Elsewhere: A Lackluster Profile of St. Philip

I’m always pleased to find articles about St. Philip Neri in the Catholic press. Unfortunately, some are less helpful than others. I was disappointed with Shaun McAfee’s recent article in the National Catholic Register, “St. Philip Neri Was a Humorist, But Not a Comedian.” The style is tortured and riddled with typos, and the content leaves much to be desired. Key episodes from the life of St. Philip are either misunderstood or handled clumsily.

Case in point—when the young Pippo Buono infamously pushed his sister, he was not plotting a premeditated revenge against some grievance. He was reacting somewhat thoughtlessly to her childish interruption of the prayers he and his other sister were saying. Mr. McAfee casts the episode in a much darker light than any of St. Philip’s biographers.

More egregiously, Mr. McAfee throws together all kinds of unrelated phenomena as evidence of St. Philip’s penchant for holy humour. Here he is:

Yes, Neri was known to show up to important events with half his beard shaved, give incorrect walking directions to his disciples, read a book of jokes, or pause for more than 10 minutes in the middle of the consecration at Mass. When he did each of these things he caused a mix of emotions in others, but it always ended up producing the same end state: increased humility, and increased patience.

Two problems present themselves. First, we can see Mr. McAfee’s unusual, jarring use of “Neri” to refer to St. Philip. This shorthand is unheard of in the literature on St. Philip, and its impersonal, journalistic tone sits uneasily with a saint of such singular personality. Secondly, not all of these actions were done for the same reason. Nor were they all jokes! St. Philip didn’t pause at the consecration to elicit edified chuckles. He did so because he was rapt in an ecstasy and couldn’t help himself plummeting into deepest adoration before the Eucharistic God. And it wasn’t just ten minutes—it was usually over an hour, sometimes up to two. Even Mr. McAfee’s details are wrong.

Still, I suppose I ought not complain too much. Mr. McAfee does draw mostly the right lessons from St. Philip’s humour. One wishes, however, that he done so with greater artfulness and more care for the nuances of his subject.

St. Alphonsus on Christ’s Suffering

S_Alfonso02.jp

May St. Alphonsus pray for us always. (Source)

This Wednesday’s spiritual teacher is St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church and founder of the Redemptorists. He was known for his moral theology as well as his Mariological and devotional writings. Here is something Lenten by St. Alphonsus drawn, paradoxically, from The Incarnation, Birth, and Infancy of Jesus Christ (trans. 1927). The bibliographic information can be found on the page from which I took this text. 

The Desire that Jesus Had to Suffer for Us

Baptismo habeo baptizari; et quomodo coarctor, usquedum perficiatur?
“I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized; and how am I straitened until it be accomplished?”
—Luke, xii. 50.

I.
Jesus could have saved us without suffering; but He chose rather to embrace a life of sorrow and contempt, deprived of every earthly consolation, and a death of bitterness and desolation, only to make us understand the love which He bore us, and the desire which He had that we should love Him. He passed His whole life in sighing for the hour of His death, which He desired to offer to God, to obtain for us eternal salvation. And it was this desire which made Him exclaim: I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized; and how am I straitened until it be accomplished? He desired to be baptized in His Own Blood, to wash out, not, indeed, His Own, but our sins. O infinite Love, how miserable is he who does not know Thee, and does not love Thee!

II.
This same desire caused Him to say, on the night before His death, With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you. By which words He shows that His only desire during His whole life had been to see the time arrive for His Passion and death, in order to prove to man the immense love which He bore him. So much, therefore, O my Jesus, didst Thou desire our love, that to obtain it Thou didst not refuse to die. How could I, then, deny anything to a God Who, for love of me, has given His Blood and His life?

III.
St. Bonaventure says that it is a wonder to see a God suffering for the love of men; but that it is a still greater wonder that men should behold a God suffering so much for them, shivering with cold as an infant in a manger, living as a poor boy in a shop, dying as a criminal on a Cross, and yet not burn with love to this most loving God; but even go so far as to despise this love, for the sake of the miserable pleasures of this earth. But how is it possible that God should be so enamoured with men, and that men, who are so grateful to one another, should be so ungrateful to God?

