the pimply and naive electric guitar-playing adolescent Liam from 1983, but the graying medievalist Liam from 2006 -- the guitar is under the bed, I will take it out some time). This is an article from the BBC, no less, and it is illustrative of what the professor for whom I am a TA right now calls the power of the narrative about the Middle Ages. As I grade papers right now, I see that despite our efforts throughout the semester, some students still seem under the spell of the received narrative they brought with them to the class: the Middle Ages were a time of ignorance and superstition in which a single, monolithic "Church" crushed free thought until we were saved by the Renaissance and the Reformation. It's a simple, clear, and thoroughly wrong idea of what happened.

This article is a case in point. I can imagine its genesis: a reporter decides to cover a story that seems amusing enough: heavy metal musicians are attracted to a musical interval that was "banned" in the Middle Ages. How curious! How exciting! We can all imagine the scene. Some poor minstrel has a bit too much spiced wine and strums the wrong chord on his lute. He is immediately captured by grim monks, their faces shrouded in heavy cowls, and, after a few days on the rack, a few nights hanging on the wall of a dungeon, he is handed over to the inquisition and is immediately burned at the stake.

This must have happened all the time. In the Middle Ages. Surely.

The author of the article has authorities to back up the narrative. Professor John Deathridge of King's College London says:
There are strict musical rules. You aren't allowed to use this particular dissonance. It simply won't work technically, you are taught not to write that interval. But you can read into that a theological ban in the guise of a technical ban.
Yes, you could read something into it if you wish. If, like Prof. Deathridge, you are a Wagner scholar opining on something completely out of his subject area. Still, what he says here at the beginning is probably much closer to what might have happened: there were musical rules and this interval didn't work technically. The same way you can't use Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique when writing a country song. Medieval music was written according to a particular framework and had a great deal of music theory around it from the start. This could well be more like a ban of using oysters in chocolate cake than a ban of Harry Potter at a fundamentalist Christian school.

Closer to the end of the article, we have the view of another scholar, Anthony Pryer, whose opinion is even more disappointing for the received narrative:
It was recognised to be a problem in music right back to the 9th Century. It is a natural consequence, and so they banned it. They had rules for getting around it. It was called Diabolus in Musica by two or three writers in the medieval or renaissance [period]. It was 'false music', the intervals weren't natural. They may have thought it was devilishly hard to teach the singers not to sing it. I don't think they ever thought of it as the Devil dwelling in music.
So the association with Devil appears only briefly in the voluminous writing on music theory in this period, and the meaning of it is not clear. I'm not even sure what he means by "they banned it." Did that mean that music teachers taught that it was not to be used? Was it banned for use in sacred music because it sounded bad (they way that many Catholics now would like to see a ban on certain kinds of music used in the liturgy)? If it was a ban pronounced by the institutional Church, was it done by a bishop? Two bishops? A legate, a pope, a council? Was it enforced? Was it known about outside a small area? To say something was "banned" in the Middle Ages is meaningless without further context.

We have to remember that the Church in the Middle Ages was not like the Catholic Church now. There was an effort from the papacy, starting in the eleventh century, to centralize and homogenize liturgy, belief, and ecclesiastical structure. There were, however, too many competing forces for that to work and the papacy lacked the technology to control the whole of Christendom they way they would have liked to. Conservative groups within the Church often tried to ban activities within the same Church that they saw as dangerous, but more often than not these bans would be local and they were also usually ignored (like the ban of teaching Aristotle a the University of Paris).

I have to admit that, like Prof. Deathridge (what a wonderful name for an English Wagnerian), I am speaking outside of my field, since I am not a musicologist. I have not researched this particular issue. But hey, this is just a blog. I may ask the medievalist in the Columbia music department next time I see her. Still, I have seen this kind of misinterpretation again and again, and it smells fishy.

The narrative, however, is powerful. So our journalist starts out his article with a quote that does not come from either scholar, but from "rock producer Bob Erzin":
It apparently was the sound used to call up the beast. There is something very sexual about the tritone. In the Middle Ages when people were ignorant and scared, when they heard something like that and felt that reaction in their body they thought 'uh oh, here come the Devil'.
Thanks, Bob. In the Middle Ages. When people were ignorant.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


My dissertation topic, "The Use of Religious Language in the Construction of Royal Power: Leon-Castile, 1037-1157" has been approved by my committee.

Let me at them charters!

Monday, April 24, 2006


Pius I, pope 142-155.

A friend of mine emailed me the following diatribe. Apparently it was from a website making fun of the more extreme Catholic traditionalists. The site no longer exists, so I decided to reproduce it here. It's very funny. They get the tone and the reasoning down, from the USE OF CAPITALS to the accusations of Freemasonry. It also cleverly points out the dangers of obsessively reductive traditionalism.

Before the fun starts, I want to state that I have no bone to pick with less extreme traditionalists as long as they have no bone to pick with me. I think the Latin liturgy is beautiful and have no problem with the Latin Mass being available as long as it is not the only alternative. I myself prefer a Mass that is lively and partcipatory but also solemn and aware of tradition. Some Latin is always nice. For more discussions on liturgy, I recommend the blog Catholic Sensibility, which features thoughtful posts on the liturgy and varied but respectful comments from those who agree and disagree with the posts.

Here's the fun:

The Society of St. Pius I

"To be any more Trad, you'd have to be Jewish"

Welcome to the fledgling website of the Society of St. Pius I (SSPI). Unlike other so-called "traditionalist" Roman Catholic groups, we adhere to the ORIGINAL Roman Catholic Mass of A.D. 40-200, and described by St. Justin Martyr and the Apostolic Constitutions, and used by Pope St. Pius I of happy memory.

