27 May 2016

Thoughts on the Regularization of the SSPX

Given the recent flurry of news stories dealing with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X (FSSPX) and Pope Francis’s appreciation of them, I have been reading up again on the history of that group.  What everyone knows about the story of the FSSPX is that in 1988, illegally and against the wishes of Pope John Paul II, its founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, consecrated four new bishops to carry on his work educating and ordaining priests for the order.  A simple narrative usually accompanies this fact: Lefebvre was a reactionary who rejected Vatican II, a crypto-Protestant who stood on his own conscience in the face of papal authority, a relic who anathematized the ecclesiastical modernization he could neither appreciate nor understand.  Based on this narrative, the situation of the FSSPX is clear: Those who remained with it after 1988 are schismatics, separated from the Catholic Church.  Anyone who wants to be a part of the Catholic Church must leave the FSSPX.  

This simple story retains its plausibility only so long as one remains ignorant of the personality of Marcel Lefebvre and the prior history of the FSSPX.  This is not to say that the 1988 consecrations were justified (it seems clear they were not), but that the characterization of the event, and the understanding of the ethos of the FSSPX supplied by the standard narrative is far off the mark.

In 1970, Lefebvre founded and then led the FSSPX, an order which he established to provide traditional priestly formation to a group of young men who wanted to become priests but found the rapid liberalization of their home dioceses disconcerting.  Previously, Lefebvre had been a retiree, having served as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers (a global missionary order of priests), Apostolic Delegate to all of French-speaking Africa, Vicar Apostolic of Dakar, and a missionary priest for many years.  Had he died in 1965, Lefebvre would be remembered unequivocally as a saintly missionary and one of the architects of the African Church, which has flourished so abundantly over the past decades.

The FSSPX was canonically established in 1970 in a small town in Switzerland, with half a dozen or so seminarians living in an old building abandoned by another religious order.  After news spread that a small Swiss seminary was providing traditional priestly formation, seminarians began to flock to the place—over one hundred in under five years.  The authorities in the Catholic hierarchy found this rapid growth disconcerting, worrying that Lefebvre's small religious order would become a bastion of reactionary sentiment, disrupting the process of aggiornamento then underway and creating division in the Church.  During the Second Vatican Council, Lefebvre had been, with Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, one of the leaders of the "International Group of Fathers" who attempted to dissuade the Council from adopting some of the more innovative proposals of the progressives.  He was an outspoken critic of the new Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, which subtly purged the liturgy of many elements theologically objectionable to Protestants.

Consequently, Lefebvre was seen as a dangerous man, and the seminary at Ecône was put under investigation by the Vatican.  In 1975, Lefebvre expressed outrage in print at one of the investigators' denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ.  Lefebvre was called to Rome, harangued by a panel of Cardinals for several hours for his lack of co-operation with the aggiornamento, and subsequently informed that the flourishing seminary he headed had to be closed—not because of any defect in the seminary or failure of protocol, but because he had expressed outrage of the errors ("Neo-Modernism") which were coming out of Rome.  

Given the farcical nature of the charges and the lack of due process, Lefebvre ignored the order of suppression and continued merrily with his work.  (The FSSPX continued to grow, and had to erect two new wings to accommodate all the seminarians.)  He appealed the decision.  His appeal was rejected.  Then, Pope Paul VI became involved.  Letters exchanged between Lefebvre and Pope Paul show a basic failure of understanding between them.  The Pope seems to see Lefebvre solely in terms of the question of obedience—he must obey the order, because this is the only way of demonstrating his fidelity.  Lefebvre repeatedly and emphatically declares his love and fidelity to the Pope, but decries the injustice of the order of suppression.  It is repeatedly implied by the Pope that Lefebvre is forming priests in order to lead them into rebellion against Rome.

Lefebvre loved the Pope, but he rejected the changes he saw destroying the Church he had served all his life.  He embraced the authoritative teaching of Vatican II, but rejected its ambiguous expressions and inversions, which he believed paved the way for abuse and error.  Ultimately he loved Christ and the Truth, and would (like any good missionary) have rather died than abandon either.  Despite all these virtues, a decade and more of ostracism, injustice, and (occasionally) outright dishonesty from Vatican officials left Lefebvre extremely distrustful of the Vatican.  While a million abuses and heresies were permitted and even encouraged throughout the Church, Lefebvre's little seminary was being targeted and suppressed.