Alas! my Jesus, I find myself also among the number of these ungrateful ones. Tell me, how couldst Thou suffer so much for me, knowing the injuries that I should commit against Thee? But since Thou hast borne with me, and even desirest my salvation, give me, I pray Thee, a great sorrow for my sins, a sorrow equal to my ingratitude. I hate and detest, above all things, my Lord, the displeasure which I have caused Thee. If, during my past life, I have despised Thy grace, now I value it above all the kingdoms of the earth. I love Thee with my whole soul, O God, worthy of infinite love, and I desire only to live in order to love Thee. Increase the flames of Thy love, and give me more and more love. Keep alive in my remembrance the love that Thou hast borne me, so that my heart may always burn with love for Thee, as Thy heart burns with love for me. O burning heart of Mary, inflame my poor heart with holy love.

Christ_Carrying_the_Cross_1580.jpg

Detail of Christ Carrying the Cross, El Greco, 1580. (Source)

Elsewhere: A ‘First Things’ Debut

st-peter-st-james-beatrice-and-dante-william-blake.jpg

One of Blake’s illustrations of the Paradiso. (Source)

I have to thank Elliot Milco for soliciting, editing, and publishing a short review I wrote in the April 2018 edition of First Things. It is my first appearance in that great publication. I have the privilege of sharing the page with a few other really stellar pieces; among others, Mr. Joshua Kenz and Ms. Emily Sammon have written particularly outstanding reviews of very different books. My own work covers a recent Taschen publication that examines the William Blake illustrations of Dante. Go give it (and the book in question) a read!

Screen Shot 2018-03-17 at 12.07.22 AM.png

Go buy this book. You won’t regret it! (Source)

Elsewhere: A Blog on Saintly Cadavers

SantaVittoria.jpg

A photograph of Santa Vittoria by Elizabeth Harper. (Source)

A friend has just brought to my attention a blog entitled All the Saints You Should Know. It’s run by someone named Elizabeth Harper, a scholar and photographer based in Los Angeles. Her work is guided by three principles:

  • I believe Catholic churches are memory theaters where nature, science, arts, humanity, math, politics, and the divine mingle in miniature. There’s a wealth of knowledge locked inside sacred objects, though it’s often hidden in plain sight.
  • I’ve found that the Catholic comfort with death and death imagery is life-affirming. It offers believers and skeptics alike an important cultural reference that opposes modern death denial.
  • I love to learn about the past. I love it more when the past teaches me about the present.

These are all sound and salutary beliefs, and the blog is truly beautiful. If you’re like me and find joy in all things morbid (and all things Catholic, while we’re at it), you will no doubt peruse Ms. Harper’s work with as much pleasure as I do. As I’ve said before, the Sacred can be strange. Ms. Harper’s website is a welcome reminder of that fact.

Not a blog to be overlooked!

A View of the Sacraments in the Age of Enlightenment

I just stumbled across Pietro Antonio Novelli’s engravings on the Seven Sacraments, completed in 1779. They give a fascinating view of ecclesiastical life in the late 18th century – Novelli would have moved to Rome from Venice about this time, so it’s unclear which part of Italy these were drawn from. Either way, they’re worth a look through. All are taken from Wikimedia Commons.

NovelliBaptism

Baptism. Note the prominent Angel and Devil.

NovelliConfirmation

Confirmation. Strong and sound emphasis placed upon the role of the Holy Ghost.

NovelliEucharist

The Eucharist. The arrangement of the Altar and rail suggests that this is a low mass. Very odd that the Priest has no chasuble, but surplice and stole.

NovelliConfession

Penance. Once again, we see the Angel-Devil dichotomy. Lovely open confessional, too.

NovelliHolyOrders

Holy Orders. It is entirely unclear to me where the Altar is supposed to be in this image. Nevertheless, the Bishop is wearing a wig, which answers a question of Fr. Hunwicke’s.

NovelliMarriage

Holy Matrimony. A fairly straightforward scene with lovely, somewhat spare Neoclassical church architecture in the background.

NovelliUnction

Unction. The attendance of two servers is a custom long since out of fashion. One rather wonders when their presence was removed from the rubrics.

 

“Awake and Sing and Be All Wing”

MostHolyNameofJesus

The Most Holy Name of Jesus at the High Altar of the Gesu, Rome. (Source)

To the Name above every Name, the Name of Jesus

By Richard Crashaw

A HYMN

 

I SING the Name which None can say

But touch’t with An interiour Ray:

The Name of our New Peace; our Good:

Our Blisse: and Supernaturall Blood:

The Name of All our Lives and Loves.

Hearken, And Help, ye holy Doves!

