All posts tagged: Catholic imagination

The Redemption of Status and Hierarchy

The Met’s Costume Institute Exhibition “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” currently on view at the Met Fifth Avenue and The Cloisters until October 8th, threads through galleries of medieval and Byzantine art, bringing the sartorial art pieces into dialogue with the surrounding masterpieces. The promenade-style exhibit could easily become a gaudy intrusion rather than an exegesis of the beauty already embedded around it. But from the very first runway—a neck-craning collection of evening dresses which march through a hallway of Antiochene mosaics—”Heavenly Bodies” demands a transformation of the viewer’s encounter with the surrounding art. That first dizzying catwalk of gowns both catalyzes new contemplation of the existing art and playfully suggests a core theme of the exhibit—the displayed earthly beauty has, at its heart, a higher telos. In her May article on the Met Gala, Anne Carpenter posed the question: “Do our things die when we preserve them, or does preserving them keep them alive?” For all the Church is lauded for its tradition and its continual admonishment to our short memories to …

The Charge of Blasphemy and Pope Rihanna

As the dust of controversy settled in the weeks following the Met Gala opening for the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibition, one image crystallized the event’s exploration of fashion and the “Catholic imagination” and inspired the most divergent reactions to it: Rihanna in a low-cut, jewel-encrusted mini-dress, matching coat, stilettos, and a mitre. In most photos from the gala, she does not lean into the sexiness of her papal-inspired attire, nor its playfulness. Her expression is imperious; her stance, authoritative. She evokes power. Representing one type of reaction to this image, Cardinal Dolan, who also attended the gala, said that he lent Rihanna his own mitre for the event. It was a joke, but the Vatican did lend many artifacts for the exhibit the gala celebrated. Officially, the Catholic Church collaborated with the museum to help create the exhibit. But other reactions were not so sanguine. A People magazine article ran with the headline, “The Met Gala’s ‘Catholic Imagination’ Theme Called ‘Blasphemous’ and ‘Sacrilegious’ by Critics”. It went on to chronicle Twitter …

Alasdair MacIntyre Reads Jane Austen Reading Her Late Modern Reader

“You must hear this story,” a friend told me. “As a devoted Janeite, you will love it!” Apparently, renowned philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre was attending a panel on Jane Austen’s novels at the Notre Dame Fall Conference. MacIntyre asked a quaking undergraduate panelist, “Who is the best of all Austen’s heroines?” The panelist shuffled her papers nervously and, in her hesitation, MacIntyre stood and bellowed “Fanny Price!” The shocked panelist fell to the floor in a faint worthy of Marianne Dashwood. I realized halfway through the story that I had been there! In fact, I was a participant in the panel described. But the story had taken on a life of its own, which is why I did not immediately recognize the tale. The real events involved a fellow undergraduate panelist feeling lightheaded while giving her paper on Jane Austen’s view of proper pride with MacIntyre and the Center’s founding director, Dr. David Solomon, in the audience. After she put her feet up for a few minutes, MacIntyre inquired whether she was quite ready to continue …

A Prayer for the Rich?

David Bentley Hart has done us a great service by sharing his expertise as a biblical scholar in his informative background essay on debt structures in human and biblical history, “A Prayer for the Poor.” In it he establishes a context that Christ’s original hearers would have been steeped in, but which, as he points out, is too easily missed by over-spiritualized readings of the Gospels. Expounding on the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, which he persuasively argues are rooted in remarkably concrete needs, Hart lambastes common interpretations that would cushion the conscience by reducing this most famous Christian prayer to a set of “vague, ethereal, painless pieties.” Something is indeed wrong if one can recite such a prayer while perpetuating injustice against the needy with no sense of discomfort or disconnect. Much as we need such a reminder against spiritualizing away the prayer’s meaning, a problem arises when Hart at times veers into the opposite reductionism toward the purely material. Perhaps this material reduction is based on translation principles that assume a singular, static …

The Polish Romantic Messianism of Saint John Paul II

On 18 May 2000 the front page of the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza featured a surprising poem by Nobelist poet Czesław Miłosz entitled,“Ode for the Eightieth Birthday of Pope John Paul II.” The most outstanding Polish poet of the 20th century paid an extraordinary tribute to the great Polish pope on the pages of the country’s most widely-circulated liberal daily: We come to you, men of weak faith, So that you might fortify us with the example of your life And liberate us from anxiety About tomorrow and next year. Your twentieth century Was made famous by the names of powerful tyrants And by the annihilation of their rapacious states. You knew it must happen. You taught hope: For only Christ is the lord and master of history. This was probably the first such unambiguously positive statement by Miłosz about John Paul II. Earlier Miłosz could not overcome his distance towards the pope’s work, even though he met him in private and attended discussions with him at Castel Gandolfo. He saw dangerous nationalist and theocratic threads in the …

