Bossuet on the Sufficiency of God

There are many candidates for the title of “Greatest Preacher in Christian History,” but my money’s on Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704), “The Eagle of Meaux,” Bishop and Tutor to the Grand Dauphin of France. Famed in his own day for the clarity of his doctrine, the incisive vigor of his spirituality, and the dazzling versatility of his oratorical skill, Bossuet stands as one of the late flowers of the Grand Siècle. Trumpet of the Gallicans and Hammer of Quietism, Bossuet nevertheless is not merely to be regarded as a relic of dusty seventeenth-century controversies. He still has much to teach us. In this excellent passage, excerpted from a recent translation and edited collection of his Meditations for Lent by Christopher O. Blum (Sophia Institute Press, 2013), we can see the essentially ascetic cast of Bossuet’s mind. This was the same man who, in a felicitious turn of phrase, elsewhere referred to the Rule of St. Benedict as “a little abridgment of the Gospel.” The relevant passage can be found on pages 10-12 of the source text.

Portrait of Bossuet by Charles Sevin de la Penaye, after Hyacinthe Rigaud, c. early 18th century (Source)

“Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (John 14:8). God alone suffices, and all we need to possess him is to see him, because in seeing him, we see all his goodness, as he himself explained to Moses: “I will make all my goodness pass before you” (Ex. 33:19). We see all that attracts our love, and we love him beyond all limits. Let us join St. Philip in saying with all our heart, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” He alone can fill all our emptiness, satisfy all our needs, content us, and make us happy.

Let us then empty our heart of all other things, for if the Father alone suffices, then we have no need for sensible goods, less for exterior wealth, and still less for the honor of men’s good opinion. We do not even need this mortal life; how then can we need those things necessary to preserve it? We need only God. He alone suffices. In possessing him we are content.

How courageous are these words of St. Philip! To say them truthfully, we must also be able to say with the apostles: “Lord, we have left everything and followed you” (cf. Matt. 19:27). At the least we must leave everything by way of affection, desire, and resolution, that is, by an invincible resolution to attach ourselves to nothing, to seek no support except in God alone. Happy are they who carry this desire to its limit, who make the final, lasting, and perfect renunciation! But let them not leave anything for themselves. Let them not say: “This little thing to which I am still attached, it is a mere nothing.” We know the nature of the human heart. Whenever a little thing is left to it, there the heart will place all its desires. Strip it all away; break from it; let it go. To own things as though one had nothing, to be married as though one were not, to make use of this world as though one were not using it, but as though it did not exist, and as though we were not a part of it: this is the true good for which we should strive. We are not Christians if we cannot say sincerely with St. Philip, “Show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”

It is from the very depths of faith that these words are spoken, and it is in a certain sense from the very foundation of nature itself. For in the depths of our nature we sense our need to posses God, that he alone is capable of fulfilling our nature, and that we are anxious and tormented when separated from him…Man, abandoned to himself, does not know what to do, nor what to become. His pleasures carry him off, and these very same pleasures destroy him. With each sin of the senses he gives himself a killing blow, and he not only kills his soul by his intemperance, in his blindness and ignorance he kills the very body that he would flatter. Since the Fall, man is born to be unhappy…We do not know how to desire or ask for what we need.

St. Philip’s words teach us everything. He limits himself to what Jesus taught us is the one thing needful. Lord, you are the way.

M. Olier on Patience for Christ

In week two of the Lenten Spirituality Series, we have another treasure from seventeenth-century France. One of the great exponents of the French School of Spirituality, M. Jean-Jacques Olier, writes movingly about our suffering in this life as a means of bringing us closer to Christ. His words on the virtue of Patience, though directly primarily to clerics, have a wider application to all Christians in their Royal Priesthood. The text is excerpted from M. Olier’s “Introduction to the Christian Life and Virtues,” translated by Lowell M. Glendon, S.S. in Bérulle and the French School: Selected Writings (Paulist Press, 1989), 244-47. M. Olier’s description of patience crescendos into a typically French, Eucharistic note.

Jean-Jacques Olier, founder of the Sulpicians and a spiritual master of the Grand Siècle. (Source)

We are obliged to be patient. First, in our condition as creatures; for God, sovereign master of life and death, on whom our existence depends absolutely, has the right to dispose of us as he chooses…

Second, as sinners. For in this condition, we must bear with the effects of his justice and wrath toward us. All the punishments that he carries out in this world are nothing compared to what we deserve and what he would make use suffer if he did not choose to be merciful toward us and to treat us with gentleness and clemency in this life. The punishments that God meted out to sinners, as we see in the holy scripture, even the torments of the damned and the penalties the demons suffer and will suffer eternally for one sin, should cause us not only to be at peace, but to rejoice in our sufferings…

Third, as Christians. For as such we should bear with many difficulties and sufferings. This is why we are intitiated into the church. For our Lord only admitted us into it to continue his life, which is a life of opposition, contradiction, and condemnation toward the flesh.

He must then humiliate it and subdue it in us, using the ways he knows and judges to be most useful, so as to win a complete victory, He first achieved victory in his own flesh, and he wishes to continue it in ours in order to show forth in us a sample of the universal triumph that he had achieved over it in his own person.

The church and Christians are only a handful of flesh compared to the whole world. Nevertheless, he still desires to be victorious in them to proclaim his triumph and to give definite signs of his victory. Thus, from this perspective, the Christian should be very faithful to the Spirit and completely abandoned to him in order to overcome the flesh and to destroy it completely.

