A Florilegium of the Saints on Dancing

Salome Dancing Before King Herod, Gustave Moreau, 1876 (Source)

Recently I got in a small argument on Twitter about the exact nature of Jansenist rigorism. It was pointed out by a friend, citing the estimable work of John J. Conley SJ, that Mère Angélique strictly forbade instruction in singing and dancing at the Port-Royal schools. Her comments on this point, taken from a letter to Madame de Bellisi, are as follows:

Singing, however innocent people like to find it, is very corrupt in its charming words, which are full of poison beneath their decent appearance. The same problem exists in simple airs where a false joy and foolishness are found. As for dancing, beyond its evil there is madness. Finally, my dear sister, according to the laws of the gospel, the morals of Christians must be as pure as they were at the beginning of the church.

Mère Angélique Arnauld, Abbess of Port-Royal
Quoted in John Conley, Adoration and Annihilation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009)
pg. 87

Conley goes on to point out that this attitude represents the rigorist discipline of the Jansenists, especially in contrast to the Jesuit schools where theatre, song, and dance were important elements of the curriculum.

He’s not wrong. Certainly, the Abbess’s words on singing are a bit severe, to put it mildly. Yet while Conley does a good job setting this opinion in the context of the seventeenth-century French church, he fails to consider the broader and deeper context of Catholic moral teaching. This point matters insofar as it helps us assess the extent to which we can actually classify Jansenists – and the Port-Royal community in particular – as “rigorists.” What was the traditional teaching of the Fathers, Doctors, Saints, and Councils on dancing? Can we discern a general stream of teaching here? If so, what does it say, and how does it compare with the teaching of Mère Angélique?

To make a tentative answer to this question, I have compiled a brief florilegium of quotes on dancing. Where I have specific textual citations, I have included them. I will also preface this florilegium by saying that I don’t necessarily agree with these authorities in all cases. I am not a Puritan at heart – though I did once play Reverend Shaw More in a High School production of Footloose. Quite apart from that, there is a problematic gender dynamic here; the authorities quoted below are much more attentive to women dancing than men (though once again, this is perhaps one reason that Mère Angélique, a learned nun responsible for the moral instruction of an early modern Catholic girls’ school, took the position she did). The point here is to ascertain whether or not the position of Mère Angélique was a reasonable interpretration of longstanding Catholic teachings, or whether it was a truly “rigorist” aberration and an innovation with heretical tendencies.

With those caveats, let us begin.

The Fathers of the Church

“For there are excessive banquetings, and subtle flutes which provoke to lustful movements, and useless and luxurious anointings, and crowning with garlands. With such a mass of evils do you banish shame; and ye fill your minds with them, and are carried away by intemperance, and indulge as a common practice in wicked and insane fornication.” – St. Justin Martyr, Discourse to the Greeks, Ch. IV

“Since, then, all passionate excitement is forbidden us, we are debarred from every kind of spectacle.” – Tertullian, The Shows, Ch. XVI

“Are we not, in like manner, enjoined to put away from us all immodesty? On this ground, again, we are excluded from the theatre, which is immodesty’s own peculiar abode, where nothing is in repute but what elsewhere is disreputable.” – Tertullian, The Shows, Ch. XVII. While this florilegium will not go deeply into the (extensive) Patristic condemnation of the theater, I will note that the nuns and solitaires of Port-Royal also adhered to this neglected teaching. Their position caused some tensions with one of their most famous students, the celebrated playwright Jean Racine.

“Now the pomp of the devil is the madness of theaters and horse-races, and hunting, and all such vanity: from which that holy man praying to be delivered says unto God, Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. Be not interested in the madness of the theatre, where thou wilt behold the wanton gestures of the players, carried on with mockeries and all unseemliness, and the frantic dancing of effeminate men.” – St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 19.6

“Whence comes the dance? Who has taught it to Christians? Truly, neither Peter, nor Paul, nor John, nor any man filled with the Spirit of God; but the hellish dragon!” – St. Ephrem the Syrian

“With unkempt hair, clothed in bodices and hopping about, they dance with lustful eyes and loud laughter; as if seized by a kind of frenzy they excite the lust of the youths…With harlots’ songs they pollute the air and sully the degraded earth with their feet in shameful postures.” – St. Basil of Caesarea