Don't be fooled by PHONY "Vulgate" neotraditionalists, who claim to protect tradition, and yet still defend the RADICAL and totally UNCATHOLIC reforms of the 4th century A.D. So-called "trads" pretend to be against the modernism of the last hundred years, but where were they when the original Rite of Rome, the Greek rite USED BY ST. PETER AND THE APOSTLES was being totally gutted and revised by unknown scholars and translated into the vernacular language of Latin?

Unlike other wimpy neotraditionalist groups who attach themselves to various other Piuses, we at the SSPI make absolutely ZERO compromises with modernism. We reject not just one, but BOTH "Novus Ordos"-the Novus Ordo of 1970 promulgated by Paul VI, and the Latin Vulgate Mass of 400 A.D. promulgated by Innocent I and Pope Gregory I, which we call the "Vulgar Mass."

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, we can now spread the TRUTH about the REAL Roman liturgical tradition which is being kept alive only by a brave remnant of faithful Catholics: myself and whoever else wants to join.

--Klaudios Philadelphou, Archon and Caesaropapist of the SSPI

"We're not approved...and we don't want to be"

Facts everyone NEEDS to know about the "Traditional" Latin Mass

FACT: Even the neotrad "Catholic Encyclopedia" admits the Latin Mass was a radical break with tradition! The REAL Traditional Roman Mass is the Greek Mass of the first three centuries as described by the Apostolic Constitutions
and the Apology of St. Justin Martyr. The "Catholic Encyclopedia" written and published in 1913 by diehard "pre-Vatican II" neotrads, was forced to admit that its oh-so-precious "Latin Mass" was a radical and unprecedented break from tradition unlike any that had ever gone before.

Just read these shocking quotes from the article "Liturgy of the Mass":

"The origin of the Roman Mass, on the other hand, is a most difficult question. We have here two fixed and certain data: the Liturgy in Greek described by St. Justin Martyr (d. c. 165), which is that of the Church of Rome in the second century, and, at the other end of the development, the Liturgy of the first Roman Sacramentaries in Latin, in about the sixth century. The two are very different."

"He [Justin Martyr] describes how the Holy Eucharist was celebrated in Rome in the middle of the second century...we have hardly any knowledge at all of what developments the Roman Rite went through during the third and fourth centuries...By the fifth century, we come back to comparatively firm ground, after a radical change."

"But between this original Roman Rite (which we can study only in the Apost. Const.) and the Mass as it emerges in the first sacramentaries (sixth to seventh century) there is a great change."

"This brings us back to a most difficult question: Why and when was the Roman Liturgy changed from what we see in Justin Martyr to that of Gregory I? The change is radical, especially as regards the most important element of the Mass, the Canon."

"At Rome the Eucharistic prayer was fundamentally changed and recast at some uncertain period between the fourth and the sixth and seventh centuries. During the same time the prayers of the faithful before Offertory disappeared, the kiss of peace was transferred to after the Consecration, and the Epiklesis was omitted or mutilated into our ‘Supplices’ prayer.”

Finally, the article quotes the liturgical historian Rauschen as saying:

"We must then admit that between the years 400 and 500 a great transformation was made in the Roman Canon."

What more proof could anyone POSSIBLY need?! The so-called “Traditional Latin Mass" is NOT traditional at all!!! It's a drastic change in 200 years of liturgical tradition, and one concocted by unknown scholars and unaccountable liturgical "experts." It is a dangerous modern innovation that is putting millions of souls in jeopardy!!

FACT: Latin is NOT the original language of the Church!

It's a VERNACULAR language that was foisted on the Roman church by Pope Victor I (A.D. 190-202), who was an AFRICAN priest--NOT a Roman!!! The earliest liturgies at Rome as described by St. Justin Martyr were in GREEK. But once Victor made the change in language, that OPENED THE DOOR a century later to a barrage of changes in the rite of Mass itself, from which the Roman Rite has NEVER recovered.

This opening up of vernacular languages has led to the Church becoming a veritable Tower of Babel, full of all sorts of barbarian languages that were NOT SPOKEN BY THE APOSTLES. Was this what Christ intended when he prayed that the church be one? A hodgepodge of incomprehensible barbarian tongues that were formerly used to worship fake gods like Jupiter?

Die-hard Vulgate Pope John VIII even allowed Cyril and Methodius to translate the liturgy for the Slavs into Old Church Slavonic!!

Wouldn't you want to use a language that was actually spoken by the Apostles, rather than some barbarian language spoken by goatskin wearing savages? EVERY SINGLE BOOK of the New Testament was written in GREEK. Not Latin. Not Syriac. Not Coptic. Not Old Church Slavonic. And especially not English. This fact alone PROVES that these other languages are inventions of SATAN and CONDEMNED BY GOD.

So whatever later so-called "Popes" may have said about the use of Latin, it IS NOT TRADITIONAL!!!

And even further, linguists have shown that Nero--who is identified by some biblical scholars as the archetype of Antichrist in Revelation--spoke Latin. Do you really think God would want you to be using the Antichrist's language--IN A CHURCH?????

FACT: The traditional Roman Mass was celebrated in catacombs, NOT churches!!!

Above ground churches are a LATE development in the Roman church which date to the legalization of Christianity by Constantine. They were NEVER part of the original Roman rite!

So what was so wrong with the church going above ground? Above ground is where PAGAN temples were built. And in order to appease and "get along with" their new false-god worshiping neighbors, modernist Romans started to build unholy ecumenical shrines that confirmed and incorporated their wrong and idolatrous ideas. Don't just take my word for it--just ask a Jehovah's Witness--even they'll tell you it's true!!!