The high-born Brood of Day; you bright

Candidates of blissefull Light,

The Heirs Elect of Love; whose Names belong

Unto The everlasting life of Song;

All ye wise Soules, who in the wealthy Brest

Of This unbounded Name build your warm Nest.

Awake, My glory. Soul, (if such thou be,

And That fair Word at all referr to Thee)

Awake and sing

And be All Wing;

Bring hither thy whole Self; and let me see

What of thy Parent Heaven yet speakes in thee,

O thou art Poore

Of noble Powres, I see,

And full of nothing else but empty Me,

Narrow, and low, and infinitely lesse

Then this Great mornings mighty Busynes.

One little World or two

(Alas) will never doe.

We must have store.

Goe, Soul, out of thy Self, and seek for More.

Goe and request

Great Nature for the Key of her huge Chest

Of Heavns, the self involving Sett of Sphears

(Which dull mortality more Feeles then heares)

Then rouse the nest

Of nimble, Art, and traverse round

The Aiery Shop of soul-appeasing Sound:

And beat a summons in the Same

All-soveraign Name

To warn each severall kind

And shape of sweetnes, Be they such

As sigh with supple wind

Or answer Artfull Touch,

That they convene and come away

To wait at the love-crowned Doores of

This Illustrious Day.

Shall we dare This, my Soul? we’l doe’t and bring

No Other note for’t, but the Name we sing.

Wake Lute and Harp

And every sweet-lipp’t Thing

That talkes with tunefull string;

Start into life, And leap with me

Into a hasty Fitt-tun’d Harmony.

Nor must you think it much

T’obey my bolder touch;

I have Authority in Love’s name to take you

And to the worke of Love this morning wake you;

Wake; In the Name

Of Him who never sleeps, All Things that Are,

Or, what’s the same,

Are Musicall;

Answer my Call

And come along;

Help me to meditate mine Immortall Song.

Come, ye soft ministers of sweet sad mirth,

Bring All your houshold stuffe of Heavn on earth;

O you, my Soul’s most certain Wings,

Complaining Pipes, and prattling Strings,

Bring All the store

Of Sweets you have; And murmur that you have no more.

Come, né to part,

Nature and Art!

Come; and come strong,

To the conspiracy of our Spatious song.

Bring All the Powres of Praise

Your Provinces of well-united Worlds can raise;

Bring All your Lutes and Harps of Heaven and Earth;

What ére cooperates to The common mirthe

Vessells of vocall Ioyes,

Or You, more noble Architects of Intellectuall Noise,

Cymballs of Heav’n, or Humane sphears,

Solliciters of Soules or Eares;

And when you’are come, with All

That you can bring or we can call;

O may you fix

For ever here, and mix

Your selves into the long

And everlasting series of a deathlesse Song;

Mix All your many Worlds, Above,

And loose them into One of Love.

Chear thee my Heart!

For Thou too hast thy Part

And Place in the Great Throng

Of This unbounded All-imbracing Song.

Powres of my Soul, be Proud!

And speake lowd

To All the dear-bought Nations This Redeeming Name,

And in the wealth of one Rich Word proclaim

New Similes to Nature.

May it be no wrong

Blest Heavns, to you, and your Superiour song,

That we, dark Sons of Dust and Sorrow,

A while Dare borrow

The Name of Your Dilights and our Desires,

And fitt it to so farr inferior Lyres.

Our Murmurs have their Musick too,

Ye mighty Orbes, as well as you,

Nor yields the noblest Nest

Of warbling Seraphim to the eares of Love,

A choicer Lesson then the joyfull Brest

Of a poor panting Turtle-Dove.

And we, low Wormes have leave to doe

The Same bright Busynes (ye Third Heavens) with you.

Gentle Spirits, doe not complain.

We will have care

To keep it fair,

And send it back to you again.

Come, lovely Name! Appeare from forth the Bright

Regions of peacefull Light,

Look from thine own Illustrious Home,

Fair King of Names, and come.

Leave All thy native Glories in their Georgeous Nest,

And give thy Self a while The gracious Guest

Of humble Soules, that seek to find

The hidden Sweets

Which man’s heart meets

When Thou art Master of the Mind.

Come, lovely Name; life of our hope!

Lo we hold our Hearts wide ope!

Unlock thy Cabinet of Day

Dearest Sweet, and come away.

Lo how the thirsty Lands

Gasp for thy Golden Showres! with longstretch’t Hands.

Lo how the laboring Earth

That hopes to be

All Heaven by Thee,

Leapes at thy Birth.