A year later, Lefebvre himself was suspended from ministry and prohibited from administering the sacrament of ordination.  Why?  Because he was operating an illegal seminary that used the traditional mass.  Was the traditional mass illegal?  No, even then there was a quiet acknowledgement among top Cardinals that it had never been abrogated.  Why was the seminary illegal?  Because it had been ordered to close.  Why had it been ordered to close?  For no good reason.

Once you follow this chain of inquiry to its roots, you begin to perceive something of the persecution experienced by the members of the FSSPX in the 1970s.  The world had gone insane.  The Church was hemorrhaging priests and religious.  Orthodoxy had ceased to exist as a concept for most Catholics.  And here, in a small corner of the world, sanity was being maintained.  Good priests were being formed.  The Gospel was being taught in its ancient integrity.  And yet here alone, and almost nowhere else, the Church took on a posture of condemnation.  The post-Conciliar Church was meant to be a Church of dialogue.  But there was no room for dialogue with the Traditionalists.  The post-Conciliar Church had renounced all condemnation, but it retained condemnation for the Traditionalists.  It's no wonder that Lefebvre ultimately disregarded canon law in 1988 and consecrated his four bishops—Even when the Curia tried to barter with him, how could he trust them?  They had already tried to strip him of everything, contrary to the spiritual good of those in his care, and contrary to the pastoral principles he had been taught and had practiced his entire life.

The popular narrative about the FSSPX holds that the group is in a state of schism, and has separated itself from the rest of the Church—that they need to make a return to the Church.  But if we look at the facts fairly, it becomes clear that for the priests in the FSSPX, it is Rome that abandoned them: by failing to incorporate them into the life of the Church after Vatican II, by suppressing their order without just cause, and by ostracizing their leader.  May Pope Francis have the heart to grant this group the canonical status owed to them—a religious order by all appearances far more faithful to the teachings of Vatican II, the Papacy, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ than a large number of progressive orders that litter the ecclesiastical landscape.

26 May 2016

On Being an "Augustinian" Theologian

Earlier I was discussing with a friend the merits of different American Catholic graduate programs in theology.  We agreed that the Dominicans currently have a corner on the M.A. market. The conversation then turned to "Augustinianism".  Conversation reproduced below:

But that really only the Dominicans do it appropriately, and it's kind of true, isn't it?
Everything is historical and specialized
The Dominicans still believe things.

Hahaha that was also an underlying thought I had
But it sounded too cynical to me
and they have sufficient institutional strength to maintain a coherent formation program around those beliefs
where everywhere else is a hodgepodge of people with their own personal theologies
which are usually referred to as "Augustinian"

Lmao the "Augustinian" label
It's something I picked up on at [name of school redacted]
I still don't know what Augustine actually thought
Though that seems conveniently undecided by literally everyone
I was reading some canon lawyer trying to reinterpret Catholic sexual morality to be less... Well, what it is. In the vein of JPII The Great
And he was like, "actually Augustine confirms this line of thought, as I read him, so it's legit"
My thought was, "How many Protestants have come before you."

22 May 2016

The Homily You Never Hear

My dear brethren:

If there is one day on which the Church's liturgy affirms our Faith, that day is the Feast of the Blessed Trinity. This morning, in the breviary which the priest formerly had to recite, he had to add to the psalms of Prime the Creed of St. Athanasius. This is the creed which affirms clearly, serenely, but perfectly, what we are bound to believe concerning the Blessed Trinity, and also concerning the divinity and the humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, all our faith is summed up in our belief in the Most Holy Trinity and in Our Lord Jesus Christ, God made Man. The whole of our Creed, which we shall sing in a few minutes, is focused, as it were, on the very person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He it is who is our God, He our Savior; it is through Him that we shall enter Heaven. He is the door of the sheep-fold, He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. There is no other name on earth by which we may be saved: the Gospels tell us all this.

