John Donne

18 11 2008

Scene from John Adams’ opera, Doctor Atomic

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to’another due,
Labor to’admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly’I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me,’untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you’enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


Regnum Mortis

17 11 2008

Conclusion: A Morning at the Movies, Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love Santa Muerte

Weekdays for me can be a little hectic now. So if I need to catch up on some activities that I’d like to do during the week, I have to do it on Saturday morning. Most of the blog entries for the week are written in one or two sittings on the weekend. This time, however, I wanted to watch my new DVD on the cult of Santa Muerte. A very well-made production narrated by Gael Garcia Bernal, I can honestly tell you that if you watch the trailer above, that is pretty much all you need to know about the movie. Its one main weakness is that it focuses only on the cult to Saint Death as manifested in the Tepito neighborhood of Mexico City. While one realizes that the Mexican film crew would have liked to expand its geographical range but couldn’t due to lack of funds, they nevertheless do a good job with what they have. It was a real eye-opener for me in many ways.

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On Historical Imagination

16 11 2008


When modern people tend to think of history, they tend to imagine themselves as rubbing shoulders with great men. When they become nostalgic for the “simpler” times, the “golden age”, the glorious past now lost, they tend to picture themselves in the castles, cathedrals, and palaces of the mighty and powerful. The problem is, so few actually had access to these monuments of human achievement. Most were treading dung in a pit to slather it on their house. And they never ventured more than ten miles from where they were born. Vanitas vanitatum…

I am trying to perform an exercise of imagining what it would have been to live in my family a hundred years ago, in the harsh deserts of northern Mexico: growing and picking cotton and anything else that could grow in the rocky soil and experiencing death at a young and tender age. Of all ideas in the world, Christianity is least suited to the idolizing of great men. The Gospel itself seems to be a deconstruction of such myths. A humble stable, a smelly fishing boat, a barren hill of execution outside the walls of Jerusalem… all these seem to speak of something far removed from the realms of great men. How easily we forget.

Connected to this is the idea of “tradition” as a set of approved written texts. The Church rose and fell last century on how certain very smart men read some very old texts, and how these texts seemed to tell a story different from their childhoods of rosy-cheeked Madonnas, Infants of Prague, and a hurried if meticulous muttered Mass in fiddle back chausable. But what if some smart men two thousand years from now try to piece together our way of life from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and editorials in the New York Times? What would they find out? How much would they read us out of it and read themselves into it? That is why I am skeptical of the whole “Patristics resourcement” in general. The game is being played with loaded die. I don’t buy any of it for a second.

On Tradition

14 11 2008

– an extended scene from Astor Piazzolla’s tango operetta, Maria de Buenos Aires

[originally posted here]

Uri Caine’s talent [involves] seeing connections where others see distance.

-Jeremy Eichler, cited in Tango: the Art History of Love, by Robert F. Thompson, p. 204

This is how Thompson opens his chapter on Astor Piazzolla, the great Argentine composer who fused tango with everything from jazz to the music of Bela Bartok. Where tango traditionalists saw sacrilege to old venerable forms, Piazzolla saw the spirit behind those forms, which were themselves collisions between various musical sources that made criollo music. For Piazzolla, to quote Jaroslav Pelikan, traditionalism was the dead religion of the living, while tradition is the living religion of the dead. That is how he did tango. And that is why, on the corner of Nueve de Julio and Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, his image towers over the those who pass by the heart of the Argentine Republic, playing his bandoneon standing, rather than seated (another innovation).
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Mary, Queen of Purgatory

13 11 2008


image credit

Translations taken from this site , on Guatemalan folk traditions.

…María, Reina del Purgatorio: te ruego de modo especial por aquellas almas que más padecen. Es verdad que todas sufren con resignación, pero sus penas son atroces y no podemos imaginarlas siquiera. Intercede Madre nuestra por ellas, y Dios escuchará tu oración.

…Mary, Queen of Purgatory: I pray especially for those souls that suffer. It is true that they all suffer with resignation, but their pains are horrible and we cannot even imagine them. Our Mother, intercede for them, and God will hear your prayer…
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Marc-Antoine Charpentier

12 11 2008

Praelium Michaelis Archangeli Factum in Coelo Cum Dracone

On the Simplicity of Truth

11 11 2008


You often ask me, Antonio, to define the virtues for you, expecting from me perhaps those very detailed analyses of the Aristotelians and Stoics. Calderini, this is not the way of our school of Plato. Surely, the power of virtue lies in unity rather than in division. Hence, the Pythagoreans held that unity belonged to the good, diversity to evil. So I shall be very brief in my definition, especially as it is better to practice the virtues than to know about them.

