De Musica

30 05 2008

Beaux Arts Trio plays the last two movements of Dvorak’s Dumky Trio

Marsilio Ficino to Domenico Benevieni, illustrious philosopher and master musician: greetings.

Plato thinks that true music is nothing other than harmony of mind: natural, insofar as its powers are consonant with the powers of mind, and acquired, insofar as its motions are consonant with the motions of the mind. He thinks that the reflection of true music is that music which modulates notes and sounds to charm our ears. He believes that the Muse Urania presides over the former and Polyhymnia over the latter. Hermes Trismegistus says that both have been assigned to us by God, so that through the former we may continually imitate God Himself in our reflections and dispositions and the latter we may regularly honor the name of God in hymns and sounds.

(taken from Western Esoteric Masters Series: Marsilio Ficino, edited by Angela Voss)

“Holy” Death

29 05 2008

Okay, this is just getting out of hand…

I was going to write another post, but this came up. While I still intend to write a longer, more theoretical post on the phenomenon of “La Santisima Muerte”, I will say here that I find this profoundly unsettling. According to my preliminary investigations, the cult of Death in Mexico only dates back to the 1960’s, if not a bit earlier. While skeletons have always been present in Mexican popular religious consciousness, the idea that one should pray to Death is a total novelty.  As a theological refutation of this, I have found this as a common response out of the mouths of even the most simple, devout Catholics:

Didn’t God defeat death? How can death be a saint? To me, that is no saint.

Exactly. We should pray for our misguided brethren.

All Christians are equal. Some are just more equal than others.

28 05 2008

(Some reflections on the hierarchical nature of Christianity)

Even the perfect soul is imperfect when compared with divine action.

-Iamblichus, De Mysteriis

Sometimes I just get an intellectual itch that I have to scratch. Since I read the Pope’s catechesis on St. Dionysius the Areopagite a couple of weeks back, I have been chewing over a particular passage over and over again:

Now then, [Proclus] made a distinction between the paths for the simple — those who were not able to elevate themselves to the heights of truth, for whom certain rites could be sufficient — and the paths for the wise, who on the other hand should purify themselves to arrive to pure light.
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De Vita Stellarum

26 05 2008

If the former view, which Thomas allows to be compatible by the Platonists and many Fathers, and which Thomas allows to be compatible with Christian dogma, is correct, then the stars have intellectual souls and living bodies made entirely of very subtle spirit (which is perhaps why the Sun is called spirit in Ecclesiastes), with which they can sense and communicate… [Cardinal Cajetan] thinks that the animation of the stars is the official opinion of the church and should not be doubted. For in the Preface of the Mass one sings: “Deum laudant Angeli, adorant Potestates: Coeli, Coelorumque Virtutes, ac beata Seraphim &c. incessabili voce proclamant”, and this shows that the Church holds that not only the orders of angels, but the heavens themselves, and the Virtues of the heavens, praise God, as animate bodies and souls; which is also implied by God’s words in Job: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy”.

-D.P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella

In other words, “Catholic traditionalism”, often very reactionary in things like the theory of evolution, still has a ways to go in terms of being completely “traditional”. While many would fight tooth and nail to save the traditional Latin text of the Preface of the Mass, few will actually believe what it says or pay any attention to its contents. In other words, most Roman Catholic traditionalists have a motive for their views other than “Tradition” itself. I suppose that is why I don’t really consider myself a Catholic traditionalist anymore. It isn’t really about rubrics, doctrines, or even ideas anymore. It is about how we see the world. And everyone, from the sedevacantist to the Call to Action militant, agrees when it comes to that; they are swimming in the modern, mechanistic, and anti-metaphysical way of seeing the world. Most of the controversy is just quibbling over the details. The modern paradigm, in the end, is just functional atheism. It matters little what pious talk we sprinkle over it.