There will be no lack of opportunities in this life, for he must suffer; first, the attacks of the world through scorn, calumny and persecution; second, the violent onslaughts of the flesh in its uprisings and its revolts; third, the battles with the devil in the temptations he sends us; finally, the ordeals from God through dryness, desolation, abandonment and other interior difficulties, which he afflicts on him in order to initiate him into the perfect crucifixion of the flesh.

Fourth, as clerics. For clerics should participate in the fulfillment of Christianity. This cannot exist without patience.

Patience is a sign that the soul is intimately united to God and that it is rooted in perfection. For it must be very much in God and fully possessed by him in order to bear difficulties and torments with peace, tranquility and even joy and beatitude in one’s heart.

It must be quite profoundly immersed in him and remain quite powerfully and strongly united to him, so that the flesh has no power at all to attract it to itself and share with him the feelings and aversions that it has towards suffering and endurance.

In this state the soul experiences the perfection attainable in this life, since it conforms to our Lord’s perfect submission to God during his sufferings. For although his flesh experienced aversion and revulsion for the cross, he paid no attention to it with his will. Rather, he always adhered perfectly to the wishes of his Father.

Therefore clerics, being perfect Christians chosen from the midst of the church to assist before the tabernacle of God, should pay particular attention to this virtue. This is their very nature. It is the sign by which they can be identified. This is what predisposes them for the honorable rank that they possess. This is how they are recognized as domestics and servants of God.

Finally, priests and pastors should have a very high degree of patience because, in Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ, they are both priests and victims for the sins of the world. Jesus Christ the priest wished to be the victim of his sacrifice. He became the host-victim for all people. Since priests are like sacraments and representations of him who lives in them to continue his priesthood and whom he clothes with his external conduct and his interior dispositions, as well as with his power and his person, he wishes furthermore that they be interiorly rooted in the spirit and dispositions of a host-victim in order to suffer, endure, do penance, in short, to immolate themselves for the glory of God and the salvation of the people.

In imitation of our Lord, priests should not only be victims for sin through persecution, penance, internal and external sufferings, but also they should be like the victims of a holocaust. This is their true vocation. For they should not merely suffer, as he did, all sorts of difficulties both for their own sins and the sins of the people entrusted to them, but even more the should be entirely consumed with him through love.

The spirit of love strengthens and empowers us to endure affliction and suffering, no matter how great they are. Since he is infinite, he gives us as much as we need to endure those that can occur in our vocation.

All the torments of the world are nothing to a generous soul filled with the power of a God, who is able to shoulder countless sufferings more violent than all those that the world and the devil might afflict us with. It is with this Spirit that Saint Paul said: I can do all things in him who strengthens me (Phil 4:14). Everything he saw seemed little to do or suffer because of the God who dwelled in him.

It is through this same eternal, immense, and all-powerful Spirit that he called his sufferings light and momentary, because Jesus Christ who suffered and bore them in himself and allowed him to see and experience something of his eternity through his presence, caused him to look upon the entire duration of this life as but a moment. This is how our Lord, who allows us to experience interiorly that his power and his strength could support a thousand worlds, leads us to call his burden light.

Pascal on Christ’s Agony

This year, the Lenten Spirituality Series will happen on Fridays. We begin the season with a salutary meditation taken from the Pensées of Blaise Pascal, Section 522 on “The Mystery of Jesus.”

Blaise Pascal, theologian, philosopher, mathematician, confessor, and ascetic (Source)

The Mystery of Jesus.—Jesus suffers in His passions the torments which men inflict upon Him; but in His agony He suffers the torments which He inflicts on Himself; turbare semetipsum. This is a suffering from no human, but an almighty hand, for He must be almighty to bear it.

Jesus seeks some comfort at least in His three dearest friends, and they are asleep. He prays them to bear with Him for a little, and they leave Him with entire indifference, having so little compassion that it could not prevent their sleeping even for a moment. And thus Jesus was left alone to the wrath of God.

Jesus is alone on the earth, without any one not only to feel and share His suffering, but even to know of it; He and Heaven were alone in that knowledge.

Jesus is in a garden, not of delight as the first Adam, where he lost himself and the whole human race, but in one of agony, where He saved Himself and the whole human race.

He suffers this affliction and this desertion in the horror of night.

I believe that Jesus never complained but on this single occasion; but then He complained as if he could no longer bear His extreme suffering. “My soul is sorrowful, even unto death.”

Jesus seeks companionship and comfort from men. This is the sole occasion in all His life, as it seems to me. But He receives it not, for His disciples are asleep.

Jesus will be in agony even to the end of the world. We must not sleep during that time.

Jesus, in the midst of this universal desertion, including that of His own friends chosen to watch with Him, finding them asleep, is vexed because of the danger to which they expose, not Him, but themselves; He cautions them for their own safety and their own good, with a sincere tenderness for them during their ingratitude, and warns them that the spirit is willing and the flesh weak.

Jesus, finding them still asleep, without being restrained by any consideration for themselves or for Him, has the kindness not to waken them, and leaves them in repose.

Jesus prays, uncertain of the will of His Father, and fears death; but, when He knows it, He goes forward to offer Himself to death. Eamus. Processit (John).

Jesus asked of men and was not heard.

Jesus, while His disciples slept, wrought their salvation. He has wrought that of each of the righteous while they slept, both in their nothingness before their birth, and in their sins after their birth.

He prays only once that the cup pass away, and then with submission; and twice that it come if necessary.

Jesus is weary.

Jesus, seeing all His friends asleep and all His enemies wakeful, commits Himself entirely to His Father.