Therefore, when our Faith is being attacked from all sides we must hold steadfastly and firmly to it. We must never accept that there can be any compromise in the affirmation of our Faith. Herein, I think, lies the drama through which we have lived for the last ten, perhaps fifteen years. This drama, this tragic situation we are going through, lies in seeing that our Faith is no longer affirmed with certainty: that through a false ecumenism we have, as it were, reached the point of putting all religions on the same footing, of granting what is called "equal rights" to all religions. This is a tragedy because it is all entirely contrary to the truth of the Church. We believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ is our God, our Savior, our Redeemer; we believe that the Catholic Church alone has the Truth, thus we draw the proper conclusions, by respecting in our personal lives the Religion which Our Lord Jesus Christ founded. For, if other religions are quite prepared to admit that there can be other beliefs and other religious groups, we cannot do so. Why do other religions admit this? Because their religions are religions which have been founded by men and not by God. Our holy and beloved Religion has been founded by God Himself, by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

He it is who has given us the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, He who died upon the Cross. Already on the day of the Last Supper He wished, in a certain manner, to enact in advance what was to take place on the Cross, commanding us to do likewise continually to the end of time, thus making priests of those to whom He gave the power to consecrate the Eucharist. He did this by His own Will, His Will as God, because Jesus Christ is God; He has, thus, given us the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which we love so much, which is our life, our hope, and our salvation. This Sacrifice of Calvary cannot be transformed, the Sacrifice of the Last Supper cannot be transformed - for there was a Sacrifice at the Last Supper - we cannot transform this Sacrifice into a simple commemorative meal, a simple repast at which a memory is recalled, this is not possible. To do such a thing would be to destroy the whole of our Religion, to destroy the most precious thing which Our Lord has given us here on earth, the immaculate and divine treasure which He put into the hands of His Church, which He made a priestly Church. The Church is essentially priestly because she offers the redemptive Sacrifice which Our Lord made on Calvary, and which she renews upon our altars. For a true Catholic, one who is truly faithful to Our Lord Jesus Christ, anything which touches what He Himself established moves him to the very depths of his heart, for he loves it as the apple of his eye. So, if it comes, in any way, to the point of destroying from within what Our Lord Jesus Christ gave to us as the source of life, as the source of grace, then we suffer, we suffer dreadfully, and we demand absolutely that this spring, this fountain of life, this fountain of eternal life, this fountain of Grace be preserved for us whole and entire.

And if such is true of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is also true of the Sacraments. It is not possible to make any considerable changes in the Sacraments without destroying them, without running the risk of rendering them invalid, and consequently without running the risk of drying up the grace, the supernatural and eternal life which they bring to us. It is again Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who established the Sacraments; it is not for us, we are not the masters of the Sacraments: even the Sovereign Pontiff cannot change them. Without doubt he can make changes in the rites, in what is accidental in any Sacrament; but no Sovereign Pontiff can change the substance of a Sacrament, for that was established by Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who took such care in the founding of our holy Religion, Who left us directions as to what we must do, Who gave Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. What more could we ask? What other religion can lay claim to possess such a thing? And why? Because the only true religion is that of the Catholic Church.

This is a matter of fundamental importance, fundamental for our behavior, fundamental for our religion, and fundamental also for the way we should behave towards those people who do not believe in our holy Religion. This is extremely important, because it is precisely towards those who do not believe, those who do not have our Faith, that we must have immense charity, the true charity. We must not deceive them by telling them that their religion is as good as ours - that is a lie, that is selfishness, that is not true charity. If we consider what profound riches have been given to us in this Religion of ours, then we should have the desire to make it known to others, and share these riches and not say to them: "But you already have all you need! There is no point in your joining us, your religion is as good as ours." See how this matter is one of paramount importance, for it is precisely such false ecumenism which makes the adherents of all the other religions believe that they have certain means of salvation. Now this is false. Only the Catholic Religion, and only the Mystical Body of Christ, possesses the means of salvation. We cannot be saved without Jesus, and we cannot be saved without grace. "He who does not believe," said Our Lord, "will be condemned." We must believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved. "He who believes shall be saved; he who obeys My commandments shall have eternal life; he who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood shall have eternal life." Here is what Our Lord taught us. Therefore, we should have a tremendous desire, a really tremendous desire, to communicate our Faith to others. And this is exactly what made the missionary spirit of the Church. If the strength, the certainty, of our faith is weakened, then the missionary spirit of the Church also diminishes, since it is no longer necessary to cross the seas, to cross the oceans, to go and preach the Gospel, for what is the good of it? Let us leave each man to his own religion, if that religion is going to save him.