The’ attending World, to wait thy Rise,

First turn’d to eyes;

And then, not knowing what to doe;

Turn’d Them to Teares, and spent Them too.

Come Royall Name, and pay the expence

Of all this Pretious Patience.

O come away

And kill the Death of This Delay.

O see, so many Worlds of barren yeares

Melted and measur’d out is Seas of Teares.

O see, The Weary liddes of wakefull Hope

(Love’s Eastern windowes) All wide ope

With Curtains drawn,

To catch The Day-break of Thy Dawn.

O dawn, at last, long look’t for Day!

Take thine own wings, and come away.

Lo, where Aloft it comes! It comes, Among

The Conduct of Adoring Spirits, that throng

Like diligent Bees, And swarm about it.

O they are wise;

And know what Sweetes are suck’t from out it.

It is the Hive,

By which they thrive,

Where All their Hoard of Hony lyes.

Lo where it comes, upon The snowy Dove’s

Soft Back; And brings a Bosom big with Loves.

Welcome to our dark world, Thou

Womb of Day!

Unfold thy fair Conceptions; And display

The Birth of our Bright Ioyes.

O thou compacted

Body of Blessings: spirit of Soules extracted!

O dissipate thy spicy Powres

(Clowd of condensed sweets) and break upon us

In balmy showrs;

O fill our senses, And take from us

All force of so Prophane a Fallacy

To think ought sweet but that which smells of Thee.

Fair, flowry Name; In none but Thee

And Thy Nectareall Fragrancy,

Hourly there meetes

An universall Synod of All sweets;

By whom it is defined Thus

That no Perfume

For ever shall presume

To passe for Odoriferous,

But such alone whose sacred Pedigree

Can prove it Self some kin (sweet name) to Thee.

Sweet Name, in Thy each Syllable

A Thousand Blest Arabias dwell;

A Thousand Hills of Frankincense;

Mountains of myrrh, and Beds of species,

And ten Thousand Paradises,

The soul that tasts thee takes from thence.

How many unknown Worlds there are

Of Comforts, which Thou hast in keeping!

How many Thousand Mercyes there

In Pitty’s soft lap ly a sleeping!

Happy he who has the art

To awake them,

And to take them

Home, and lodge them in his Heart.

O that it were as it was wont to be!

When thy old Freinds of Fire, All full of Thee,

Fought against Frowns with smiles; gave Glorious chase

To Persecutions; And against the Face

Of Death and feircest Dangers, durst with Brave

And sober pace march on to meet A Grave.

On their Bold Brests about the world they bore thee

And to the Teeth of Hell stood up to teach thee,

In Center of their inmost Soules they wore thee,

Where Rackes and Torments striv’d, in vain, to reach thee.

Little, alas, thought They

Who tore the Fair Brests of thy Freinds,

Their Fury but made way

For Thee; And serv’d them in Thy glorious ends.

What did Their weapons but with wider pores

Inlarge thy flaming-brested Lovers

More freely to transpire

That impatient Fire

The Heart that hides Thee hardly covers.

What did their Weapons but sett wide the Doores

For Thee: Fair, purple Doores, of love’s devising;

The Ruby windowes which inrich’t the East

Of Thy so oft repeated Rising.

Each wound of Theirs was Thy new Morning;

And reinthron’d thee in thy Rosy Nest,

With blush of thine own Blood thy day adorning,

It was the witt of love óreflowd the Bounds

Of Wrath, and made thee way through All Those wounds.

Wellcome dear, All-Adored Name!

For sure there is no Knee

That knowes not Thee.

Or if there be such sonns of shame,

Alas what will they doe

When stubborn Rocks shall bow

And Hills hang down their Heavn-saluting Heads

To seek for humble Beds

Of Dust, where in the Bashfull shades of night

Next to their own low Nothing they may ly,

And couch before the dazeling light of thy dread majesty.

They that by Love’s mild Dictate now

Will not adore thee,

Shall Then with Just Confusion, bow

And break before thee.

Oratorian Oratorios: A Study in Music, Devotion, and Enlightenment

VisionofStPhilip

The Vision of St. Philip Neri, artist unknown. (Source)

One of the clearest elements of Oratorianism is its outstanding aesthetic tradition. From the very beginnings of St. Philip’s Congregation, the Oratory has fostered the leading artists and composers of every era. Rubens, Caravaggio, Pietro da Cortona, and others competed to fill the Chiesa Nuova with glorious baroque paintings and frescos. The exercises of the Oratory were accompanied from its earliest iterations by the airs of Animuccia and Palestrina.