Jesus does not regard in Judas his enmity, but the order of God, which He loves and admits, since He calls him friend.

Jesus tears Himself away from His disciples to enter into His agony; we must tear ourselves away from our nearest and dearest to imitate Him.

Jesus being in agony and in the greatest affliction, let us pray longer.

We implore the mercy of God, not that He may leave us at peace in our vices, but that He may deliver us from them.

If God gave us masters by His own hand, oh! how necessary for us to obey them with a good heart! Necessity and events follow infallibly.

—”Console thyself, thou wouldst not seek Me, if thou hadst not found Me.

“I thought of thee in Mine agony, I have sweated such drops of blood for thee.

“It is tempting Me rather than proving thyself, to think if thou wouldst do such and such a thing on an occasion which has not happened; I shall act in thee if it occur.

“Let thyself be guided by My rules; see how well I have led the Virgin and the saints who have let Me act in them.

“The Father loves all that I do.

“Dost thou wish that it always cost Me the blood of My humanity, without thy shedding tears?

“Thy conversion is My affair; fear not, and pray with confidence as for Me.

“I am present with thee by My Word in Scripture, by My Spirit in the Church and by inspiration, by My power in the priests, by My prayer in the faithful.

“Physicians will not heal thee, for thou wilt die at last. But it is I who heal thee, and make the body immortal.

“Suffer bodily chains and servitude, I deliver thee at present only from spiritual servitude.

“I am more a friend to thee than such and such an one, for I have done for thee more than they, they would not have suffered what I have suffered from thee, and they would not have died for thee as I have done in the time of thine infidelities and cruelties, and as I am ready to do, and do, among my elect and at the Holy Sacrament.”

“If thou knewest thy sins, thou wouldst lose heart.”

—I shall lose it then, Lord, for on Thy assurance I believe their malice.

—”No, for I, by whom thou learnest, can heal thee of them, and what I say to thee is a sign that I will heal thee. In proportion to thy expiation of them, thou wilt know them, and it will be said to thee: ‘Behold, thy sins are forgiven thee.’ Repent, then, for thy hidden sins, and for the secret malice of those which thou knowest.”

—Lord, I give Thee all.

—”I love thee more ardently than thou hast loved thine abominations, ut immundus pro luto.

“To Me be the glory, not to thee, worm of the earth.

“Ask thy confessor, when My own words are to thee occasion of evil, vanity, or curiosity.”

—I see in me depths of pride, curiosity, and lust. There is no relation between me and God, nor Jesus Christ the Righteous. But He has been made sin for me; all Thy scourges are fallen upon Him. He is more abominable than I, and, far from abhorring me, He holds Himself honoured that I go to Him and succour Him.

But He has healed Himself, and still more so will He heal me.

I must add my wounds to His, and join myself to Him; and He will save me in saving Himself. But this must not be postponed to the future.

Eritis sicut dii scientes bonum et malum. Each one creates his god, when judging, “This is good or bad”; and men mourn or rejoice too much at events.

Do little things as though they were great, because of the majesty of Jesus Christ who does them in us, and who lives our life; and do the greatest things as though they were little and easy, because of His omnipotence.

Star Wars and the Suppression of the Jesuits

Recently a screenplay has surfaced of a discarded project from a major science fiction film studio. We believe that this film was part of a planned trilogy, with previous titles including the (now lost) The Phantom Heresy and Attack of the Convulsionnaires. Notes suggest that another six films, possibly set later in the series, include A New Pope, The First Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jesuit, The Faith Awakens, The Lourdes Jesuit, and The Rise of Newman. Here we present excerpts from the third and only surviving script from that series.

A long time ago in a Pontificate far, far away…

STAR CRUSADES: REVENGE OF THE JANSENISTS

War! The Kingdom is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Jansenist Archbishop, Cornelis Steenoven. There are heroes on both sides. Concupiscence is everywhere.

In a stunning move, the fiendish Regalist leader, the Marquis of Pombal, has swept into the Kingdom’s capital and kidnapped Chancellor Le Paige, leader of the Parlement of Paris.

As the Schismatic Army attempts to flee the besieged capital with their valuable hostage, two Jesuits lead a desperate mission to rescue the captive Chancellor. . .

“I fear the Jesuits. The Company keeps pushing for more control. They’re shrouded in secrecy and obsessed with maintaining their autonomy . . . ideals. I find simply incomprehensible in the Gallican Church.”

GREGOIRE: The Jesuits are selfless . . . they only care about others.

LE PAIGE smiles.

LE PAIGE: Or so you’ve been trained to believe. Why is it, then, that they have asked you to do something you feel is wrong?

GREGOIRE: I’m not sure it’s wrong.

LE PAIGE: Have they asked you to betray the Jesuit rule? The Constitution? A friendship? Your own values? Think. Consider their motives. Keep your mind clear of casuistry. The fear of losing power is a weakness of both the Jesuits and the Jansenists.

GREGOIRE is deep in thought.

LE PAIGE: Did you ever hear the tragedy of Blaise Pascal, the Mathematical?

GREGOIRE: No.

LE PAIGE: I thought not. It’s not a story the Jesuits would tell you. It’s a Jansenist legend. Blaise Pascal was a solitaire of Port-Royal, so powerful and so wise he could use probability to create faith … He had such a knowledge of efficacious grace that he could even keep the ones he cared about from lachrymal fistulae.

GREGOIRE: He could actually save people from painful eye ailments?

LE PAIGE: Efficacious grace is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be supernatural.