Therefore, we must hold fast to our Faith, we must adhere strictly to its affirmation, and we must not accept this false ecumenism which makes all religions into sister-religions of Christianity, for they are nothing of the kind. It is very important to state this nowadays, because it is precisely this false ecumenism which had too much influence after the Council. False ecumenism is the reason why the seminaries are empty. Why is this so? Why are there no more vocations for the missionary orders? Precisely because young men no longer feel the need to make the Truth known to the whole world. They no longer feel the need to give themselves completely to Our Lord Jesus Christ simply because Our Lord Jesus Christ is the only Truth, the only Way, the only Life. What attracts the young to preach the Gospel is that they know they have the Truth. If vocations are withering away, it is due to this false ecumenism. How we suffer at the thought that, in certain countries, people speak of "eucharistic hospitality," of "inter-communion" - as if one could give the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ to those who do not believe in the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, consequently to those who do not adore the Holy Eucharist, because they do not believe in it! Without sacrilege, without blasphemy, the Body and Blood of Our Savior cannot be given to a person who denies His Real Presence in the Eucharist. On this point, therefore, we must have a firm and solid faith, a faith which does not compromise. This is entirely in keeping with the tradition of the Church.

Thus the martyrs believed who lie buried everywhere in this basilica, and in all the churches of Rome, who suffered here in this forum of Augustus, who lived among pagans for three centuries and were persecuted as soon as they were known to be Christians. They were thrown into prison...our thoughts turn to the Mamertine prison, so close to us here, where Peter and Paul were put in chains because of their faith: And shall we be afraid to affirm our faith? We would not in that case be the true descendants of the martyrs, the true descendants of those Christians who shed their blood for Our Lord Jesus Christ in affirmation of their faith in Him. They, too, could indeed have said, "But, since all religions are of equal value, if I burn a little incense before an idol, what does that matter? My life will be saved." But they preferred to die, they preferred to be thrown to the beasts in the Colosseum, quite close to us here. So many, many martyrs were thrown to the beasts, rather than offer incense to pagan gods!

So, may our presence here in Rome be an occasion for us to strengthen our faith, to have, if necessary, the souls of martyrs, the souls of witnesses (for a martyr is a witness), the souls of witnesses of Our Lord Jesus Christ, witnesses of the Church. Here is what I wish you, my most dear brethren, and in this we must be unflinching, whatever happens. We must never agree to diminish our faith; and if by misfortune it were to happen that those who ought to defend our Faith came to tell us to lessen or diminish it, then we must say: "NO." Saint Paul put this very well: "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema." Well, that, I think, sums up clearly what I wanted to say to you, so that when you return to your homes you may have the courage, the strength, despite difficulties, despite trials, to remain true to your Faith, come what may, to uphold it for yourselves, your children and future generations, the Faith which Our Lord Jesus Christ gave to us; so that the pathway to heaven may still have many pilgrims, that it may still be crowded with people on their journey upwards, that it may not be a deserted byway, while on the other hand, the road leading to hell is filled with those who did not believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ, or who rejected Him. We must think on these things, because it is what Our Lord told us: "If we do not believe, we shall be condemned."

(Delivered by Abp. Marcel Lefebvre, 25 May 1975 at the Basilica of St. Maxentius in Rome. Taken from Michael Davies's documentary anthology on Lefebvre and Ecône, Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre, Vol. 1)

30 April 2016

A Brief Note on the Meaning of Amoris Laetitia

Much has been said about the exhortation, its dubious language, and its problems.