Omnia in omnibus modo suo

23 05 2008

Above: King Louis XIV as the Sun from the film, Le Roi Danse

Proclus give us precise examples of such ‘chains’ or ‘rays’ that link each level of existence through a particular archetypal quality.  For example, the ray which crystallises as ‘Apollo’ on the level of Ideas, will bring forth the ‘Sun-soul’ on the cosmic level, the physical Sun on the material, the King on the human, lion on the animal, heliotrope on the vegetative and gold on the mineral levels.  The key is sympathetic resonance, which allows even the most inanimate stone to partake of divine power.  This is the ‘occult property’, which can be worked with in theurgic ritual, as well as in more manipulative or ‘lower’ kinds of magic. 

-Angela Voss, from her introduction to an anthology of the writings of Marsilio Ficino

Below: Louis XIV as Apollo in the same movie

Ecumenism with a Spine

22 05 2008

I found this link on the Remnant Newspaper page on a group of Lutheran clergy in Latvia going on an Ignatian retreat with the Society of St. Pius X. It’s odd that many people regard the Lefebvrists as mean people who drown puppies in buckets and breath fire, but actually, they are all kinds of good people. A thing similar to this happened when I was living in an SSPX retreat house in the year 2000, as I have recounted in my post on the Russian Orthodox monk, Archimandrite Anastassy. He sent his spiritual daughter, an Orthodox abbess, on retreat with us for five days, and everyone, including the faithful, bent over backwards to make them feel welcomed.

Which brings me to my point: the most charitable way to act towards non-Catholics is to be yourself, that is, Catholic. If you try to hide your Catholic treasures under a bushel basket or be “diplomatic” about points of contention, no one in the end will trust you, though it all might lead to some civil banter. (Heads of ecumenism offices, take note.) The Lutheran pastors above just wanted to know what Catholics really believed, and they felt they had to go to a bunch of schismatic “integrists” to learn it.  I think this was the same attitude of our Russian Orthodox visitors, though Fr. Anastassy, as I have written, probably had other motives. (More cynical readers will probably say that the Protestants wanted to learn Catholicism from other “Protestants”, i.e. the schismatic Lefebvrists. I find such comparisons childish and unfounded.)

I do firmly believe that all faith traditions are pointed toward the truth since they long for it (heck, even rocks long for union with the One). The language of Catholicism is the most pure expression of the Incarnation, though everything, by its mere existence, hints at it. The way to truly seek unity is to continue on the road that our most perfect faith tradition has made for us. Perhaps it is only through this way, through holding fast to the letter and spirit of Catholic tradition, that we will truly discover and gather together the fragments of truth scattered throughout humanity, and in this way have a chance at real, profound unity.

On Style

21 05 2008

Above: Allegra Kent and Edward Villella in George Balanchine’s Bugaku

 It is only a personal truth, but I believe that a dancer who tries to analyze the music, to interpret every note physically, to accentuate the obvious climaxes, will bypass what music is really about. It is a definition of time, and that can only be spontaneous. Moving with music is not an intellectual feat; it is an emotional, physical, sensual response to a specific moment in time…

One of Balanchine’s most important innovations in dance was to declare- and insist- that music be the first priority of the dancer… In Balanchine’s world, the dancers were in service to him, but everyone, including him, was in service to the music.

-Suzanne Farrell, former Balanchine ballerina, in her autobiography, Holding on to the Air
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Don Marsilio el Curandero

19 05 2008

Or… The Fifteenth Century Translator of Plato Confronts Modernity with Christianized Shamanism

From Leonard George:

Dawn light spills into a large room decorated lavishly in early Italian Renaissance style. Through a window we glimpse the silhouette of Brunelleschi’s famous dome. We are in Florence, in 1464. In the room, a sumptuous four-poster bed frames a dying old man – Cosimo de Medici, Prince of Florence. Huddled nearby, worried courtiers and relatives. When will the Doctor come? Is it already too late? A page enters, followed by a striking gentleman, early thirties, in a white gown. He carries a lyre. “Hail, Doctor Ficino. The Prince is waning fast.” “We haven’t much time. I will need some instruments of medical practice.” “Sir, what do you require? We will fetch it immediately!” Ficino peers intently at Cosimo’s grey face. “Bring me – a statue of Apollo. A gold mirror. Sunflowers in a vase. And a live cockerel. Quickly!” Off scurry the courtiers as the Doctor intones, “Hear me, great Prince! You suffer from a deficiency of solar spirits. A transfusion is needed to save your life. Visualize the sun. I have ordered symbols of solar power with which to surround you; imagine golden spirits flowing into your body with each breath.” Strumming his lyre, Ficino begins to sing the ancient Orphic Hymn to the Sun God. This was holistic healing, Renaissance style

Hear golden Titan, whose eternal eye
With broad survey, illumines all the sky.
Self-born, unwearied in diffusing light,
And to all eyes the mirrour of delight:
Lord of the seasons, with thy fiery car
And leaping coursers, beaming light from far…

-from the Orphic Hymn to the Sun as translated by Thomas Taylor
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For AG

16 05 2008

Clifton Chenier, also from AG’s ancestral homeland of Opelousas, Louisiana. Her grandmother claims to have been acquainted with him, but that’s her story, and I’m not going to tell it.

What is it with Americans and the accordion anyway? In virtually every other kind of New World music south of the Rio Grande, they use some sort of accordion (norteña, cumbia, tango, gaucho music etc.) Any theories?

I think accordions are cool.

St. Dionysius

15 05 2008


The Holy Father’s catechetical discourse yesterday was on the role of St. Dionysius the Areopagite in Catholic theology. I think it was a much needed reflection on Dionysius’ thinking as a helpful remedy to the spiritual malaise of the Christian West.

I found that some people have said that the Holy Father was beginning to sound “Orthodox”. Many think that speaking of hierarchies, Divine Light, and apophaticism is something that has become foreign and exotic to the Western Christian mind, more suited to Easterners. That has not always been the case as many things I have posted on this blog suggest. The divines of fifteenth century Florence were perfectly at home in the texts of Dionysius, as was Meister Eckhart and various Rhine mystics. Fray Luis de Leon also was very Dionysian, as were all the other Spanish mystics as the Holy Father points out. It is arguable from my perspective that the glories of Christendom are due to the élan that Dionyisian Neoplatonism bestowed on Christian consciousness, and our decline is due to the belittling of the figure of Dionysius the Areopagite. (It was Martin Luther himself who dismissed Dionysius as being “more Platonic than Christian”).

Two thoughts that I had:

1. A quote that the Holy Father cites from Dionysius’ Seventh Epistle: “I would not like to cause polemics; I simply speak of the truth; I seek the truth”. That best reflects the ethos of the late Neoplatonic approach to philosophy: since the truth is beyond all human thought and words, there is very little point in arguing or quibbling over its details. Many Neoplatonists were profound reconcilers: both Proclus and Pico della Mirandola, for example, sought to unite the thought of Aristotle and Plato, saying that both were true when applied to their legitimate realms. The role of human discourse is to silence the mind so that it can adequately approach Divine Truth. It does this in a sense of surrender and awe, not of polemic and control.

2. In this way, I have always wondered how people could argue so much about the meaning of Patristic texts in particular. I guess when I read them, I didn’t read them to prove a point or win an arguement. I read them in a seminary or monastery in order to help me pray and meditate. So I could really care less about the gnomic will in St. Maximus Confessor unless it leads me to peace and contemplation. That doesn’t make me holier than anyone else. I guess I just feel that maybe people who argue these things are missing the point of these texts. They are means to a higher end. Heck, I even read St. Thomas Aquinas this way. I prefer a cultic rather than a dogmatic reading.

Maybe that is what the Holy Father is saying the world needs.