GREGOIRE: What happened to him?

LE PAIGE: He became so ascetic . . . the only thing he was afraid of was ending his ascesis, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, then his apprentice forced him to sign the Formula on his deathbed. (smiles) Pascal never saw it coming. It’s ironic…he could save others from doubting, but not himself.

GREGOIRE: Is it possible to learn this power?

LE PAIGE: Not from a Jesuit.

“Oh yes. Superior General Ricci, the Negotiator. We’ve been waiting for you.”

MARQUIS OF POMBAL: It won’t be long before the armies of the Pope track us here. I am sending you to the Muratori system. It is a moderate planet which generates a great deal of rationalizing interference. You will be safe there.

CARDINAL NOAILLES: Safe? Chancellor Le Paige managed to escape your grip, Marquis, without Archbishop Steenoven. I have doubts about your ability to keep us free of enthusiasm.

MARQUIS OF POMBAL: Be thankful, Cardinal, you have not found yourself in my grip . . . Your ship is waiting.

LORENZO RICCI is deep in thought.

The JESUIT removes his cloak and jumps down behind the MARQUIS.

RICCI: Hello, there!

MARQUIS OF POMBAL: Father Ricci, you are a bold one. I find your behavior bewildering . . . Surely you realize you’re doomed, (to mendicants) Expel him!

About a HUNDRED BATTLE MENDICANTS surround RICCI, MARQUIS OF POMBAL, and his BODYGUARDS. RICCI looks around, then walks right up to the MARQUIS OF POMBAL. They stare at each other for a moment.

MARQUIS OF POMBAL: Enough of this.

The BODYGUARDS raise their power crosiers to knock RICCI away, but RICCI ducks as the deadly crosiers whistle over his head. The Jesuit’s lightsaber ignites, and RICCI deftly cuts one BODYGUARD in two. His crosier flies into the air and is caught by the MARQUIS OF POMBAL. The other THREE BODYGUARDS attack RICCI with an intense fury. RICCI uses casuistic mind-tricks to release a piece of equipment from the ceiling. It drops on the BODYGUARDS, smashing them. RICCI walks toward the MARQUIS OF POMBAL, slashing the last BODYGUARD to pieces. BATTLE MENDICANTS move toward RICCI.

MARQUIS OF POMBAL: Back away. I will deal with this Jesuit regicide myself.

RICCI: Your move.

MARQUIS OF POMBAL: You fool. I have been trained in your Jesuit arts by Archbishop Steenoven himself. Attack, Ricci!

“The Company will make up its own mind who is to be the King’s confessor, not the Ordinary.”

LE PAIGE: Monseigneur Le Tellier. I take it the Marquis of Pombal has been destroyed then. I must say, you’re here sooner than expected.

LE TELLIER: In the name of the Parlement of Paris, you are under arrest, Chancellor.

LE PAIGE: Are you threatening me, Monseigneur Jesuit?

LE TELLIER: The Parlement will decide your fate.

LE PAIGE: (burst of anger) I am the Parlement!

LE TELLIER: Not yet!

LE PAIGE: It’s regicide, then.

LE TELLIER: You are under arrest, My Lord.

After an intense fight, GREGOIRE enter the scene. LE TELLIER has cornered LE PAIGE and deprived him of his lightsaber.

LE PAIGE: Gregoire! I told you it would come to this. I was right. The Jesuits are taking over.

LE TELLIER: You old fool. The oppression of the Rigorists will never return. Your plot to regain control of the Kingdom is over . . . you have lost . . .

LE PAIGE: No! No! You will be suppressed!

LE PAIGE shoots convulsionnaire lightning from his fingers.

LE PAIGE: He is a heretic, Gregoire!

LE TELLIER: He’s the heretic. Stop him!

LE PAIGE: Come to your senses, boy. The Jesuits are in revolt. They will betray you, just as they betrayed me.

LE TELLIER: Aarrrrggghhhhh . . .

LE PAIGE: You are not one of them, Gregoire. Don’t let him kill me.

LE TELLIER: Aarrrrggghhhhh . . .

LE PAIGE: I have the power to save the Gallican Church. You must choose. You must stop him!

LE TELLIER: Don’t listen to him, Gregoire.

LE PAIGE: Help me! Don’t let him kill me. I can’t hold on any longer. Ahhhhhhh . . . ahhhhhhh . . . ahhhhhhh . . . I can’t … I give up. Help me. I am weak … I am too weak. Don’t kill me. I give up. I’m dying. I can’t hold on any longer.

LE TELLIER: I am going to end this once and for all.

GREGOIRE: You can’t kill him, Master. He must stand trial.

LE TELLIER: He has control of the Parlement and the Court. He is too dangerous to be kept alive.

LE PAIGE: I’m too weak. Don’t kill me. Please.

GREGOIRE: It is not the Jesuit way . . . He must live . . .

LE PAIGE: Please don’t, please don’t . . .

GREGOIRE: I need him . . .

LE PAIGE: Please don’t . . .

GREGOIRE: NO!!!

Just as LE TELLIER is about to excommunicate LE PAIGE, GREGOIRE steps in and cuts off the Jesuit’s hand holding the lightsaber.

As LE TELLIER stares at GREGOIRE in shock, LE PAIGE springs to life.

LE PAIGE: Grace! Unlimited efficacious grace!

The full force of LE PAIGE’S powerful convulsionnaire lightning blasts LE TELLIER. He attempts to deflect them with his one good hand, but the force is too great. He convulses out the window and falls twenty stories to his death, though he is miraculously cured of an eye disorder on the way. No more screams. No more moans.