In the 17th and 18th century, the Oratory reached its high noon. In his 1965 book, The Idea of the Oratory, Fr. Raleigh Addington of the London Oratory traces the history of St. Philip’s family. He shows how it spread rapidly through Italy and Spain, as well as other parts of the Catholic world as far afield as Mexico and Ceylon. Even relatively small towns had Oratories. While few of these houses have survived the French Revolution, Italian Unification, and two World Wars, we can nevertheless catch a glimpse of that world. Let us examine the way that various 18th century composers promoted the cult of St. Philip Neri in an increasingly Enlightened world.

Alessandro Scarlatti’s San Filippo Neri (1705)

Alessandro_Scarlatti

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) when he was Maestro di Capello of the Viceroy of Naples (Source)

The aforementioned accompaniment written by Animuccia and Palestrina eventually turned into a new musical genre: the oratorio, named for the Oratory. The very first oratorio proper was staged at the Roman Oratory in 1600. Rappresentatione di anima et di corpo, by Emilio de’ Cavalieri, opens with a stirring exhortation by a baritone representing the voice of Time. His message – “Il tempo, il tempo fugge” – could have come from St. Philip himself. Good Philip went about Rome encouraging those he met “to begin to do good.” This sense of immediacy, even urgency, was inherited by some of his sons, most notably Father Faber of London.

But Cavalieri’s work would hardly be the last Oratorian oratorio. Take, if you will, the Sicilian Alessandro Scarlatti’s 1705 oratorio, San Filippo Neri. It narrates Philip’s life by examining several episodes of his story through a dialogue conducted between the eponymous saint and women representing the three theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity. It is a strange piece, an allegory that blurs the lines between interior and exterior action.

And what a tonal difference a century makes! While Cavalieri’s work still shares something of the dramatic chiaroscuro that marked the Counter-Reformation era, Scarlatti’s oratorio soars into the confidence and optimism of the Age of Enlightenment. Each movements brims with airy light. Scarlatti, who would have known the Oratorians, or Girolamini, of Naples, manages to capture something of St. Philip’s own bounding spirit in the score.

Pietro_Ottoboni_by_Francesco_Trevisani

Portrait of Pietro Cardinal Ottoboni by Francesco Treviso, c. 1689. Now in County Durham, England. (Source)

The work represents a significant collaboration between Scarlatti and Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. A Venetian who spent much of his career in Rome, Ottoboni is a formidable figure in the history of early modern Catholicism, Italy, and art. He was renowned for his exquisite taste, and he amassed a vast collection of the finest paintings he could lay his hands on. He fostered the careers of several composers, including Antonio Vivaldi, whom Scarlatti resembles in certain formal respects. Ottoboni may not have been a very holy man (Baron de Montesquieu asserted that he sired “between 60 and 70 children. Portraits of his mistresses as saints, like Margarita Pio Zeno of Savoy (1670-1725), decorated his bedroom”). Nevertheless, he was pious enough to write a theologically sound libretto for Scarlatti’s oratorio.

Ottoboni seems to have had a devotion to St. Philip. At the very least, he was able to compose thoroughly hagiographical lyrics. In movements 10 and 11, Charity sings:

Come then to temple of the Almighty
that bears both my and Jerome’s name;
and united by your zeal,
let a crowd of faithful followers
distribute all around
the torches of your flame,
so that, repentant and disdaining Avernus,
these beloved souls, once led astray,
in this bright light
may wing their way to heaven.
You shall be a star,
surpassing all others
while you live here on earth among the shadows;
but when that blessed day arrives,
your flame that now is hidden among the shadows
will be a sun, as once it was a star.
You shall be, etc

Thus we hear of the Oratory’s foundation at San Girolamo della Carità. Here we can see some borrowing from liturgical forms of music. The repetition of “You shall be a star, etc.” in movement 11, repeated throughout the piece on every odd movement, resembles the doubled use of Psalm antiphons in the Divine Office. Whether this came from Scarlatti, Ottoboni, or some other formal precedent, I cannot say.

Ottoboni’s libretto is also colored by some imaginative idiosyncracies. For instance, he has St. Philip announce with some lamentation,

Oh how the memory
of my dearest fatherland,
awakens the force of love in my breast!
Ah, who will give my heart wings
to see once more my beloved native soil?
But what have I said, oh God?
Ah, my weakness has taken me far from your
presence, and on a mortal object
I am tempted to fix my gaze.
Yet I am not slow in returning to my former
centre, for wherever I am I always find in you my
native land.