The Pantheon for instance, was a PAGAN Roman temple which was reconsecrated as a church by Pope Boniface in A.D. 609!! Pagan building, Catholic building--what's the difference, right?? Then in the reign of Pope Zacharias (741-752) another church was built on the ruins of a pagan temple and called "Santa Maria sopra Minerva". Minerva was a Roman goddess—many Catholics DIED HORRIBLE DEATHS rather than offer a tiny pinch of incense to her. And yet their supposedly Christian descendants NAMED a church after her!!! Even the ecumaniacs at Assisi never did anything like this--put a false goddess' name ON PAR with the Virgin Mary, Mother of God!!!!

In accord with holy tradition therefore, we must reject any and all above-ground church structures, in accordance with the true traditional practice of the Roman church. Unfortunately, funding issues and zoning laws in our locality have so far prevented us from excavating new catacombs in our area, so we are temporarily headquartered behind the water heater in our basement.

FACT: Pope Gregory the "Great" was a liturgical "reformer"

Neotrads love to say their Mass goes back to Pope Gregory I in the 6th century. But how much do they REALLY know about this ultraliberal legislator who helped solidify the final destruction of the TRUE traditional Roman Rite?

Even a pope firmly entrenched in the Vulgar Mass, Benedict XIV said that "no pope has added to, or changed the Canon since St. Gregory." He thus ADMITS that St. Gregory changed the Canon!!!

Gregory's biographer John the Deacon tells us that Gregory "collected the Sacramentary of Gelasius in one book, leaving out much, changing little, adding something for the exposition of the Gospels."

Gregory also moved the Our Father from the end of the Mass to the Canon. He also added the phrase "Diesque nostros" to the Hanc Igitur prayer. This is the prayer that says "Graciously accept, then, we beseech You, O Lord, this service of our worship and that of all Your household"--it asks God to accept ALL forms of worship!!! Incredibly, Gregory did NOT change this part of the prayer despite its obviously heretical approval of false worship!!!

To make matters worse, in a letter published in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Pope Gregory approved a totally untraditional ecumenical "concoction" for use in Britain: "Your brotherhood knoweth the custom of the Church of Rome...But it pleaseth me, if you have found anything, be it in the Church of Rome, or France or any other...zealously choose and spread in the Church of the English...the things that you have been able to gather from many Churches." So instead of demanding that Augustine use the traditional Greek Mass to England, Gregory just had him cobble together an "ecumenical" liturgy from every country and "zealously" spread it. Neotrads complain to no end about Cranmer's Protestant Mass in England, but Gregory started the trend a thousand years before!!! Cranmer just finished the job!!

We also have a reliable source from Italy who informs us that a recently excavated mosaic clearly depicts Pope Gregory kissing Vergil's Aeneid!!!

But to answer the question on everyone's mind, was Pope Gregory a Freemason?

Despite apparently accurate claims that the organization did not even exist back then, the Freemasons THEMSELVES claim otherwise, and say that they date back to Ancient Egypt. It is therefore POSSIBLE that a fifth century pope may have joined the organization. Significantly, our top researchers at the Society have NOT been able to DISPROVE Gregory's membership in the Masons, and, most importantly, NEITHER HAS ANYONE ELSE. Prudence therefore DEMANDS that we treat all of his liturgical "reforms" as HIGHLY suspect and potentially heretical.

Pope Gregory was the "Great" all right--the great changer of the Canon and the great ecumaniac to boot!!

Fact: the people behind the "Latin Mass" promoted Dialogue with FALSE RELIGIONS!!!

Neotrad "Saint" Jerome, who imposed his Vulgate Bible on the Latin world, took instruction in Hebrew and Talmud from Jewish scholars, and even followed their opinions (e.g. in his Commentary on Joel iv. 11). Says the Jewish Encyclopedia: "Although other Church Fathers quote Jewish traditions none equal Jerome in the number and faithfulness of their quotations". He was being "faithful" to Judaism's traditions, while at the same time ruining Catholic traditions by translating the Bible into the evil language of Nero!

Most shockingly of all, Jerome also wrote a book called "Dialogue with the Luciferians
" --LUCIFER????? Is there NO ONE these neotrads won't DIALOGUE with????!!!! At what point do we just say--NO... WE DON'T DIALOGUE WITH LUCIFERIANS??!!!

By the way, some snide sarcastic modernist type pointed out that our hero St. Justin Martyr also wrote a "Dialogue with Trypho the Jew
." Yeah, we knew that. So what?

FACT: St. Paul said to "hold fast to the traditions you have been taught"

Ask yourself--are today's Novus Ordo neocons and Latin Mass neotrads REALLY holding fast to TRUE ROMAN tradition?
DID they hold fast to the Greek liturgy that St. Peter and Paul brought to Rome? Or are they just too happily clueless in their little Gallicanized-Roman Rite and its "ecumenical" combination of Latin and Frankish??

ANNOUNCEMENT: Real Traditionalist Priests wanted!!

No priest has of yet had the courage to join our brave and heroic movement. So we are currently looking for Greek-speaking priests who may have said the liturgy of St. Justin Martyr in their youth. Candidates must be able to prove Apostolic Succession directly from Popes Peter, Linus, Cletus or Clement.

NOTE: Greek Catholic/ Greek Orthodox Rite priests NEED NOT APPLY!!!
We have arbitrarily decided not to like you guys either.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

things I don't believe in any longer

Vermeer's Allegory of Faith. I still have faith in many things, but there are at least a couple of ideals that have lost their shimmer of meaning for me. For example:

1. The Democratic Party. Perhaps it's the party, and not I, that has lost its faith. I still believe in the things the Democrats say they believe in: equality, social justice, compassion. Yes, I will still vote Democrat when it matters, that is, when my vote counts -- if, for example, I am still living in New York in 2008, I don't know if I will vote for the Democratic candidate. I won't vote Republican, but if the party decides on somebody like Hillary Clinton, I just might have to write in the late Paul Wellstone. If I'm living in someplace like Ohio or Florida, I would probably vote for Hillary and then stay drunk for two weeks.