“The attempt on my divine rights as a bishop have left me scarred…and deformed.”

GREGOIRE: I pledge myself to your teachings. To the ways of St. Augustine.

LE PAIGE: Good. Good. Grace is strong with you. A powerful Jansenist you will become. Henceforth, you shall be known as Darth… Blois.

GREGOIRE: Thank you, Monseigneur.

LE PAIGE: Arise, Bishop.

LE PAIGE is putting on his dark cloak: he is now fully DARTH FEBRONIUS.

LE PAIGE: Because the Company did not trust you, my young apprentice, I believe you are the only Jesuit with no knowledge of this plot. When the Jesuits learn what has transpired here, they will kill us, along with the King.

GREGOIRE: I agree. The Jesuits’ next move will be against the Throne.

LE PAIGE: Every single Jesuit is now an enemy of the Kingdom. You understand that, don’t you?

GREGOIRE: I understand, Monseigneur.

LE PAIGE: We must move quickly. The Jesuits are relentless; if they are not all suppressed, it will be civil war without end. First, I want you to go to the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. We will catch them off balance. Do what must be done, Lord Blois. Do not hesitate. Show no mercy. Only then will you be strong enough with the reasonable side of the faith to save the Gallican Church.

GREGOIRE: What about the other Jesuits spread across Christendom?

LE PAIGE: Their betrayal will be dealt with. After you have suppressed all the Jesuits in the Lycée, go to the Muratori system. Wipe out Cardinal Noailles and the other Third Party leaders. Once more, the Jansenists will rule the Church, and we shall have the Peace of Clement IX.

“The Appeal is over. Lord Febronius promised us the Peace of the Church…we only want … nooooo…”

LE PAIGE: Emperor Joseph, the time has come. Execute Dominus Ac Redemptor.

JOSEPH II: It will be done, my lord.

“Faith in your new apprentice, misplaced may be, as is your faith in the rigorist interpretation of the Moral Law.”

ST ALPHONSUS: I hear a new apprentice, you have, Cardinal. Or should I call you Darth Febronius?

DARTH FEBRONIUS: Monseigneur Liguori, you survived.

ST ALPHONSUS: Surprised?

DARTH FEBRONIUS: Your laxism blinds you, Monseigneur Liguori. Now you will experience the full power of tutiorism!

They fight.

DARTH FEBRONIUS: I have waited a long time for this moment, my little Neapolitan friend. At last, the Jesuits are no more.

ST. ALPHONSUS: Not if anything I have to say about it, Lord Febronius.

ST. ALPHONSUS uses Baroque Marian devotionalism to throw DARTH FEBRONIUS back, knocking him clear over his desk and onto the floor in a heap.

ST. ALPHONSUS: (continuing) At an end your rule is and not merciful enough it was, I must say.

“From my point of view, the Jesuits are evil!”

MEDICAL MENDICANT: My Lord, the Constitution is finished …

DARTH FEBRONIUS: Good. Good.

The MENDICANT moves back to the table where DARTH BLOIS lies. The table begins to move upright. DARTH FEBRONIUS moves in next to DARTH BLOIS.

DARTH FEBRONIUS: (continuing) Lord Blois, can you hear me?

DARTH BLOIS, with his dark mask and helmet, moves up into the frame until he is in a CLOSEUP.

DARTH BLOIS: Yes, Monseigneur.

DARTH BLOIS looks around the room.

DARTH BLOIS: (continuing) Where is the Gallican Church? Is it safe, is it all right?

DARTH FEBRONIUS moves closer to the half droid/half man.

DARTH FEBRONIUS: I’m afraid it died … it seems in the Terror, you killed it.

A LOW GROAN emanates from BLOIS’s mask. Suddenly everything in the room begins to implode, including some of the MENDICANTS.

DARTH BLOIS: I couldn’t have! It was alive! I felt it! It was alive! It’s impossible! No!!!

The Saint, the Centaur, and the Satyr

On this feast of St. Anthony the Abbot, I am reminded of a peculiar episode in the life of the saint that St. Jerome records. In full, it reads:

Francesco Guarino, St. Anthony Abbot and Centaur, 1642 (Source)

But to return to the point at which I digressed. The blessed Paul had already lived on earth the life of heaven for a hundred and thirteen years, and Antony at the age of ninety was dwelling in another place of solitude (as he himself was wont to declare), when the thought occurred to the latter, that no monk more perfect than himself had settled in the desert. However, in the stillness of the night it was revealed to him that there was farther in the desert a much better man than he, and that he ought to go and visit him. So then at break of day the venerable old man, supporting and guiding his weak limbs with a staff, started to go: but what direction to choose he knew not. Scorching noontide came, with a broiling sun overhead, but still he did not allow himself to be turned from the journey he had begun. Said he, I believe in my God: some time or other He will show me the fellow-servant whom He promised me. He said no more. All at once he beholds a creature of mingled shape, half horse half man, called by the poets Hippocentaur. At the sight of this he arms himself by making on his forehead the sign of salvation, and then exclaims, Holloa! Where in these parts is a servant of God living? The monster after gnashing out some kind of outlandish utterance, in words broken rather than spoken through his bristling lips, at length finds a friendly mode of communication, and extending his right hand points out the way desired. Then with swift flight he crosses the spreading plain and vanishes from the sight of his wondering companion. But whether the devil took this shape to terrify him, or whether it be that the desert which is known to abound in monstrous animals engenders that kind of creature also, we cannot decide.