-Marsilio Ficino, from the book, Meditations on the Soul

I really like reading Josh S.’ blog, not because of how much I agree with him, but rather because of how much I disagree with him. In a sense, the way he puts things is really the way most modern Western people would put them, just without the often hypocritical nuances. Those nuances only try to mask the real similarities between supposedly disparate worldviews. In reality, the modern Lutheran, the modern Roman Catholic, and the modern atheist inhabit the same moral and metaphysical universe. It is simply one that I personally refuse to live in.
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Regnum Mortis

10 11 2008

Part IV – A Literary Excursion

On my Death-centered excursion to the Mission District, one of the only souvenirs I picked up was a magazine devoted to the cult of Santa Muerte. As I described before, it is a glossy publication full of advertisments from mainstream sources. Sort of like Good Housekeeping or Sports Illustrated with skeletons. Lots of skeletons. Instead of recipes for a low-fat lasagna, it has lots of recipes for casting spells to get more money, to get a love-interest to take notice of you, or even to get your kid to do better in school. (I will have to wait for the special edition where they show you how to use the skeleton spirit to put curses on people. Maybe it’s like the SI Swimsuit Issue.) For those of you wanting to look up this publication in the Library of Congress, the magazine in question is produced in Mexico City and is called, Devoción a la Santa Muerte. The issue I will be talking about is number 93, which I picked because it has an article on the historical background on the cult.
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More notes on method

6 11 2008


Taken from my comment on the Sarx blog:

…I think what most determines “tradition” is what we bring to the table. I think the greatest revelation about the SSPX is that they are fetishizing some very “traditional” things in very idealistic, totalitarian ways. The same goes with the Orthodox when they approach modernity, as well as with more conservative Catholics. In the end, the picture that is created is a totalizing one that leaves aside and cuts out much of the story, if you will. Certain things don’t “fit” in their vision and are simply ignored, or worse, persecuted.

I would thus say that “tradition” is something that is not ideal; it is something that simply works. It is not determined by ideology precisely because it is not ideal; it is religion with all of the blemishes, it is Faith as it has to be. I would like to say that the attack on tradition started with the Protestant Reformation, but Catholicism since then has also treated this tendency as an enemy within; the old villain of lay “superstition”.

In the end, the first principle that I start with is that the most certain starting point is tradition as it has been passed down to you immediately by those who preceded you. It is a foolish errand to try to figure out how the “first Christians” thought or acted; for all we know, they could have been a bunch of fornicating magicians who used the name of Jesus to put curses on people (there is some evidence that this was the case in some places). You can’t determine belief by archeology. In the end, you have to go with what has been put into your own hot little hands, tempered a bit by reason. I emphasize, however, “a bit”.

Oración al Anima Sola

6 11 2008


Oye , mortal , el lamento de un alma aprisionada , sola , triste ,
abandonada en este oscuro aposento
Anima mía , Anima de paz y de guerra ,
Anima de mar y de tierra ,
deseo que todo lo que tenga ausente o perdido
se me entregue o aparezca
¡ Oh , Anima la más sola y desamparada del purgatorio ¡
Yo os acompaño en vuestro dolor
compadeciéndoos al veros gemir y padecer
en el abandono de esa dura y estrecha cárcel ,
y deseo aliviaros vuestra aflicción ;
ofrendaos todas aquellas obras meritorias ,
y he pasado , paso y he de pasar en esta vida
para que paguéis vuestras culpas a Dios ,
y alcancéis su gracia esperando me haréis el gran beneficio
de pedirle que dé a mi entendimiento la luz necesaria
para que yo cumpla su Santa Ley ,
amándole sobre todas las cosas como a mi único y sumo bien ,
a mi prójimo como a mi mismo ,
pues así mereceré de su “ Divina Majestad “ y misericordia infinita
mi salvación .

( Rezar 5 Padrenuestros , 5 Avemarías y 5 Glorias )

Hear, mortal, the lament of the imprisoned soul, alone, sad,
Abandoned in this obscure dwelling.
My soul, soul of peace and of war,
Soul of sea and land,
I desire that all that I have as lost or absent
Is returned to me or appears.
O Soul, the most abandoned and alone of all of purgatory!
I accompany you in your grief,
Having pity on seeing you suffer and moan
In the abandonment of this harsh and long imprisonment,
And I desire to lessen your pain;
I offer you all my meritorious works,
And all that I have suffered, suffer, and will suffer in this life
So that you can pay for your sins before God,
And achieve His grace hoping that you will do me the great favor
That he give to my understanding the light necessary
So that I may obey His Holy Law
Loving Him above all things as my one and only good,
And my neighbor as myself,
Because by that I will merit his Divine Majesty and infinite mercy:
My salvation.

(Pray 5 Our Fathers, 5 Hail Marys, and 5 Doxologies)