It does matter -- the 2000 election shows that yes, there can be a great difference between Republicans and Democrats. I even gave money to the Democrats in 2004. Still, I am tired of getting emails and letters from party leaders telling me how we all know how bad the Republicans are and how I have to send them money to fight their evil ways. This is the message they send the true believers on the left. Their attitude in congress and in the media is completely different. It doesn't matter how bad the war gets, how many laws the president violates, how shamelessly corrupt their corporate-friendly laws and no-bid contracts are. The Democrats offer the least of resistance.

Of course, in many ways their hands are tied by their own cowardice and lack of political will and imagination. Most of them voted for Bush's war and Patriot Act. Terrified of appearing weak, they showed themselves to be unfathomably spineless. With Bush's approval rating at 33%, much of which has to do with the war, they still can not put together a collective alternative, despite individual efforts like that of John Murtha, who was slandered by the Republicans amid the general complacency of his fellow Democrats. When Russ Feingold suggested censoring the president for breaking the law, his colleagues avoided him like the plague. One can argue about whether that proposal was appropriate or not at this time (I believe it was), but it was the kind of proposal that I would expect from the party that sends me those letters asking for money to fight the Republicans.

Please Nancy, Howard, John, and Hillary, (to quote Bob Dylan): "Don't send me no more letters, no." Not unless you grow some cojones and actually act like an opposition with vision.

Stop letting the Republicans define the terms of the debate. Whenever Democrats protest the reasons for the war, the GOP shouts back, "you had the same information we had." Please. The information came from the administration. The Democrats should say, "If we supported the war, it was because we were mislead by the information provided by the administration. We were at best given bad information by incompetents, at worst fooled by liars. Either way, the administration is guilty of leading us into a war for the wrong reasons."

Will they ever say something like this? Call the GOP on the war, the corrupt and incompetent reconstruction afterwards, the pushing of laws dictated by the oil or the pharmaceutical industries, the obscene racism and social injustice built into our system and made evident during the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina?

I recall Nanni Moretti in his film Aprile, watching a televised debate between his preferred candidate, Massimo D'Alema, and the horrible Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi talks on and on and D'Alemo can't get a word in edgewise. Moretti, frustrated, begins to shout at the TV screen:

"D'Alemo, say something left-wing!

Say something sensible even if it isn't left-wing!

Say something!


That's what I want to shout at the Democratic Party, and if they follow my advice, they might actually win control of congress in November and the presidency in 2008. Then I might start to believe a little, though at this point I don't promise to do anything but vote for them in extreme situations. Listen, Democratic Party:


This post is getting long. I will discuss other things I no longer believe in later.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

warm weather and the end of the semester

Alfonso VII -- I will have to be getting back to him.

After a Holy Week of intense blogging, I have picked up the work I have to do and am bracing myself for the end of the semester. Filius imperatricis pulcherrimae Africae occidentalis has the week off from school and it's supposed to get near 77 degrees tomorrow, so I plan to take him to Central Park tomorrow, even though I will be dragging books with me.

A few things:

-I distributed my dissertation prospectus a week and a half ago and will be defending it on the 27th. Wish me luck.

-The students in the class I am a TA for hand in their papers on Monday. Again, wish me luck.

-William Sloan Coffin, RIP.

-I downloaded the entire Latin Vulgate Bible onto my PDA. Sometimes I love the 21st century. The Vulgate and other versions of the Bible are available here.

Time to take out summer clothes and prepare for the warm weather. Summertime -- the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is high. Your daddy is rich and your momma's good-looking. So hush now, little baby, don't you cry.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Via Crucis Grid Blog: Stations XIII & XIV

The Via Crucis Grid Blog concludes.

Station XIII: Jesus' Body is Taken Down from the Cross

There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him. There were also many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. When it was already evening, since it was the day of preparation, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a distinguished member of the council, who was himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came and courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was amazed that he was already dead. He summoned the centurion and asked him if Jesus had already died. And when he learned of it from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. Mark 15: 40-45

At the cross, there are no apostles (except, in John, "the disciple whom he loved), just at a distance the women who had followed Christ from Galilee. When he is taken down from the cross, they perform the task that has been performed by women across the centuries -- washing and perfuming the body of the dead, the body broken by senseless violence.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is not mentioned in the gospel accounts of this moment. But John has her at the foot of the cross as Christ dies, and artists have sensibly placed her in the scene, either swooning or cradling her dead son in her arms. She is the Mater Dolorosa, our Lady of Sorrows, experiencing as a mother the sufferings of the world through her son.

How many mothers are cradling their sons in their arms now, their bodies pierced with bullets or knives, broken by sticks or rods, disfigured by torture? How many women stand at a distance and watch cruelty unfold as it has for centuries? Mater Dolorosa, ora pro nobis.

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
da per Matrem me venire
ad palmam victoriae

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station XIII bloggers: Mike, PmPilgrim, Tom

Station XIV: Jesus' Body is Laid in the Tomb

Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb. Matthew 27:59-61

This is the end of the Via Crucis and one might think it is the end of the story. A man preaches and performs miracles, and in the end is too threatening to the authorities, so he is killed. He is placed in a tomb and the tomb is closed. He and his teachings will be remembered.

The Via Crucis is about suffering and sorrow, and how Jesus, by enduring suffering and sorrow in his own person, shared the sufferings and sorrows of the world and thus redeemed them. For even if we are mocked, tortured and made to die a horrible death, Christ is there with us and we experience nothing that he has not felt himself in his own flesh. To meditate only on the part of the Gospel that speaks of suffering is not correct, but to ignore it is to lose a profound part of the message, as well as to refuse to see the suffering around us.