Antony was amazed, and thinking over what he had seen went on his way. Before long in a small rocky valley shut in on all sides he sees a mannikin with hooked snout, horned forehead, and extremities like goats’ feet. When he saw this, Antony like a good soldier seized the shield of faith and the helmet of hope: the creature none the less began to offer to him the fruit of the palm-trees to support him on his journey and as it were pledges of peace. Antony perceiving this stopped and asked who he was. The answer he received from him was this: I am a mortal being and one of those inhabitants of the desert whom the Gentiles deluded by various forms of error worship under the names of Fauns, Satyrs, and Incubi. I am sent to represent my tribe. We pray you in our behalf to entreat the favour of your Lord and ours, who, we have learned, came once to save the world, and ‘whose sound has gone forth into all the earth.’ As he uttered such words as these, the aged traveller’s cheeks streamed with tears, the marks of his deep feeling, which he shed in the fullness of his joy. He rejoiced over the Glory of Christ and the destruction of Satan, and marvelling all the while that he could understand the Satyr’s language, and striking the ground with his staff, he said, Woe to you, Alexandria, who instead of God worships monsters! Woe to you, harlot city, into which have flowed together the demons of the whole world! What will you say now? Beasts speak of Christ, and you instead of God worship monsters. He had not finished speaking when, as if on wings, the wild creature fled away. Let no one scruple to believe this incident; its truth is supported by what took place when Constantine was on the throne, a matter of which the whole world was witness. For a man of that kind was brought alive to Alexandria and shown as a wonderful sight to the people. Afterwards his lifeless body, to prevent its decay through the summer heat, was preserved in salt and brought to Antioch that the Emperor might see it.

St. Jerome, The Life of Paul the First Hermit, 7-8.

Let it never be said that the lives of the saints are boring. Artists, like Demonologists, have throughout the centuries returned to these scenes again and again. The Centaur shows up a lot, probably because it’s a subject that permits the artist to show off his own talents at depicting both human and equine anatomy. Yet we can also detect here a certain visual sensibility that can only be described as picturesque delight and fascination.

Jacopo Palma il Giovane, Saint Anthony Abbot asking the Centaur the way (Source)
Osservanza Master, The Meeting of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul, 1430-35, detail (Source)
Benedetto di Montagna, St. Anthony and the Centaur. The depiction of the Centaur as a monk is particularly unusual. (Source)
A less common depiction, St. Anthony and the Satyr (Source)
A medieval depiction of St. Anthony with both the Centaur and the Satyr, by Robert Testard. (Source)
John Mandeville’s take on the scene, with color highlighting the hybridity of the Centaur’s nature. (Source)
St. Anthony meets the Centaur in an illumination by Jean de Limbourg (Source)

Happy New Year and New Decade!

Te Deum, the chant of the New Year. (Source)

Thus concludes Anno Domini MMXIX. It is strange to think that we are about to enter the third decade of the new millennium. I am by temperament a pessimist, but I hope that this decade is an improvement over the last (a time in which I experienced a tremendous amount of personal growth). Let us pray for God’s continuing mercy and Providence.

Here are some blog stats from the last year, for those who are interested.

In 2019, The Amish Catholic received a total of 66,839 views, with a total of 39,175 visitors. My total views were down this year by 1,035, though I received 3,969 more visitors in 2019. My most popular month was March, in which I received 19,066 views and 12,919 visitors. My least popular month was February, with only 3,011 views and 1,369 visitors. This is really all very good news, since I published many fewer pieces in 2019 than in 2018 – this has been my most intense calendar year of studies ever. Including this summary, I published 42 pieces in 2019 – down from 109 in 2018. Had I been a bit more productive, all my other numbers would have gone up this year.

Here are my top 10 posts:

  1. 100 Edifying Lenten Penances (with over 12,000 views, this is my most popular post ever)
  2. 30 Alternate Religious Mottos
  3. Elsewhere: Courage, the Cardinal, and the Sex Abuse Crisis
  4. When the Sacred is Strange: The Art of Giovanni Gasparro (this one is from 2017, but it remains perennially popular)
  5. The Hidden Wound of Christ
  6. We Do Not Need St. Chesterton
  7. The Best Monastic Documentaries (from 2018)
  8. The Ratzinger Letter: A Failure
  9. Chesterton on Cheese (one of my earliest posts, from June of 2017)
  10. Elsewhere: Catholic Kabbalah

Humor keeps the top spots, while works of controversy and commentary appear with greater frequency this year than in the past. Spiritual and academic pieces usually don’t have a terribly wide appeal – which is probably good, because I’m a young layman and a lowly grad student.

I will highlight one academic piece, however, of which I am somewhat proud: my Church Life Journal argument in favor of the fundamental Catholicity of Jansenism and the continuing relevance of these early modern controversies. The Jansenist controversy remains one of the most important and misunderstood chapters in Church history. I hope to expand some of these themes here and elsewhere in the new year.

I suppose I could finish this trying to come up with a list of lessons I’ve learned over the course of the last year – in blogging, in life, etc. The temptation is even greater in view of the closing decade. Yet that often seems rather contrived. I would rather close with what seems to me the best way to end a year and a decade: on a note of gratitude. I could not have gotten where I am today without tremendous help along the way. Friends, family, mentors, and even strangers have made my life better in ways that I cannot begin to describe. Thank you to everyone who has been there along the way. You know who you are.

And thanks to the friends in heaven who have helped with their many prayers. As I concluded 2018, so will I finish the decade – with a prayer that encompasses all of time.