St. Philip follows up this resolution with a brief meditation:

The dove that flies
far from her nest
is consoled
when she returns
to her nest.
The dove, etc.
Ottoboni must have known the Roman Oratorians well. His little verse captures two features of the spirituality St. Philip left to his sons: devotion to the Holy Spirit (“The dove”) and domestic stability (“Nest,” literally “Nido” in the original Italian, a word that has come down the centuries as a summary of the Vita Oratoriana).
ScarlattiVelardi

This is a very good recording. And you can get it on Spotify! (Source)

Scarlatti and Ottoboni wrote their piece at a time when the Oratory was expanding rapidly. For comparison, we might examine music that comes from the end of that era.

Pasquale Anfossi’s La Morte di San Filippo Neri (1796)
PasqualeAnfossi

Pasquale Anfossi (1727-1797). (Source)

It is perhaps appropriate that, in a period of turbulence and contraction for the Oratory, a piece about St. Philip’s death should be composed. Indeed, Pasquale Anfossi premiered his oratorio 201 years after the saint’s passage into glory, one year before his own death, and in the very same year as Napeoleon’s invasion of Italy. That intrusion would have far-reaching effects for the Church at large (see Ulrich Lehner’s Conclusion in The Catholic Enlightenment, 2016).

The piece (or at least, what I can occasionally find of what seems to be the only recording available) is pleasant enough. Anfossi, though largely forgotten today, was quite popular in his own era. He was particularly well known as the composer of many operas. I confess that I don’t find his work all that striking next to that of some of his contemporaries – e.g. Mozart. But he gave us some nice arias all the same.

Since I cannot find Carlo Antonio Femi’s libretto, I won’t comment on the oratorio’s substantive devotional or theological merits. It does strike me, however, that there seems to be a significant difference in structure between the two. In the Scarlatti/Ottoboni oratorio, we are treated to personifications of the three Theological Virtues in dialogue with St. Philip himself. In Anfossi/Femi, we instead have the interaction of “Amor,” “Santita,” “Religione,” and a tenor, “Genio.”
Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 10.07.26 PM.png

Love, Sanctity, and Religion singing to Genius. (Source)

In 1705, the allegory centers on the person of St. Philip and those virtues he enacted and embodied. In 1796, all of the parts represent abstractions. The libretto may well be about St. Philip, but he does not appear. If “Genio” is supposed to represent him, then Anfossi and Femi are introducing a classically pagan conceptthe personal genius or daemonto stand in for Philip instead of the saint himself. The tendency towards abstraction is not entirely foreign to allegory. After all, even the Rappresentatione of 1600 centers on a dialogue between Body and Soul. But the Rappresentatione wasn’t about a saint. Anfossi’s oratorio ostensibly is. To my knowledge, it’s rather unusual in early modern hagiography to divorce the piece from its ostensible subject.

Yet it is entirely typical of Enlightenment discourse. Throughout the Enlightenment, we see a discursive move away from personhood and all the messy particularity it entails, even as we see new emphasis on a universalizable individualism. By the time Anfossi wrote and premiered La Morte di San Filippo Neri, Edmund Burke had already famously railed against the Jacobins as ideologues of unworkable abstractions that they foisted on real people.

anfossi500

The 2014 Polish recording of Anfossi’s The Death of Saint Philip Neri. (Source)

I don’t know enough about Anfossi’s other work to know what kinds of values he sought to express. But I would wager on the basis of this peculiar, overly-allegorized oratorio, that he may well be a Catholic Enlightener. Wikipedia, bastion of Definite Truth, relates that he “worked mainly in London, Venice and Rome.” Surely he would have interacted with Enlightened Catholics in some of those environments. The Catholics of London in particular would have been decidedly given over to the liberal spirit of the age. He premiered his first piece there in 1782, the very same year that the anti-Papal Catholic Committee convened for the first time to fight for Emancipation. Might he have known its leaders? And what kinds of contacts did he maintain with non-Catholic Enlighteners in London? For now, we cannot know.

If Anfossi was truly something of a Catholic Enlightener, then we must find a cruel irony in the fact that one of his last oratorios should premier in Papal Rome just before itand so many Italian Oratoriescame crashing down under Napoleon’s enlightenment-by-force.