For the present here's the main thing: the intention of the pope was clearly to change the way these "difficult situations" are handled.  He wanted to open up space for a new case by case discernment of moral situations.  While it may be unclear whether the document endorsed Kasper's "penitential path", the fact remains that, even if such an endorsement was not given, the legal authority will not stand against prelates who teach and encourage such approaches.  Thus they have become legitimate de facto, just as the neomodernism of Schillebeeckx and Rahner was legitimized by the silence and lack of discipline after the council.

10 April 2016

Why Our Evangelism Doesn't Work

To some extent, it’s impossible to give a general theory of the success of groups like the Human Rights Campaign, because the phenomena involved are too complex, and the interactions and conversions that take place on the street, or afterwards, are part of a web of social transformations too big to map out.  But I’ve identified four typical differences that, I think, have helped the HRC to dominate the street evangelization scene—differences that could help us strategize for effective evangelization going forward.

The first difference is that the HRC is not identified as “religious”.  Calling something “religion” is less a matter of describing its qualities (just look at the confusion surrounding the term’s meaning) than a status-generating speech act.  Once enough people decide that something is “religion” or “religious”, it is relegated to an intellectual ghetto.  Religion is that-about-which-one-cannot-argue.  It is self-contained, irrational, and excluded from the evidences and activities which occur in public (political) life.

Second, the HRC’s project is easy to understand.  They present an itch (inequality, discrimination) and a salve (equal protection, tolerance), both of which align with universal moral and civic education.  Their message is presented in terms that are known and unquestionable.  Who supports discrimination?  Who doesn’t want to advance human rights?  

The Christian message, on the other hand, is often missing a compelling “itch”: Why should I repent when I don’t believe in sin?  Why should I worry about eternal life if I don’t believe in hell? Or in some cases it lacks sufficiently motivating salve: If Christianity is about being a nice person, don’t I already have that covered?  If God is so loving and generous, won’t he forgive me, no matter what?  

Third, there is a difference of narrative trajectories.  The HRC’s project is empowering. Its goals are definite and achievable, and they are outwardly-directed.  When one becomes a Christian, the resulting goals tend to be inwardly-directed, and contemporary Christian culture tends to render the narrative aims of Christianity spiritualistic and vague.  What is one aiming at, as a Christian?  A relationship?  Heaven?  What do those things really mean?  How are they tied concretely to efforts in the present life?  These questions are rarely adequately answered, or if they are answered it is in a simplistic way that leaves the majority of daily life untouched by conversion.

The fourth difference I want to point out is not a difference in the style of the presentation, but in the psychology of those presenting the “good news”.  For HRC volunteers, there is a strong underlying assumption that the message is not only true, but evidently true.  These people are on the street to some extent because they have a conviction, not just that they’re in the right, but that everyone is capable of recognizing that they are right.  Often in Christian evangelization, there is an attitude of correctness, but also a sense that the truth of the Gospel is not evident, that people will not understand, and that therefore the mission of evangelization is something of a fool’s errand, successful only by the grace of God.  While it is true that grace, not human effort, brings people to Christ, today’s evangelist feels the need to mask the plain message of the Gospel behind personalist spirituality in order to make it appealing.  Or his preaching emerges out of a familial or personal heritage, making it more an exercise of personal devotion than an act of education or public proclamation of the truth.  The apostolic kerygma has been largely replaced by the spiritual testimonial as a genre of evangelization.

Taken together, these differences suggest problems that need to be surmounted if our evangelism is going to be made more effective:

1.  It is necessary to overcome the notion that religion is a private and irrational affair.  This is a very difficult problem, because the privacy of religion has become a fundamental tenet of American political culture.  The establishment clause has come to mean, for all intents and purposes, that religion has no place in public life.  Even our own religious leaders seem to endorse this belief, when they defend faith not by asserting and defending the doctrines of Christianity, but by speaking abstractly in favor of “religious liberty”.  Religious liberty is, in the long run, a watchword for political secularization, and the secularization of the political will always be accompanied by the secularization of public discourse and morality.  If we are to make evangelization effective, we need to fight for a political culture in which Christianity is not part of a sub-class of irrational ideologies, but a fit and fighting participant in political culture.  And this, not on the terms of liberalism or constitutionalism, but unabashedly, and on its own terms.  We need to reach a point at which we can assert that Christianity has a place in public life, not because it supports liberal constitutional values, but because it supports Christian values.  In other words, because it is true.