Still, the story is not over. The women left at the tomb would return. Where there had been darkness, night, and sorrow, there was light and joy. The tomb was empty and guarded by an angel. Sorrow and suffering, even death, have been triumphed over. It Easter, the day of Resurrection.

Quando corpus morietur,
fac, ut animae donetur
paradisi gloria. Amen

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station XIV bloggers: Mike, Jimmy, Tom

Friday, April 14, 2006

Via Crucis Grid Blog: Stations XI & XII

The Via Crucis Grid Blog continues.

Station X: Jesus is Crucified

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." They divided his garments by casting lots. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God." Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews." Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." -- Luke 23: 33-43
The man on the cross. The man nailed to the cross. Flesh pierced and tearing as the cross is raised. The battle of the lungs against the weight of his own body. The thirst. Gasping.

The mockery continues. Who mocks a dying man, even if he is a criminal?

Even a dying criminal taunts him.

But another speaks with faith. Condemned justly to death for his crimes, he alone seems to see a man who has a kingdom to come into. He asks the broken, dying man to remember him. Another of the first Christians.

We are near the end.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
passionis fac consortem,
et plagas recolere

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station XI bloggers: Mike, Jonathon, PmPilgrim, Kester, Jimmy

Station XII: Jesus Dies on the Cross
From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Some of the bystanders who heard it said, "This one is calling for Elijah." Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, "Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him." But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, "Truly, this was the Son of God!" Matthew 27:45-54

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit"; and when he had said this he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, "It is finished." And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit. John 19:30

When Jesus is about to die, the land is covered with darkness and after he dies, the earth shakes and the Temple veil is rent. What else could be expected, but the shudder of the world itself upon the death of the incarnated God? The darkest hour in the history of the universe.

The gospels provide different accounts of Christ's last words. I am sure at long last he commended his spirit to his Father. I am also sure he did cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" As a child I never understood that cry and in a way it frightened me, because I took it to be a momentary loss of faith, something I could not believe would occur to Jesus. That is because no one ever told me that Jesus was quoting Psalm 22, and in doing so made his final act of solidarity with his suffering people. The Psalms are great prayers of faith, mainly because so many times they approach the brink of despair and loneliness before re-affirming trust in God. They express unreservedly what is at stake. Psalm 22 details the worst of fear and defeat yet ends in confidence and hope. This is what the death of Jesus on Good Friday brings to us: an awareness of the proximity of the greatest of sorrows with the knowledge of the coming of the greatest of joys.

For the moment, the darkness, the quiet.

Fac me plagis vulnerari,
fac me Cruce inebriari,
et cruore Filii.

Flammis ne urar succensus,
per te, Virgo, sim defensus
in die iudicii

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station XII bloggers: Mike, Jonathon, Jimmy

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Via Crucis Grid Blog: Stations IX & X

The Via Crucis Grid Blog continues.

Station IX: Jesus Falls the Third Time

For they cannot sleep till they do evil; they are robbed of slumber till they make someone fall. They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. -- Proverbs 4: 16-17
I was in Jerusalem on September 28, 2000 when Ariel Sharon went into to the al-Aqsa Mosque, provoking what came to be known as the second intifada. There was a riot and the army occupied the area around the mosque and the Western Wall. Seven Palestinians were killed by the IDF. The next day the city was tense and quiet. Soldiers were everywhere, and everyone's nerves were shot. There was no noise except for the call to prayer broadcast from loudspeakers on the minarets that looked over the city.

It was Friday and normally on that day the Franciscans would do the Via Crucis through the Old City, retracing what were traditionally thought to have been the steps of Jesus on his way to Calvary. Because of the situation that day, however, they did not venture out onto the streets, but rather carried out the whole procession inside the Holy Sepulchre, instead of just the end of it.

It was a strange and sad evening inside that strange and sad church. Huge and labyrinthine, home to so many denominations -- Greeks, Catholics, Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Ethiopians -- that night it was crowded as the Franciscans and Armenians both processed in different parts of the building, forced to share the space because of the chaos outside. The clear Gregorian hymns of the Franciscans mixed with the haunting Eastern chants of the Armenians. Outside, the people I had gotten to know over the past week were getting ready for the killing that would be practiced by both sides.

Some two thousand years before, in that same city, someone had stumbled a third and last time, near the place of the skull, and then got up and made it to the hill where the killing of the innocents and criminals was set to begin.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifixo condolere,
donec ego vixero

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station IX Bloggers: Ron, Jonathon, PmPilgrim

Station X: Jesus is Stripped of his Garments

So wasted are my hands and feet that I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots. Psalm 22:17-19

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of the Skull), they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall. But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink. After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over him there. -- Matthew 27:27-31; 33-36

Jesus is stripped of his garments twice. The first time it is so the guards can mock him, dressing him in a red cloak, a crown of thorns, and a reed for a scepter, a grim and sadistic carnival game of a beggar king. This is, in effect, a brutal misreading of what Christ is. Accused of calling himself "The King of Jews", he suffers a cruel and theatrical false coronation in which he is spat upon and beat physically with the same reed that is used as a symbol of mockery -- his "scepter" or rod of authority. The irony is that in mocking him, the magnify him. His glory is unearthly and reflects the unimaginable feat of the incarnation, in which his love for humanity increases with his suffering. The man who is being falsely honored is greater than any king the guards could imagine. He is not "The King of the Jews" -- if anything he is "The King of Glory" in Psalm 24, the meek lamb that has been sacrificed and is then worshiped by a heavenly court in Revelations 5. The great paradox of Jesus is that at the same moment he is most glorified, he is most human.