Glory Be to the Father, and to the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
Amen.

Grace, Gratitude, and the Incarnation

The adoration of the Shepherds. (Source)

I sometimes wonder how all creation wasn’t annihilated by the Incarnation. I find it extraordinary and edifying that God, Being Itself, Omnipotent and Omniscient, Holiness Untouchable, chose to enter this world in a way that did not overwhelm us…that actually raised us, nothing that we are, to Divinity. As T.S. Eliot puts it, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” Our continued existence after the Incarnation is a marvel of God’s infinite mercy and condescension as well as His love for us. The point is not even that we are sinful so much as that, in comparison with Infinite Being, we are cosmically insignificant. Yet God chooses to turn His gaze upon us, to love us, even to become one of us. We don’t reckon with this merciful condescension enough. The most fitting response is a profound sense of gratitude.

By contrast, the worst possible response to this love is ingratitude. How common is this sin! How often do we obscure God’s condescension with ungrateful thoughts and acts! Especially at this time of year.

To receive communion sacrilegiously is to disfigure the face of Christ. Yet how common is this sin in Christmastime, when we should celebrate the appearance of that holy face! (Source)

Consider the Masses of Christmas. How many Catholics present themselves for communion who do not have the proper disposition to receive the grace of the sacrament? Worse, how many communions on this holy occasion are not merely unworthy, but actively sacrilegious? How many communions work death in the souls of those who receive at Christmas, a feast that should only impart grace and joy? Is there any other night when, all around the world, so many of the faithful take up the mantle of Judas and betray their Lord in the Sacrament of His eternal love? We ought to make special acts of reparation to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus throughout the Christmas season. Yet even here, we observe the tremendous condescension of God. He suffers Himself to be blasphemed in this manner the better to augment His glory in the latter end. And He endures all this for love.

I was disturbed to read on Twitter a further example of ingratitude in what should be a season of humble thanksgiving. A priest of the Lexington Diocese, Fr. Jim Sichka, posted a thread on the Feast of the Holy Family in which he wrote, among other things, that “What makes a family holy is living out the Gospel messages of love and hope, and pursuing big dreams for our children.” Without any contextual grounding in the sacraments, this vision of sanctification tends dangerously towards Pelagianism. Fr. Sichka, who is a Papal Missionary of Mercy, later buckled down on this error, writing, “Like it or not, there are many kinds of families. Every kind of family is called to be holy. And, since every person is made in God’s image, each is holy and has inherent dignity given by God.” He was not explicitly describing the baptized; it would seem that Fr. Sichko intends for us to take this statement as a universal descriptor. And while he is right to suggest that all families are called to holiness and that all possess God-given dignity, there is another, far more serious issue here.

Let us leave aside Fr. Sichko’s confusion of is and ought. The real problem here is the Pelagian notion that holiness is inherent in the human being. The opposite is true. In the state of original sin, we are naturally corrupt, deficient, concupiscent, and enslaved to the flesh, the world, and the passions. Holiness is not something we can achieve by our own effort alone. It is rather the supernatural indwelling of the Holy Ghost in us by sacramental grace, especially the grace granted in baptism. This gratuitous presence of the Holy Ghost in our souls is the only true way we can grow in virtue. We must water this growth by the salutary irrigation of deliberate ascesis. Holiness is not natural, but the supernatural repairing and building on nature.

Pietro Perugino’s Virgin and St. Jerome and St. Augustine (1500). May these two anti-Pelagian Doctors pray for us in the holy season of the Nativity. (Source)

It is astounding to find any priest suggesting that grace is unnecessary. It is unnerving to discover a priest who states in public that holiness is intrinsic to the human being. It is dismaying to read of a priest advancing opinions that will lead to lax preparation for holy communion. And it is tragic to find a priest deprecating, overlooking, or downplaying the singular grace vouchsafed to us in the Blessed Sacrament.

This is not a trivial error. It cuts to the very heart of what holiness is and how we acquire it. Is holiness the life of God within us? Or is it something less? Is it something that needs cultivation by sacramental grace and an ongoing life of ascetic endeavor? Or is it something we carry within us from birth? The answers make a difference about how we respond to the mysteries of this holy season. Christmas is preeminently a festival of grace. The utter gratuity of the Incarnation – and thus, of our redemption and sanctification in the sacraments – is the true meaning of Christmas. Pelagianism is unlike other heresies in that it adds a venomous ingredient to error; its essence is ingratitude, directly contrary to the spirit of this holy season.

Let us pray then for a lively faith in the mysteries of grace, for a more ardent jealousy of the Truth, for a renewed desire to follow the Lord in all things, for a generous spirit of adoring reparation, and for an unstinting gratitude as we contemplate the Divine Love who chose to save us by His Incarnation.

Elsewhere: Speaking of Jansenism

Jorgen Sonne’s 1866 Nuns walking in a cloister garden in Rome. He has, whether intentionally or not, given them the habit of Port-Royal-des-Champs. (Source)

I refer my readers to two articles that have recently appeared in the Notre Dame Church Life Journal. The first, which came out about a month ago, is an excellent piece by Dr. Shaun Blanchard showing that our polemical use of the term “Jansenism” is seriously mistaken. The second is an article I wrote, a church-historical study in which I both defend the Jansenists from various degrading misconceptions as well as point out some parallels between their situation and our own. I’m also very pleased that the Catholic Herald picked it up for Wednesday’s “Morning Catholic Must-Reads.”

