On Soul

31 07 2008

Pas de deux from Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading as danced by Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner

There is nothing to be found in this whole living world so deformed that Soul does not attend it, that the gift of the Soul is not in it.

Marsilio Ficino, De Vita Coelitus Comparanda

Tenebrae Lucem praecedunt et illa est Mater

30 07 2008

Darkness precedes Light and She is Mother

-inscription in the Salerno cathedral at the altar of the Black Madonna

Daughter of great Protogonus, divine, illustrious Rhea, to my pray’r incline,
Who driv’st thy holy car with speed along, drawn by fierce lions, terrible and strong.
Mother of Jove, whose mighty arm can wield th’ avenging bolt, and shake the dreadful shield.
Drum-beating, frantic, of a splendid mien, brass-sounding, honor’d, Saturn’s blessed queen.
Thou joy’st in mountains and tumultuous fight, and mankind’s horrid howlings, thee delight.
War’s parent, mighty, of majestic frame, deceitful saviour, liberating dame.
Mother of Gods and men, from whom the earth and lofty heav’ns derive their glorious birth;
Th’ ætherial gales, the deeply spreading sea goddess ærial form’d, proceed from thee.
Come, pleas’d with wand’rings, blessed and divine, with peace attended on our labours shine;
Bring rich abundance, and wherever found drive dire disease, to earth’s remotest bound.

-Orphic Hymn to Rhea, translated by Thomas Taylor

The second deity is actually a Mother… She functions “according to life… proceeding and vivifying all things”. She represents the prolific diversity about to be unleashed in the creation of the world, the power which imparts movement to the world through the soul, the principle of motion most proximate to the body. Proclus identifies this powerful causal entity, who is superior to the Creator himself, with the female principle of the universe. She is the Mother of the Creator, out of whose womb were born both he and the world. She is the goddess Rhea as “flux”.

-Lucas Siorvanes, Proclus: Neo-Platonic Philosophy and Science

The dyad is clearly formless, because the infinite sequence of polygons arise in actuality from triagularity and the triad, while as a result of the monad everything is together in potential, and no rectilinear figure consists of two straight lines or two angles. So what is indefinite and formless falls under the dyad alone.

[The Pythagoreans name the dyad] “Rhea”, after its flux and extension, which are the properties both of the dyad and of Nature, which is in all respects coming into being.

-from The Theology of Arithmetic attributed to Iamblichus of Chalcis


There is no dyad then in the Trinitarian true God. God is One and Three, but He is not two. Therefore, He is not feminine. But still notice how the feminine is the thought that comes immediately after God, as the Ecclesia that is the oldest of all creatures, as the Shepherd of Hermas indicates. Could not the Virgin Mary, as icon of the Ecclesia, the first thought that comes after God, and the reason that all things come into being, be the mystical dyad for us? Are these not the waters over which the Spirit of God hovered?

Interesting post on the Society of St. Pius X

30 07 2008

A balanced and interesting post by an ex-supporter of the Lefebvrist movement, found here

On Form

29 07 2008

To perpetuate the image of “an ordinary man”, to represent an individual, is not art. The one thing worthy of detaining our attention, and of being fixed in an immortal work of art, can only be the beauty of an ideal form. If one is going to sculpt the figure of a man, let him gather together everything beautiful as he can find. If you’re going to make a statue of a god, says Plotinus, do as Pheidas did when he sculpted his Zeus: “He did not use any sensible model, but he took him as he would be, if Zeus wished to appear before our eyes”.

-Pierre Hadot, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision

On religious imagery

28 07 2008

A comment of mine on the Thulcandra blog

To the idea that representing God the Father in a painting is “blasphemous”:

“Blasphemous” is a harsh word for it. I think the theological principle you are trying to assert is that Christ is the only revelation of God, and to represent Christ as anyone else other than the Man Jesus Christ is inappropriate. This I believe was the decision of the Council of Trullo in 692 that condemned Christ’s depiction as a Lamb. Needless to say, this council’s authority was never undisputed in the West. The theological premise behind this is of course a strong one (Jesus Christ as the ONLY icon of God), but the history of art, even sacred art, is never that cut and dry. While one can argue, for example, that even the Ancient of Days in the Book of Daniel is God the Son, such an understanding has not been consistent throughout Christian history.

The “hard and fast” theory of sacred art in Eastern Orthodoxy only emerged in the first half of last century with the work of Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky. In their minds, Eastern Orthodox iconography was equated to the Biblical canon and its unanimous Patristic exegesis. Icons were a tradition just as Christian dogma and morality are traditions, and any change to them is to be equated with heresy. I believe that is where the first responder is getting his idea that the image you posted is blasphemous. While these ideas may still be “on the books” in Russia and Greece, this did not stop iconographers from adopting modern Western styles and imagery in Eastern Orthodoxy up to very recently. Indeed, even in the halcyon days before the Western captivity of Eastern art, such strange images as the Word of God as Sophia and St. Christopher with a dog head were to be seen in Holy Orthodox Russia itself. It is hard to theologize upon spontaneous sentiments of artists, and as much as we would like to read into history our own ideas about it, it is seldom that neat.