2.  We need to think more about the intelligibility of our evangelism.  To what extent are the concepts necessary for evangelization intelligible to the person today?  If the notions of sin and redemption, for example, are not intelligible, we should not replace them with therapeutic spiritualisms that are intelligible, because these weak spiritualisms generate a proportionately weak Christianity.  Instead we need to identify the more basic questions and problems which point toward things like sin and redemption.  For example, the idea of heaven cannot work as a draw to people who don’t believe in an afterlife.  But what might?  The suggestion that we should try to live forever.  Or if someone believes that everyone goes to heaven regardless, how might we draw them into a conversation about religious commitment?  By attempting with them to hash out exactly what eternal life is.  These are just examples, but the general principle is more robust: If the evangelist tries to convert someone by offering answers to questions in which a comfortable secularist has no interest, he will fail.  If the evangelist tries to win someone over by appealing to the goodness of something the secularist already comfortably possesses, he will fail again.  Evangelization should begin, conceptually, where the existing secularism fails in itself, and exploit those failures to draw people into Christianity.  Where the concepts necessary for the Gospel are unavailable, we need to begin by building them up, instead of trying to circumvent them. 

3.  Membership in an organized movement becomes more enticing as the movement is able to provide more concrete ways for members to exercise agency in the accomplishment of broad goals.  One of the biggest faults of contemporary Christianity is the way its spiritualization of the Gospel leads to passivity and quietism among Christians.  What can we do to advance the kingdom of God?  This question is almost never answered from the pulpit, except in terms of a few narrow activities: private devotional exercises, acts of generosity, and monetary gifts.  These are good things, but they fail to engage the ordinary, daily lives of Christians.  In a purposeless, nihilistic society like our own, people are starving for someone to give them a task in a great cause.  They are yearning to be told what to do, to be organized and personally subsumed under something larger than themselves, with glory they can participate in, and sacrifice themselves to uplift.  We need organizers of men, who can direct the multitude to exert themselves productively in defense of the Body of Christ.  The advent of this kind of activity would not only energize the Church, but go further than almost anything else in drawing people to Christianity.

 4.  Christians speak a great deal of the truth.  Today, we are becoming exceptional in this regard.  But often “truth” is treated in religious talk as a kind of metaphor or bit of mystical jargon.  Often the weakness of Christian conviction (and therefore of evangelism) stems from an inadequate desire for the truth.  Christians become another species of ideologue, characterized by mere prejudice and chauvinistic advocacy for our group and our tradition.  Chauvinistic Christianity may preserve people raised Christian, but it makes very few converts, because there are many groups out there in which one can celebrate one’s membership.  Christianity only becomes intelligible to outsiders when the Christian faith is treated not merely an inherited prejudice, but as an answer to questions sincerely asked.  In general, belief is based not primarily on the communication of personal experiences of transformation, but on the direction of a person to the apprehension of the truth.  Testimony is a part of that, to be sure, but only if the testimony identifies the fundamental questions answered by Christianity, in a way that indicates not emotionalism and blindness, but wisdom and understanding.  Christianity needs to become truth-loving again, and this means that there needs to be an intellectual renewal—a philosophical renewal—among Christians.  We need to deeply understand the questions to which Christian doctrine is the answer.

The HRC is a shallow organization with a fundamentally incoherent ideology.  There is very little that is naturally compelling about its message, which only succeeds because opposition in the public sphere is structurally weak, and people are intellectually incapable of critically parsing its ideas.  The suggestions I have given above are, in some ways, merely expressions of the foundations of the culture that existed in Christendom: a culture in which ordinary civic life was suffused with Catholic concepts and activities, in which public participation in eucharistic processions and liturgies was common, in which the Church was held to be a fount of reason and wisdom, rather than an ideological enclave in the midst of society.  We were great once, nine centuries ago, when all these conditions existed.  Time to be great again.