The second time he is stripped, it is so that he can be hung naked on the cross, and those who crucified him could play lots for his clothes "in fulfillment of the scriptures." He is nothing then but a bleeding, naked, broken man hanging on a cross like a common criminal. The King of Heaven.

Iuxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociare
in planctu desidero.

Virgo virginum praeclara,
mihi iam non sis amara,
fac me tecum plangere

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station X Bloggers: Ron, Jonathon, Mark, Church Geek

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Via Crucis Grid Blog: Stations VII & VIII

The Via Crucis Grid Blog continues.

Station VII: Jesus Falls the Second Time

Two are better than one: they get a good wage for their labor. If the one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up. Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10
The way has a rhythm, it is marked by falls. The body weakened and weakened, the trip, the stumble. Is he solitary? Is there anyone to help him up?

The frustration being too weak to walk even to one's own execution. The taste of dirt, mixing with the blood from cuts and dusty sweat. Woe to the solitary man.

Feet bleeding, the cross heavy even with the aid of the stranger. Friends and apostles are nowhere to be seen, only the scourge of the soldier as all Jerusalem watches him stumble towards his death. Woe to the solitary man.

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
in amando Christum Deum
ut sibi complaceam.

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station VII bloggers: Annie, Jonathon, Jason, PmPilgrim

Station VIII: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.' At that time people will say to the mountains, 'Fall upon us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!' for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?" Luke 23:28-31
Often I hear this station referred to as "Jesus consoles the daughters of Jerusalem," and I must say there is very little that is consoling in his words. What he says is terrifying, and we must remember that Christ's path of love, compassion and forgiveness never becomes soft and easy. The radical Gospel of Jesus can be both liberating and frightening and it can be challenging to reconcile the Jesus who assures us that even the sparrows will be provided for with the Jesus who warns of cataclysm.

He was right. Jerusalem would fall to Titus in some forty years' time. How many more tragedies have people had to bear? The plagues that cut down nations, the wars, the genocides of Germany and Rwanda, how many times have people said, "Blessed are the barren"? Jesus could teach us peace, but he would not keep us from the wars we brought on ourselves.

Christ can be scary. "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." I'm not always sure what to make of him. Sometimes perhaps we should be astonished, as his apostles were when he said it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. "Who then can be saved?" they asked. "With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible," he replied. Before the horrors of the world and before even the fear of God's infinite justice, we must remember God' infinite mercy. With him all things are possible.

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifixi fige plagas
cordi meo valide.

Tui Nati vulnerati,
tam dignati pro me pati,
poenas mecum divide.

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station VIII bloggers: Dry Bones Dance, Jonathon, Jason, Michelle

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Via Crucis Grid Blog: Stations V & VI

The Via Crucis Grid Blog continues.

Station V: Symon of Cyrene is Made to Bear the Cross

As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. -- Luke 23:26
My dearest, Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis, mentioned to me that Simon was, like her, an African. He came from Cyrene in present-day Libya. Imagine visiting bustling Jerusalem and being grabbed roughly by a guard and having some sweating, bleeding criminal's heavy cross to his place of execution. That fact that Simon is named (along with, in Mark's version, his sons) possibly indicates that he was a known member of an early Christian community. So Simon was aware who the bleeding criminal was, or at least he learned later.

We speak of picking up one's cross, but Simon went a step further -- picking up someone else's cross. This act that is so ironic -- carrying the cross of the man who carried the cross of all humankind -- is the essential Christian act, and perhaps in this imitatio Christi at such a dire moment of the story of Christ made Simon, if not the first follower of Christ, the first Christian. Perhaps it was at the moment when he felt the weight of the cross on his shoulders that he knew who Jesus was. Every Christian at every moment is rushing by an execution in Jerusalem where he or she can be pressed into service, and may (or may not) accept the burden of the suffering person fallen on the dusty road.

Pro peccatis suae gentis
vidit Iesum in tormentis,
et flagellis subditum.

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station V bloggers: Preston, Annie, Elena, Martha2, PmPilgrim, Only Wonder Understands, Jimmy

Station VI: Christ's Face is Wiped by Vernonica

When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. "Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days' wages and the money given to the poor." They were infuriated with her. Jesus said, "Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." -- Mark 14:3-9

Veronica is not found in scripture and is almost certainly legendary. Like so many legends, her truth is not in her factual existence, but in what her story reveals to us. Like the woman in Bethany, she performs a kindness for Jesus, a kindness that anticipates his death. The imprint of Christ's face -- imago Dei -- on her veil is like the imprint of Christ's image that is marked on our soul when we are moved to compassion and act on it. Jesus, who is suffering for us, makes us suffer for him and share his [com]Passion. The journey to Calvary is becoming a ever widening circle of compassion, taking in Mary, Simon, and Veronica, as Christ's love spreads outward like ripples on a pond. The redemption that Jesus promises in the Passion is not some blood sacrifice to an angry God, but a purifying of humanity through a humanity that is divine and the love and compassion that it engenders.

Vidit suum dulcem Natum
moriendo desolatum,
dum emisit spiritum.

Eia, Mater, fons amoris
me sentire vim doloris
fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station VI blogger: Crossroads Dispatches

Monday, April 10, 2006

Via Crucis Grid Blog: Stations III & IV

More from the Via Crucis Grid Blog.

Station III: Jesus Falls the First Time

The Lord supports all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. -- Psalm 145:14

The weight of the cross is too great and Christ falls to the ground, breaking the fall with his hands, cutting them on the ground, the dirt of the trodden path coating his bleeding hands, making them sting. The pain of the beam on the shoulder. Perhaps a soldier strikes him with a whip to make him get up, angry with him for holding up the grim procession.