“There ought then to be the joy of the mind, conscious of right, not excited by unrestrained feasts, or nuptial concerts, for in such modesty is not safe, and temptation may be suspected where excessive dancing accompanies festivities. I desire that the virgins of God should be far from this. For as a certain teacher of this world has said: “No one dances when sober unless he is mad.” Now if, according to the wisdom of this world, either drunkenness or madness is the cause of dancing, what a warning is given to us amongst the instances mentioned in the Divine Scriptures, where John, the forerunner of Christ, being beheaded at the wish of a dancer, is an instance that the allurements of dancing did more harm than the madness of sacrilegious anger.” – St. Ambrose, Concerning Virgins, Book III, Ch. 5.25

“What say you, holy women? Do you see what you ought to teach, and what also to unteach your daughters? She dances, but she is the daughter of an adulteress. But she who is modest, she who is chaste, let her teach her daughter religion, not dancing. And do you, grave and prudent men, learn to avoid the banquets of hateful men. If such are the banquets, what will be the judgment of the impious?” – St. Ambrose, Concerning Virgins, Book III, Ch. 6.31.

“Our rest is from evil works, theirs from good; for it is better to plough than to dance.” – St. Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 92, Paragraph 2.

“Avoid also indecent spectacles: I mean the theatres and the pomps of the heathens; their enchantments, observations of omens, soothsayings, purgations, divinations, observations of birds; their necromancies and invocations….. You are also to avoid their public meetings, and those sports which are celebrated in them….. Abstain, therefore, from all idolatrous pomp and state, all their public meetings, banquets, duels, and all shows belonging to demons.” – Apostolic Constitutions, Book II, Paragraph 62.

“For where dancing is, there is the evil one. For neither did God give us feet for this end, but that we may walk orderly: not that we may behave ourselves unseemly, not that we may jump like camels.” – St. John Chyrsostom, Homily 48 on St. Matthew’s Gospel, Ch. IV.

Councils

“Christians, when they attend weddings, must not join in wanton dances, but modestly dine or breakfast, as is becoming to Christians.” – Council of Laodicea, Canon LIII

“Since therefore the more these things contribute to usefulness and honor in the Church of God, so the more zealously must they be observed, the holy council ordains that those things which have in the past been frequently and wholesomely enacted by the supreme pontiffs and holy councils concerning adherence to the life, conduct, dress, and learning of clerics, as also the avoidance of luxury, feastings, dances, gambling, sports, and all sorts of crime and secular pursuits, shall in the future be observed under the same or greater penalties to be imposed at the discretion of the ordinary.” – Council of Trent, Session XXII, Decree Concerning Reform, Ch. I

While I have not been able to find the specific quotes from medieval councils, I appeal to historian Ralph G. Giordano, who has helpfully summarized high medieval ecclesiastical discipline on this matter. He writes, “Actually, during the thirteenth century, all social dancing as part of religious ritual was eliminated from the Catholic Church. In 1215, the Lateran Council declared ‘lascivious’ dancing a sin requiring confession to a parish priest. In 1227, the Council of Trier specifically excluded ‘three-step and ring dances.’ Similar edicts were issued by the Synod of Cahors (1206), the bishop of Paris (1209), a Hungarian church council (1279), and the Council of Wurzburg (1298). All the edicts upheld the common decision to prohibit dancing in any churchyards, the churches, or as part of religious processions” (See Giordano, pp. 49-50).

Early Modern Saints

“Dancing, so dangerous to Christian morals, should be banished entirely by the faithful, as it originates many sins against purity, and causes extravagances, evil deeds, and assassinations.” – St. Charles Borromeo

Another saint who will appear later in this list also notes that St. Charles Borromeo once gave someone (probably a cleric) a penance for dancing that lasted three years, and said he would excommunicate the sinner if he ever danced again.

“Believe me, my daughter, these frivolous amusements [balls and dances] are for the most part dangerous; they dissipate the spirit of devotion, enervate the mind, check true charity, and arouse a multitude of evil inclinations in the soul, and therefore I would have you very reticent in their use.” – St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Ch. XXXIII. I have discussed St. Francis’s notable aversion towards dancing before.