Reason’s Shadow: Romanticism’s Impact on Catholic Thought

Bl. John Henry Newman, one of the greatest modern intellectuals for both Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions alike, had little patience with Romanticism. Although a contemporary of the British Romantics—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats—Newman was by and large dismissive of Romantic efforts to turn the world away from an overdependence on reason, which had seeped into modern minds with Kantian ideas and the emergence of German idealist philosophy. Instead, Newman offered a robust recalibration of reason in his Grammar of Assent, The Idea of a University, and various of his Oxford Sermons. Reframing the first question of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Newman enjoined, “Admit a God, and you introduce among the subjects of your knowledge, a fact encompassing, closing in upon, absorbing, every other fact conceivable. How can we investigate any part of any order of Knowledge, and stop short of that which enters into every order?”[1] Newman’s preoccupation with reason and knowing emerged in response to modern philosophy’s downgrade and dismissal of faith as a matter of personal and non-rational belief. What mattered in …

Musical Mystagogy: St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart

October 16th marks the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–90), a Burgundian nun who experienced a series of visions from 1673 to 1675 that ultimately resulted in her petitioning Church authorities to institute a feast in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 8th. In addition to the feast itself, St. Margaret Mary promoted acts of devotion in honor of the Sacred Heart, chief among which was the reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month, a devotion many still practice to this day. It is for her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and her untiring efforts to spread that devotion to others that Margaret Mary Alacoque is honored as a saint, and so today’s musical piece will focus not on the saint herself, but on the object of her unwavering devotion: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The devotion to the Sacred Heart is twofold: on the one hand, we honor the physical heart of Jesus, the pulsing heart of muscle and blood with its valves and …

Must Catholics Hate Hegel?

Among the vanishingly few things that command agreement among Catholics is that Hegel is a bad idea. Divergent, even mutually antagonistic, Anglophone Catholic circles such as Concilium, Communio, and paleo-Thomism hate Hegel because they see him as dodgy, corrosive, or just plain heretical. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a figure at once more disdained and less read by Catholics than him.[1] A recent piece by C.C. Pecknold offers a near perfect object lesson.[2] Its title, “The philosopher who poisoned German theology,” blazons its intentions. The German Church’s problems—empty pews, a vocation shortage, administrative tumescence, liberal bishops—are, Pecknold argues, in large part the consequence of a theological decision. German theology summoned the wrong doctor to its bed to dress trauma-wounds inflicted by the Enlightenment: none other than G.W.F. Hegel. But Hegel’s salves only deepened the damage. And German theology’s wounds fester still. To be sure, Pecknold’s not altogether interested in Hegel. He is rather interested in genealogy, in locating the poison tree who bore German Catholicism’s bitter fruit—particularly certain elements of its prelates’ proposal on …

Christ Doesn’t Save Us by Words First of All, but by His Body

Artur Rosman, managing editor of Church Life Journal, conducted this interview with Emmanuel Falque in December 2017. He sends his thanks to Professor Falque for making time in his busy schedule, to Professor Peter Casarella for arranging the initial encounter, and to Jonathan Ciraulo for translating the text from the French. Artur Rosman: In Quiet Powers of the Possible you speak of belonging to the third wave of the French theological turn in philosophy. What makes phenomenology so attractive to succeeding generations of Catholic thinkers, and not only in France? Emmanuel Falque: One can indeed speak about several generations of French phenomenologists according to the place, or rather the author, in which they are rooted. The “Husserlians” (Emmanuel Levinas, Paul Ricoeur, Michel Henry), the Heideggerians (Jean-Luc Marion, Jean-Yves Lacoste, Jean-Louis Chrétien) but also the “Merleau-Pontyians” (certainly myself, but one should probably also include Claude Romano and Renaud Barbaras, even though they do not deal directly with theological questions). These roots in different authors in the phenomenological tradition would have little importance if they did not also determine different …

A Prayer for the Poor

David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011) is a strange, brilliant, frustrating, and perhaps indispensable book. It remains controversial among economists, of course, if only out of the resentment some of them feel at the very notion that an anthropologist might presume to intrude on their putative area of expertise, and to do so on so vast a historical scale. It continues, moreover, to strain the credulity of those who cannot imagine how anyone could express such doubts regarding the practical inevitability of a monetary economic system, or could seriously propose anarchism as a real alternative to the injustices of capitalism. And, of course, there are those who not unreasonably accuse Graeber of offering a grandly buoyant critique of the contradictions and cruelties of capitalist culture without the ballast of a few proposed solutions. But, exotic as Graeber’s book was as an intervention in economic analysis, at its heart lay a rather ordinary observation, one that was made just as grandly a couple years later by Thomas Piketty in his magisterial treatise Capital in …