Someone who had never heard of Jesus Christ would be very puzzled from the beginning of the story -- God made flesh, dwelling among us. Would he not be made a king and worshipped accordingly? No, we tell them, he was treated as a criminal. Did not, then, he reveal his power, striking down those involved in such sacrilege? No, we tell them, he did not. He had revealed his power in miracles of healing, and more so in miracles of teaching, and when this whole cruel, bloody sacrilege was over, he would reveal his power in an astonishing, profound, and world-changing way, but now he was letting himself be beaten, mocked, and burdened with a cross. Not quite believable, our hearer would say.

God made human, to be truly human, perhaps, would have to experience the best and worst that humanity had to experience. Nothing could be worse than the cruelty of injustice practiced by other human beings. Christ did not sit in a palace, but let himself suffer what so many of his beloved brothers and sisters suffer--the sadness of lonely injustice. The weight of it pressing down so hard it could make one fall onto the dusty path.

Quae maerebat et dolebat,
pia Mater, dum videbat
nati poenas inclyti.

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station III bloggers: Jean, Maggie, PmPilgrim

Station IV: Jesus Meets his Blessed Mother
The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." --Luke 2:33-35
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. -- John 19:26-27
We have spent some time thinking about the suffering of Jesus on the way to Calvary. Human life, however, is never about the suffering of one person, and the cruel death of Jesus did not require only his resolve and capacity for faith in suffering. Mary, the handmaiden of the Lord, would too be pierced, forced to suffer the brutal murder of her son. The extraordinary faith of Mary made her not only an essential participant in the Incarnation, but made her a necessary participant in the Crucifixion as well. After Christ himself, the human being who most suffered in this drama of redemption was Mary, a mother given to all of us by Christ as he hung on the cross.
I wish I had greater Marian devotion. I'm not there yet -- I'm only freshly back into the fold. But I love the Marian prayers and hymns.

Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!
Why is it some of the most passionate prayers are to Mary?

Or some of the most beautifully mysterious:
Vessel of honor,
Singular vessel of devotion,
Mystical rose,

Tower of David,
Tower of ivory,
House of gold,
Ark of the covenant,
Gate of heaven,
Morning star,
Health of the sick,
Refuge of sinners,
Comforter of the afflicted,
Help of Christians,
Queen of angels.
Mary shows love in a very pure form: love of God, love of us, and love of her son -- which is why this station is particularly heartbreaking.

Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si videret
in tanto supplicio?

Quis non posset contristari
Christi Matrem contemplari
dolentem cum Filio?

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station IV bloggers: Jean, U2Sermons, Maggie, Elena, Jennifer

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Via Crucis Grid Blog: Stations I & II

This is the first post in my contribution to the week-long Via Crucis Grid Blog, in which a number of people will be blogging their reflections on the Stations of the Cross during Holy Week. It is traditional to sing the beautiful Marian hymn Stabat Mater during the Via Crucis, and I will include a stanza or two with each station (in Latin, so click it for the translation).

Station I: Christ is Condemned to Death
When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood. Look to it yourselves." - Matthew 27:24

We begin the journey with a paradox. Someone is condemned to die, but the judge declares himself innocent of the blood. The onlookers take responsibility, but only as a mob, widening the space of the mob to include their descendents. For years Christians have taken that as a condemnation of all Jews and washed their own hands, found enemies and looked for vengeance for the death of the one who preached forgiveness. They missed the point and increased the injustice.

The drama of the Incarnation, the Crucufixion, and the Resurrection is a drama for all humanity, in fact, for all the cosmos. The condemning of Christ happens with every condemnation that we do. Hatred, rage, arrogant dismissal. We condemn as a mob, we wash our hands. We assign responsibility elsewhere. With the injustice done to Jesus, Jesus shares in every act of injustice that is done in his world, from the greatest to the pettiest.

Stabat Mater doloross
iuxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius...

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station I bloggers: PmPilgrim, Church Geek

Station II: The Cross is Laid upon Christ
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus,and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. -- John 19:16-17
...whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. --Matthew 10:38

The cross, a punishment of the lowest of criminals. Not only to die upon it, but to be forced to bear it through the streets of the city, up to the hill of Calvary, the Place of the Skull, Golgatha. The heavy beams on shoulders raw and cut from the scourge. The indignity of being forced to carry one's own instrument of execution. The weight. It is tall enough to hang a man on.

Rough cut wood, slivers in hands soon to be pierced.

The weight. Step after broken step, the man on display to the city, the spat-upon criminal.

Have you seen a man or woman brought so low, so despised, considered a sore on the body of society? Imagine a cross on their shoulders.

Taking up a cross is a heroic proposition, especially since it is so often despised.

Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta,
mater Unigeniti!

Daily Via Crucis bloggers: Renee, Mike, Argent, Best & Worst, Shawn, Joseph, Kat, Rick, Stephanie, Karen
Station II blogger: Maureen

Friday, April 07, 2006

Via Crucis Blog & other such stuff

On Palm Sunday (that's the day after tomorrow) the Via Crucis Grid Blog will begin. It's not too late to sign up! I'm going to blog every station of the cross and I've been turning over a few ideas in my head about what to write. I think I may take different approaches depending on the station and where I'm at any given time--some more thoughtful, some more impressionistic, some more devotional, some more personal.

The Way of the Cross is essentially about Christ's suffering (the street he supposedly followed in Jerusalem is called the Via Dolorosa -- the way of sorrows). Easter is a time to celebrate the Resurrection, but much of Holy Week -- especially Good Friday -- is also a good time to think about suffering. Jesus' suffering, our suffering and that of those around us, and the suffering of all those in the world who are victims of war, poverty, and social injustice. This is not morbid: the contemplation of suffering in anticipation of the joy of the Resurrection gives us a context of promise and possibility to find meaning in suffering and to positively address the suffering around us.