Later Saints

I could certainly end my florilegium here and prove the point. However, for good measure, let’s continue to see if Port-Royal represents a particularly rigorous vision of dancing even in light of subsequent Catholic development.

St. Louis de Montfort, who clashed with the Jansenists in his own day, managed to agree with the Abbess of Port-Royal on this point. He writes, “Soldiers join together in an army to overcome their enemies; wicked people often get together for parties of debauchery and dancing, and evil spirits join forces in order to make us lose our souls.” – St. Louis de Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary, Forty-Sixth Rose.

In the very same chapter, the Saint continues, “Before the Holy Rosary took root in these small towns and villages, dances and parties of debauchery went on all the time; dissoluteness, wantonness, blasphemy, quarrels, and feuds flourished.” He takes it as self-evident that dancing is an occasion of sin.

But lest we fall into the trap of attributing this attitude merely to Gallic severity, let us turn our eyes south to Naples. When we consider that famously anti-Jansenist (even allegedly laxist!) moral theologian and Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus Liguori, what do we find?

“Parents should prohibit their children from all games, which bring destruction on their families and on their own souls, and also dances, suggestive entertainment, and certain dangerous conversations and parties of pleasures. A father should remove from his house books of romances, which pervert young persons, and all bad books which contain pernicious maxims, tales of obscenity, or of profane love.” – St. Alphonsus Liguori, “Letter to Parents”

St. Anthony Mary Claret, by no means a Jansenist, claimed that “The Devil invented balls for girls to be lost, and extended them throughout the world like an immense net in order to catch the young people and submit them to his tyrannical domination.”

And returning to France, we come to the Curé d’Ars. What has this patron of parish priests, this great and ever-to-be-esteemed shepherd of souls, this jewel of the ultramontane church to say on our chosen subject?

St. Jean-Marie Vianney was absolutely resolute in his opposition to dancing of any kind. He even set up a statue of St. John the Baptist under an arch in his church, whereat he painted the words, “My head was the price of a dance.” He preached against it vehemently on more than one occasion. I shall here select only one of many, many warnings he gave against dancing (which he seems to have taken as almost intrinsically sinful, given the number of sins to which it gave occasion) in his sermons.

“St. Augustine tells us that those who go to dances truly renounce Jesus Christ in order to give themselves to the Devil. What a horrible thing that is! To drive out Jesus Christ after having received Him in your hearts! “Today,” says St. Ephraim, “they unite themselves to Jesus Christ and tomorrow to the Devil.” Alas! What a Judas is that person who, after receiving our Lord, goes then to sell Him to Satan in these gatherings, where he will be reuniting himself with everything that is most vicious! And when it comes to the Sacrament of Penance, what a contradiction in such a life! A Christian, who after one single sin should spend the rest of his life in repentance, thinks only of giving himself up to all these worldly pleasures! A great many profane the Sacrament of Extreme Unction by making indecent movements with the feet, the hands and the whole body, which one day must be sanctified by the holy oils. Is not the Sacrament of Holy Order insulted by the contempt with which the instructions of the pastor are considered? But when we come to the Sacrament of Matrimony, alas! What infidelities are not contemplated in these assemblies? It seems then that everything is admissible. How blind must anyone be who thinks there is no harm in it…The Council of Aix-la-Chapelle forbids dancing, even at weddings. And St. Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan, says that three years of penance were given to someone who had danced and that if he went back to it, he was threatened with excommunication. If there were no harm in it, then were the Holy Fathers and the Church mistaken? But who tells you that there is no harm in it? It can only be a libertine, or a flighty and worldly girl, who are trying to smother their remorse of conscience as best they can. Well, there are priests, you say, who do not speak about it in confession or who, without permitting it, do not refuse absolution for it. Ah! I do not know whether there are priests who are so blind, but I am sure that those who go looking for easygoing priests are going looking for a passport which will lead them to Hell. For my own part, if I went dancing, I should not want to receive absolution not having a real determination not to go back to dancing…Alas! How many young people are there who since they have been going to dances do not frequent the Sacraments, or do so only to profane them! How many poor souls there are who have lost therein their religion and their faith! How many will never open their eyes to their unhappy state except when they are falling into Hell!” – St. Jean-Marie Vianney, a sermon against dancing.