This is not the first time I have tackled the issue, having previously pointed out the rhetorical and ecclesiastical-political resemblances between Pope Francis’s critics and the French Jansenists. I am more sure than ever of that similarity, and may yet elaborate it again should I deem it helpful for the present conversation. Regardless, I certainly will write more about Jansenist history and theology – watch this space.

I should add that I am particularly grateful to Dr. Blanchard for his kind aid in the preparation of my piece, and Dr. Artur Rosman for his editorial patience.

Unsolicited Thoughts on Recent Horrors

“Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened!” Florence Pugh as Dani in Midsommar. (Source)

I finally saw Midsommar.

Let me begin with the good. I liked it a lot more than Ari Aster’s first offering, Hereditary. The bright Scandinavian aesthetics and Pawel Pogorzelski‘s enchanting cinematography lent the film an undeniable visual appeal. The acting was also to be commended. Florence Pugh’s performance is a masterclass in theatrical distress.

That being said, the film was on the whole, yet another disappointment from Ari Aster. I cannot say the same about Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse, which I saw with friends last week.

I think I can fairly compare these two horror directors working under the aegis of A24. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Eggers is better in every way that counts. Both have now produced folk horrors centered on the trauma of young women in claustrophobic wilderness. The Witch is more inventive, precisely because it is more traditional, than Midsommar. Or rather, it did what few films are willing to do in its approach to the past; take it on its own terms. Its originality lies in large part due to its embrace of the Puritan myths without judgment, and exposing the horrors we thought we left behind in the seventeenth century. Admittedly, Midsommar doesn’t have the burden (or the gift?) of history to work with. But one can’t help but feel that what we find here is just The Wicker Man gutted of its moral core and set slightly farther north. In fact, the ending is probably a double homage to both Wicker Man films.

Nicolas Cage in a bear skin suit. The Wicker Man (2006) – (Source)

While Midsommar is an improvement over the rather humdrum (if at times shocking and, admittedly, very well researched) Hereditary, it doesn’t push the boundaries of cinema in the way that The Lighthouse does. In The Lighthouse, we discover a radically different kind of film. Its irregular aspect ratio, its black-and-white cinematography, its baroquely salty dialect – these bewildering distinctions from the run-of-the-mill horror flick work together to construct a vision of a world totally unlike our own. And yet, The Lighthouse manages to provide a series of sights, sounds, and even smells so visceral that one feels entirely immersed in this other world.

Midsommar fails to do that. For all its blood-and-guts moments, for all its eros and trauma, one comes away from the experience feeling strangely detached. I couldn’t manage to care too much about what happens to these characters, some of whom are intensely annoying. Not so in The Lighthouse. One cares very, very deeply – or more correctly, you feel the confusion and desperation of the situation in your gut. You are on that island. It is happening to you.

Perhaps the greatest disappointment of Midsommar was its rather predictable plot twists (if I can even call them that). Anyone familiar with the genre will be able to see exactly what is coming, even if they can’t imagine all the precise details. Not so in The Lighthouse. While one can establish a direction of travel – particularly in the film’s first half – after a certain point, you become as disoriented as the film’s unhappy protagonists. Like its great antecedent, Moby Dick, The Lighthouse is full of strange allusions, haunting images, and intensely visceral shocks. It’s a tight, dark, and disturbing maze.

Beyond that, I have a complaint that is, perhaps, too subjective to warrant much value criticism. Midsommar failed to scare me. Not many horrors do, I have to confess. I liked Possum, even though it was more unnerving than actually scary. Two of my favorite horror films, The Shining and the original Wicker Man, don’t actually frighten me. Nor does The Witch. In their cases, I can overlook the lack of fear because of the strength of these movies has as a film. Midsommar wasn’t strong enough for me to forgive the lack of fear.

The Lighthouse however, climaxed with one of the most genuinely frightening scenes I have seen in any film for a very long time. Without saying too much, I will refer my readers to my essay on eldritch horror in the New England literary tradition. Eggers knows that tradition very, very well. The Lighthouse, like The Witch before it, is a superlative contribution to New England’s peculiar darkness. His final, terrifying scene in The Lighthouse is an echo of Pip’s experience in Chapter XCIII of Moby Dick. Eggers, and of many a chapter in Lovecraft.

Powerhouse performances, top-notch writing, historical faithfulness, invocation of the New England horror tradition, black humor, innovative cinematography, and genuine scares make The Lighthouse the best and most beautiful horror film of the year. (Source)

I’m a sucker for folk horror, as my readers may well recall. Midsommar does deserve a place in the folk horror canon. But The Witch and The Lighthouse are higher on that grisly totem pole. They are also better works of art.

Announcing a New Poetry Publication

A Neo-Gothic ruin. (Source)

I’m very pleased to announce that I have a poem coming out in the Emma Press’s new collection, The Emma Press Anthology of Contemporary Gothic Verse. From the press release:

The anthology was compiled from poems sourced in an open call for submissions launched towards the end of last year. 294 poets entered, of which 26 were chosen for the anthology. Editor Nisha Bhakoo says in her introduction to the book: “My hope for this anthology was to showcase poems that pointed to the uncanniness of our present time, giving traditional gothic tropes a compelling, contemporary flavour. I not only wanted the poems to hold up a mirror to our post-postmodern age, but also to challenge the norms and unwritten rules of it.”

Although I make no money from the sale, please consider buying a copy of the Anthology from the Press’s UK-based store. Small presses need as much support as we can give them, and the Emma Press has published some really great contemporary poetry. Pick up your copy today!