The Saint Who Sings
The difference between the two oratorios, written at opposite ends of the 18th century, is startling. Both ostensibly further the cult of St. Philip Neri; the approach they take, however, suggests a major shift over the course of the decades. While Scarlatti’s piece hews closely to hagiographic norms, Anfossi’s seems to break from them by injecting a dose of Enlightenment abstraction into what might otherwise be a fairly typical allegory. The presence of St. Philip as a character in the former suggests both a deep devotion and an incarnational personalism proper to the Oratorian spirit. His absence in the latter would seem to suggest that sanctity, rather than growing from the personal embodiment of the virtues, consists in the interaction of broader spiritual qualities with individual genius. Further study of devotional music about St. Philip from across the 18th century could confirm whether the observable difference between the two oratorios represents a broader shift in hagiography influenced by the Catholic Enlightenment.

 

The Catholic Poems of Oscar Wilde

OscarWildeBook

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (Source).

As I mentioned in my last post, during the month of August, I am dedicating myself to daily acts of creativity in honor of Mary’s Immaculate and Sophianic Heart. As Providence would have it, the Holy Father’s intentions for August include prayers for artists. Thus, I’m going to make my blog especially aesthetic for the rest of the month.

And what better way to start than examining work by one of the modern era’s great philosophers of art, Oscar Wilde? It is not often remembered today that Oscar Wilde was a Catholic. True, he was only formally received on his death bed. But Wilde maintained a lifelong flirtation with the faith. Catholicism infused his imagination from very early on in his productive career. When he was a student at Oxford, he visited Rome and wrote quasi-Catholic poetry that even Cardinal Newman admired. In some of the work, the influence of Dante is manifest. The aesthetics and romance of Catholicism appealed to Wilde, and he was nearly converted by Fr. Sebastian Bowden of the London Oratory. Only much later did he definitively turn to the Lord, in his last hour. However, many members of his circle also converted…a topic I shall, perhaps, explore some other day.

Ave Maria Gratia Plena

Was this His coming! I had hoped to see
A scene of wondrous glory, as was told
Of some great God who in a rain of gold
Broke open bars and fell on Danae:
Or a dread vision as when Semele
Sickening for love and unappeased desire
Prayed to see God’s clear body, and the fire
Caught her white limbs and slew her utterly:
With such glad dreams I sought this holy place,
And now with wondering eyes and heart I stand
Before this supreme mystery of Love:
A kneeling girl with passionless pale face,
An angel with a lily in his hand,
And over both with outstretched wings the Dove.

Sonnet on Approaching Italy

I reached the Alps: the soul within me burned
Italia, my Italia, at thy name:
And when from out the mountain’s heart I came
And saw the land for which my life had yearned,
I laughed as one who some great prize had earned:
And musing on the story of thy fame
I watched the day, till marked with wounds of flame
The turquoise sky to burnished gold was turned,
The pine-trees waved as waves a woman’s hair,
And in the orchards every twining spray
Was breaking into flakes of blossoming foam:
But when I knew that far away at Rome
In evil bonds a second Peter lay,
I wept to see the land so very fair.

Urbs Sacra Æterna

Rome! what a scroll of History thine has been
In the first days thy sword republican
Ruled the whole world for many an age’s span:
Then of thy peoples thou wert crownèd Queen,
Till in thy streets the bearded Goth was seen;
And now upon thy walls the breezes fan
(Ah, city crowned by God, discrowned by man!)
The hated flag of red and white and green.
When was thy glory! when in search for power
Thine eagles flew to greet the double sun,
And all the nations trembled at thy rod?
Nay, but thy glory tarried for this hour,
When pilgrims kneel before the Holy One,
The prisoned shepherd of the Church of God.

Sonnet on Hearing the Dies Irae Sung in the Sistine Chapel

Nay, Lord, not thus! white lilies in the spring,
Sad olive-groves, or silver-breasted dove,
Teach me more clearly of Thy life and love
Than terrors of red flame and thundering.
The hillside vines dear memories of Thee bring:
A bird at evening flying to its nest
Tells me of One who had no place of rest:
I think it is of Thee the sparrows sing.
Come rather on some autumn afternoon,
When red and brown are burnished on the leaves,
And the fields echo to the gleaner’s song,
Come when the splendid fulness of the moon
Looks down upon the rows of golden sheaves,
And reap Thy harvest: we have waited long.