As for the depiction of God the Father, such images appear even in the monasteries of Mount Athos, the sanctum sanctorum of Orthodoxy itself. There is one where God the Father is sitting in paradise with God the Son (a small child) on His lap, done in a very Byzantine style. And the Holy Spirit is always portrayed as a dove in the Theophany icon, and He is not God the Son. I think while the principle that the Word of God is the true revelation of God is something to always be kept in mind, it is not a reason to disparage other forms of art that are done devoutly. Nowhere have such rules been applied with universal rigor, and so a depiction of God the Father is not at all blasphemous. Maybe less correct, but not blasphemous.

On Punishing the Saints

28 07 2008

Over a year ago now, I posted this anecdote,

A widow had only one child whom she tenderly loved. On hearing that this son had been taken [in war] by the enemy, chained and put in prison, she burst into tears, and addressing herself to the Virgin, to whom she was especially devoted, she asked with obstinacy for the release of her son; but when she saw at last that her prayers remained unanswered, she went to the church where there was a sculptured image of Mary, and there, before the image, she said: “Holy Virgin, I have begged you to deliver my son, and you have not been willing to help an unhappy mother! I’ve implored your patronage for my son, and you have refused it! Very good! Just as my son has been taken away from me, so I am going to take away yours, and keep him as a hostage!” Saying this, she approached, took the statue of the child on the Virgin’s breast, carried it home, wrapped it in a spotless linen, and locked it up in a box, happy to have such a hostage for her son’s return. Now, the following night, the Virgin appeared to the young man, opened the prison doors, and said: “Tell your mother, my child, to return me my son now that I have returned hers!” The young man came back home to his mother and told her of his miraculous deliverance; and she, overjoyed, hastened to go with the little Jesus to the Virgin saying to her: “I thank you, heavenly lady, for restoring to me my child, and in return I restore yours.”

-cited by Paul J. Vanderwood in Juan Soldado: Rapist, Murderer, Martyr, Saint

One of the earliest posts I ever wrote told a story similar to this one, and it concerned my family’s devotion to a small image of the the Holy Face, and you can read it again here.

Recently, I encountered two other such anecdotes. The first is from Gumbo Ya-Ya: Folk Tales of Louisiana:

Statues of St. Joseph holding the Christ Child have long been popular for private altars in the homes of New Orleans Creoles; and many New Orleanians carry miniature representations of the saint in small capsules in their pockets or pocket-books. If a favor is asked of St. Joseph and not granted, the figure is sometimes stood on its head as punishment until the wish is fufilled.

St. Joseph is not the only saint who gets punished. In John Ingham’s book, Mary, Michael, Lucifer: Folk Catholicism in Central Mexico, on Saint Anthony’s feast day,

…people take their animals to the church, where the priest sprinkles them with holy water and pronounces a benediction to protect them from harm. Tiny metal figures of animals are pinned to pictures of St. Anthony on family altars. When an animal is lost, villagers put his picture in a box and tie a string around it. When the animal is found, its recovery is considered a “miracle”, and the incarcerated saint is released and rewarded with the miniature image of the animal he has found.

I am tempted to give some form of comment, but I am not going to. Needless to say, this is what I think real religion looks like. He who has ears to hear…

Ethiopian Church Music

27 07 2008

EWTN… Ethiopian style!

On the Animation of Idols

25 07 2008

Above: the golden idol solo from the ballet, La Bayadère

Plotinus uses almost the same examples in that place where, paraphrasing Hermes Trismegistus, he says that the ancient priests or Magi used to capture in statues and material sacrifices something divine and wonderful. He holds, moreover, with Hermes Trismegistus that through these materials they did not, properly speaking, capture divinities wholly separate from matter but deities who are merely cosmic… Hermes himself put together statues from herbs, trees, stones, and spices, which had within themselves, as he says, a natural force of divinity. He added songs resembling the heavenly bodies; he says the divinities take delight in such songs and so stay a longer time in the statues and help people or harm them.

-Marsilio Ficino, De vita coelitus comparanda

Back in the Good Ol’ Days…

24 07 2008

When vice was the luxury of those who could afford it.

AG once posted one of the dirty little secrets of American slavery that made the affair even more gruesome and inhumane:

The slave trade was not only an exchange for manual labor but also for sexual goods. In fact, in places it was de rigueur for a young white man to have a black woman as mistress (consensual or not) before marriage to a white woman. An attractive, lighter-skinned, young female slave could auction off for as much if not more money than a young male laborer. There are even records of plantation owners selling their own daughters, conceived with a female slave, to other plantation owners as sex slaves.
Read the rest of this entry »

Conversion to Ourselves

23 07 2008

For if the essence and perfection of all good are comprehended in the Gods, and the first and ancient power of them is with us priests, and if by those who similarly adhere to more excellent natures, and genuinely obtain a union with them, the beginning and end of all good is earnestly pursued ; if this be the case, here the contemplation of truth, and the whole possession of intellectual science are to be found. And a knowledge of the Gods is accompanied with a conversion to, and the knowledge of, ourselves.

-Iamblichus, De Mysteriis