In Conclusion

Lest I be accused of failing to adequately account for the context of these disparate condemnations, I would note that the Catholic solution is almost always to say “both-and,” not “either-or.” We have seen the saints attack a wide variety of dances, including but not limited to a) pagan rituals, b) secular spectacles, c) dances in Church precincts, d) dancing in general, e) dancing at weddings, and f) dancing between young men and women. These are not mutually exclusive.

Once again, I don’t pretend to agree with all of these warnings. I have often enjoyed myself at dances. Morris Dancing was one of the most charming English customs I discovered when I moved to Oxford. I have very fond memories of going to the ballet, both as a child and as an adult. And I have written very highly of the artistic use of dance in, for example, The New Pope.

But the point at stake is not my opinion, but rather how we evaluate the Jansenists. Are Mère Angélique’s words in any way divergent from the spirit of these diverse condemnations? I should think that the only reasonable answer is no. The reforming Abbess of Port-Royal, ever the daughter of austere St. Bernard, may have seemed a rigorist in a century when this teaching was largely unfashionable. Keep in mind, too, that the abbey she reformed – Port-Royal des Champs – had for several decades before been known for its laxity, including an annual carnival ball. That past state of affairs shaped Angélique’s pastoral concern here, and if she over-reacted a bit (especially in her comments on singing), it was with the memory of her personal experience of those abuses.

But even keeping all that in mind, I can find nothing in her words about dancing that sets her apart from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. If we condemn her, how much more must we condemn the Curé d’Ars, so much closer to our own more tolerant age!

Conley’s book is very good. I don’t mean to dispute his broader argument. I am not even making a point principally addressed to academic historians of Jansenism, who will not be surprised by what they have read here. What I mean to suggest, however, is that in general we (Catholics at large) are too hasty to judge the Jansenists by anachronistic standards that do not actually conform to our own moral tradition, a tradition with elements that are genuinely more rigorous than the practice of Catholicism we know today. And a reconsideration of those elements – whether we end up adopting them or, in prudence, choose not to – is a helpful exercise in becoming more self-reflective and more historically-grounded as Catholics.

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!!!

St. Alphonsus on the Sorrows of Mary

As a continuation of the Lenten Spirituality Series, here is a passage from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s The Glories of Mary. The Friday in Passiontide is the Church’s traditional commemoration of Our Lady’s seven sorrows; it is a fitting prelude to the divine suffering of her Son in Holy Week. I am particularly fond of St. Alphonsus, as he was one of the greatest mystics of the eighteenth century.

St. Alphonsus Liguori, ora pro nobis. (Source)

As Jesus is called the King of sorrows and the King of martyrs, because He suffered during, His life more than all other martyrs; so also is Mary with reason called the Queen of martyrs, having merited this title by suffering the most cruel martyrdom possible after that of her Son. Hence, with reason, was she called by Richard of Saint Lawrence, “the Martyr of martyrs”; and of her can the words of Isaias with all truth be said, “He will crown thee with a crown of tribulation;” that is to say, that that suffering itself, which exceeded the suffering of all the other martyrs united, was the crown by which she was shown to be the Queen of martyrs. That Mary was a true martyr cannot be doubted, as Denis the Carthusian, Pelbart, Catharinus, and others prove; for it is an undoubted opinion that suffering sufficient to cause death is martyrdom, even though death does not ensue from it. Saint John the Evangelist is revered as a martyr, though he did not die in the caldron of boiling oil, but he came out more vigorous than he went in. Saint Thomas says, “that to have the glory of martyrdom, it is sufficient to exercise obedience in its highest degree, that is to say, to be obedient unto death.” “Mary was a martyr,” says Saint Bernard, “not by the sword of the executioner, but by bitter sorrow of heart.” If her body was not wounded by the hand of the executioner, her blessed heart was transfixed by a sword of grief at the passion of her Son; grief which was sufficient to have caused her death, not once, but a thousand times. From this we shall see that Mary was not only a real martyr, but that her martyrdom surpassed all others; for it was longer than that of all others, and her whole life may be said to have been a prolonged death.