04 April 2016

To Rudolf Kassner

What follows is an incomplete draft of a translation of the eighth of Rainer Maria Rilke's "Duino Elegies".

The Eighth Elegy

With all their eyes all creatures see
the Open.  It's only our eyes that
are inward turned and focused on ourselves
like traps, encircling their free exit.
What exists outside, we know it from the beasts'
expressions only; since we hem in
already little kids, and pressure them to see
backwards, their own form, not the Open,
which lies so deep in the sight of beasts.
Free from Death. We alone see him.
The free beast keeps his own demise behind him
and God in front, so that when he walks,
he passes like a fountain, to infinity.
     We never have, not for a single day,
pure space before us, into which
the flowers swell unending.
For us, always more world, and never
Nowhere without the "no": the pure,
unoverseen, which one can breath and know
beyond all limits, without craving. As a child
one might loose himself before it in the quiet,
and be shaken.  Or he dies and is it.
For close to death one ceases to see death
and gazes outward, as if with the profound sight of a beast.
Were it not for others, who block one's sight, lovers
are near to it and marvel... As if by chance it's opened up
to them behind the other... But nothing escapes past him,
and again it becomes his world.
Always turned to face creation, we see in it
only the reflection of the Free, which we darken.
Or that a beast, a dumb one, looks up, quiet through and through.
This is fate: to stand opposed
Always opposed, and nothing else.

If in that certain beast were consciousness like ours,
that beast who draws away from us
down other paths—, his change of course
would make us swerve as well.
But his existence is for him unending,
unbound, without a glance at his condition,
pure, just like his outlook.
And where we see the future, he sees everything,
and in the midst of all, himself, and healed forever.

And yet there is, in the warm and watchful beast
the weight and care of a great melancholy.
For that which often overpowers us grasps at him as well
and always clings — The memory, of when the place
which one pursues was nearer and more faithful,
and its embrace infinitely tender.
Here everything is distance, and there
it was breath.  After his first home,
the second seems ambivalent and windy.
     Oh the blessedness of little animals,
who always stay within the womb from which they sprang;
Oh luck of midges, who hop around within it,
even when they marry: for them the nest is everything.
And see the bird's half-confidence,
who nearly knows

03 April 2016

What I've Been Listening To

It's unfortunate, but now that I have full-time employment again (after an interlude of six months), posting on this blog has slowed down.  Hopefully once the current burst of real-life work ends (in a month or two), I'll be able to put down more thoughts here.  I've been reading bits and pieces of various books: Weber's Economy and Society, Levi-Strauss's The Savage Mind, a collection of texts by Hayao Miyazaki, etc.  Something is likely to come from all this.

Meanwhile, I'd like to put down a few links to things I've been listening to lately.  I hope you enjoy.

Also, while I'm here I shouldn't fail to advertise that First Things is putting on a Great Books-style intellectual retreat on the topic of happiness this May in Los Angeles. (Much of my current work has been preparing for this retreat.) If you have the resources to put down $600 to attend (not including hotel or transportation), I highly recommend it.  The magazine has assembled a range of very good people, and it should be a great experience for everyone who goes.  More info and registration here.

Now to the music.

1.  Watage Warabe, by Takagi Masakatsu, from the soundtrack to the documentary Kingdom of Dreams and Mandess.  This entire soundtrack is great.

2.  Malka Moma Dvori Mete, a choral setting of a Bulgarian folk song, performed by the Philip Koutev National Folk Ensemble.  I discovered this through the Isao Takahata film Only Yesterday, which is incredible.  The film uses several tracks from this album.

3.  Kaze wo Atsumete, by Happy End, from their 1971 album Kazemachi Roman.  This song is featured in the film Lost in Translation.

5.  Project Falcon, by Joe Hisaishi, from the soundtrack to Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises (also an incredible film).  Here's a link to the track (and the whole album), courtesy of my friend Mario.