Man, I'm sounding preachy, aren't I?

Crystal and I had an interesting discussion about the idea of sacrifice in the comments to my previous post. She gave me a link to an excellent article about the contrast between seeing the meaning of Christ's coming as sacrifice or as Incarnation. I essentially agree with most of the ideas of Duns Scotus, Rahner, et al. as explained in the article, but I don't completely want to do away with the idea of sacrifice. I would like to transform it, not see it as a payment in the cruel economy of atonement, but as a positive gift of love and of the ultimate act of solidarity of God made man. The Incarnation is not merely a taking on of flesh, but of the flesh of the most downtrodden and suffering.

I see this as not only giving the ultimate teaching and ultimate example, but as also as healing the world in a cosmic way. This wonderful paradox of the Son of God who dies mistreated is a way to show that two different images of Jesus--the Pantocrator, Ruler (and healer) of the Universe and the Ecce Homo, beaten human Christ--are one and the same.

So what does everyone think? What is the meaning of this suffering Christ, of this cross?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

blood and faith

The Man of Sorrows in the Arms of the Virgin, by Hans Memling, fifteenth century.

Yesterday I was teaching a section on women mystics of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and I decided to read a passage on Angela of Foligno from Caroline Walker Bynum's fascinating book Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. It is true that I picked some particularly provocative images, but I wanted my students to get a sense of how intense and intensely physical these ideas were:
Angela repeatedly referred to Christ as "our food" and "our table," and in a vision saw him put the friars of Foligno, her "sons" into his side, whence they emerged with lips rosy from drinking blood. On another occasion Christ appeared to her all bleeding and gave his wound to suck...
The students were shocked, but in the context of the class, most of them understood what I was trying to demonstrate: that these visions were a way for women, whose Eucharistic devotion was always mediated by male clergy, to experience the truths of the Eucharist in a startling literal and physical way. The physicality that we find so disturbing made sense in the context of their particular spirituality, and in the general spirituality of the time.

One student, however, was horrified and refused to see the vision as anything but pathological. She said that it was the result of women being cloistered to the point of becoming morbid, and that no woman who had lived in the world would have a vision of this type (Angela was a wife and mother before becoming a third order Franciscan, and was never cloistered). Other students argued with her that in the context of Eucharistic piety, the visions, although intense, made sense. The student, however, insisted that it was unhealthy, and eventually she extended her feelings to the general idea of the Eucharist. It was based on bloody sacrifice, she felt, and society needed to get beyond it to be healthy. The idea of eating Christ's body and drinking his blood was nothing short of vampiric, and came from ancient pagan and barbarian roots.

I hope I have presented her arguments faithfully. I don't agree with her, but I think those of us who do believe in the Eucharist should think about both Angelina's intense physical literalism and my student's reaction against it. This is especially true as Holy Week approaches and we commemorate the Passion of Christ. It is very easy to forget the import of what we are doing. God made man and tortured to death. The intermixing of God's flesh and ours through the intimate act of eating (whether you believe this is done literally or symbolically, it is still an extremely provocative idea).

Do we need sacrifice? Do we need blood? I think that it would be very naive to see this world, with all its violence and brutality, as a world that does not need to be healed. My student would say that the very idea of sacrifice perpetuates brutality. What if, however, everything could be reversed? If God, instead of demanding a lamb for bloody sacrifice, was that lamb? If God suffered in the flesh -- the warm, bloody, flesh -- what is to be suffered in this world? What does the cross mean? I think the profundity of all this demands no less than the most powerful, physical, and intimate of religious experience.

Angus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

death and taxes

The execution of Saul, from the twelfth- century abbey at Vezelay. This is what I think will happen to me if I made a mistake on my taxes.

Another year, the inevitable nervous breakdown. I don't mind my money going to taxes, although I hate that my earnings will subsidize Halliburton when large corporations are given tax break after tax break. No, I would gladly pay more taxes if that meant universal health care, good education and justice for all my fellow citizens. It's the process of paying taxes that ruins my health and peace of mind. I have a terrible fear that I will by mistake say that I earned 56 cents of interest on my savings account instead of 58. The same night, a SWAT team will break through my window and cart me off to a gulag somewhere in North Dakota where I will be kept and destroyed until one day I am freed, broken and empty, sitting on a park bench somewhere telling myself I love Big Brother.

I know things don't work this way. Is there an identified pathology that describes someone who breaks into a panic whenever he or she sniffs official paperwork?

O IRS! Take my money. Leave my sanity alone.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Feast of St Isidore of Seville

St Idisore of Seville, from the beautiful twelfth-century Aberdeen Bestiary.

St Isidore was a remarkable scholar. Last of the Romans, first of the medievals, his Etymologies, a kind of encyclopedia, was one of the most copied and consulted of the Middle Ages. He was also the first great historian of medieval Spain.

For some time now, I have heard that Isidore, because of his encyclopedic knowledge was considered the "unofficial" patron saint of computers and the internet. A slight bout of googling has not resolved the question of how official that patronage is. This article from five years ago suggests that Pope John Paul I was considering naming him as patron. This site lists him as patron, this site says he was made patron in 1999, and this site claims it happened in 2002. Does anyone know? Is there an official list somewhere online?

It is not unusual for saints to be patrons of technological advancements. St Clare was named patron of television by Pius XII in 1958, because she had clairvoyent experiences -- she saw and heard things that were happening in other places. Poor St Clare! In 1958 no one could have foreseen the coming of Jerry Springer and "Wife Swap."

Whether or not St Isidore is officially patron of the internet or not, he is a great saint, and this prayer, in both Latin and English, is to be prayed to St Isidore before connecting to the web.