Holy Week at Genoa

I wandered through Scoglietto’s far retreat,
The oranges on each o’erhanging spray
Burned as bright lamps of gold to shame the day;
Some startled bird with fluttering wings and fleet
Made snow of all the blossoms; at my feet
Like silver moons the pale narcissi lay:
And the curved waves that streaked the great green bay
Laughed i’ the sun, and life seemed very sweet.
Outside the young boy-priest passed singing clear,
‘Jesus the son of Mary has been slain,
O come and fill His sepulchre with flowers.’
Ah, God! Ah, God! those dear Hellenic hours
Had drowned all memory of Thy bitter pain,
The Cross, the Crown, the Soldiers and the Spear.

San Miniato

See, I have climbed the mountain side
Up to this holy house of God,
Where once that Angel-Painter trod
Who saw the heavens opened wide,

And throned upon the crescent moon
The Virginal white Queen of Grace,–
Mary! could I but see thy face
Death could not come at all too soon.

O crowned by God with thorns and pain!
Mother of Christ! O mystic wife!
My heart is weary of this life
And over-sad to sing again.

O crowned by God with love and flame!
O crowned by Christ the Holy One!
O listen ere the searching sun
Show to the world my sin and shame.

Madonna Mia

A lily-girl, not made for this world’s pain,
With brown, soft hair close braided by her ears,
And longing eyes half veiled by slumberous tears
Like bluest water seen through mists of rain:
Pale cheeks whereon no love hath left its stain,
Red underlip drawn in for fear of love,
And white throat, whiter than the silvered dove,
Through whose wan marble creeps one purple vein.
Yet, though my lips shall praise her without cease,
Even to kiss her feet I am not bold,
Being o’ershadowed by the wings of awe.
Like Dante, when he stood with Beatrice
Beneath the flaming Lion’s breast, and saw
The seventh Crystal, and the Stair of Gold.

E Tenebris

Come down, O Christ, and help me! reach thy hand,
For I am drowning in a stormier sea
Than Simon on thy lake of Galilee:
The wine of life is spilt upon the sand,
My heart is as some famine-murdered land,
Whence all good things have perished utterly,
And well I know my soul in Hell must lie
If I this night before God’s throne should stand.
‘He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase,
Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name
From morn to noon on Carmel’s smitten height.’
Nay, peace, I shall behold before the night,
The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame,
The wounded hands, the weary human face.

At Verona

How steep the stairs within Kings’ houses are
For exile-wearied feet as mine to tread,
And O how salt and bitter is the bread
Which falls from this Hound’s table,–better far
That I had died in the red ways of war,
Or that the gate of Florence bare my head,
Than to live thus, by all things comraded
Which seek the essence of my soul to mar.

‘Curse God and die: what better hope than this?
He hath forgotten thee in all the bliss
Of his gold city, and eternal day’–
Nay peace: behind my prison’s blinded bars
I do possess what none can take away,
My love, and all the glory of the stars.

On the Massacre of the Christians in Bulgaria

Christ, dost Thou live indeed? or are Thy bones
Still straitened in their rock-hewn sepulchre?
And was Thy Rising only dreamed by her
Whose love of Thee for all her sin atones?
For here the air is horrid with men’s groans,
The priests who call upon Thy name are slain,
Dost Thou not hear the bitter wail of pain
From those whose children lie upon the stones?
Come down, O Son of God! incestuous gloom
Curtains the land, and through the starless night
Over Thy Cross a Crescent moon I see!
If Thou in very truth didst burst the tomb
Come down, O Son of Man! and show Thy might
Lest Mahomet be crowned instead of Thee!

Queen Henrietta Maria

In the lone tent, waiting for victory,
She stands with eyes marred by the mists of pain,
Like some wan lily overdrenched with rain:
The clamorous clang of arms, the ensanguined sky,
War’s ruin, and the wreck of chivalry,
To her proud soul no common fear can bring:
Bravely she tarrieth for her Lord the King,
Her soul a-flame with passionate ecstasy.
O Hair of Gold! O Crimson Lips! O Face
Made for the luring and the love of man!
With thee I do forget the toil and stress,
The loveless road that knows no resting place,
Time’s straitened pulse, the soul’s dread weariness,
My freedom and my life republican!

On Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendor and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
“Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise My feet, and drink wine salt with tears.”

Wilde did just that until he lost his duel with the wallpaper on November 30th, 1900. But having received the last rites of the Church, perhaps he is already in heaven as a saint. One can only imagine what he would think of his portrait bedecked with a golden halo.