Our Lady of Sorrows. (Source)

“The passion of Jesus,” as Saint Bernard says, “commenced with His birth”. So also did Mary, in all things like unto her Son, endure her martyrdom throughout her life. Amongst other significations of the name of Mary, as Blessed Albert the Great asserts, is that of “a bitter sea.” Hence to her is applicable the text of Jeremias : “great as the sea is thy destruction.” For as the sea is all bitter and salt, so also was the life of Mary always full of bitterness at the sight of the passion of the Redeemer, which was ever present to her mind. “There can be no doubt, that, enlightened by the Holy Ghost in a far higher degree than all the prophets, she, far better than they, understood the predictions recorded by them in the sacred Scriptures concerning the Messias.” This is precisely what the angel revealed to St. Bridget; and he also added, `that the Blessed Virgin, even before she became His Mother, knowing how much the Incarnate Word was to suffer for the salvation of men, and compassionating this innocent Saviour, who was to be so cruelly put to death for crimes not His own, even then began her great martyrdom.”

Her grief was immeasurably increased when she became the Mother of this Saviour; so that at the sad sight of the many torments which were to be endured by her poor Son, she indeed suffered a long martyrdom, a martyrdom which lasted her whole life. This was signified with great exactitude to Saint Bridget in a vision which she had in Rome, in the church of Saint Mary Major, where the Blessed Virgin with Saint Simeon, and an angel bearing a very long sword, reddened with blood, appeared to her, denoting thereby the long, and bitter grief which transpierced the heart of Mary during her whole life. When the above named Rupert supposes Mary thus speaking: “Redeemed souls, and my beloved children, do not pity me only for the hour in which I beheld my dear Jesus expiring before my eyes; for the sword of sorrow predicted by Simeon pierced my soul during the whole of my life: when I was giving suck to my Son, when I was warming Him in my arms, I already foresaw the bitter death that awaited Him. Consider, then, what long and bitter sorrows I must have endured.”

O quam tristis et afflicta fuit illa benedicta! (Source)

Wherefore Mary might well say, in the words of David, “My life is wasted with grief, and my years in sighs.” “My sorrow is continually before me.” “My whole life was spent in sorrow and in tears; for my sorrow, which was compassion for my beloved Son, never departed from before my eyes, as I always foresaw the sufferings and death which He was one day to endure.” The Divine Mother herself revealed to Saint Bridget, that “even after the death and ascension of her Son, whether she ate, or worked, the remembrance of His passion was ever deeply impressed on her mind, and fresh in her tender heart”. Hence Tauler says, “that the most Blessed Virgin spent her whole life in continual sorrow;” for her heart was always occupied with sadness and with suffering.

Therefore time, which usually mitigates the sorrows of the afflicted, did not relieve Mary; nay, even it increased her sorrow; for, as Jesus, on the one hand, advanced in age, and always appeared more and more beautiful and amiable; so also, on the other hand, the time of His death always drew nearer, and grief always increased in the heart of Mary, at the thought of having to lose Him on earth. So that, in the words addressed by the angel to Saint Bridget: “As the rose grows up amongst thorns, so the Mother of God advanced in years in the midst of sufferings; and as the thorns increase with the growth of the rose, so also did the thorns of her sorrows increase in Mary, the chosen rose of the Lord, as she advanced in age; and so much the more deeply did they pierce her heart.

Some Saints on the Holy Name of Mary

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The Holy Name of Mary in a church mural. (Source)

The feast we celebrate today has moved around a bit. It only came to the kalendar in 1683, when Pope Innocent XI wished to commemorate the liberation of Vienna from the Ottoman siege. He originally placed it on the 17th, the Octave Day of Our Lady’s Nativity. The feast was later transferred to the 15th, and then done away with altogether by Archbishop Bugnini in one of his more obnoxious acts of liturgical vandalism. Pope St. John Paul II restored it in 2002, and now we celebrate it as an optional memorial on September 12th.

Accordingly, it behooves us to ponder the writings of the saints. For as it is a maxim in theology that we are led by lower things to higher, so we may pursue the heights of Our Lady’s throne only by the steps which our closer contemporaries have tread before us. Besides, while the feast may be relatively new in the life of the Church, the devotion it honors is much older. There is consequently much to choose from.

Consider the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

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Apparition of the Virgin to St. Bernard, Detail. Filippino Lippi, 1480. (Source)

“And the Virgin’s name was Mary.” Let us speak a little about this name, which is said to mean “star of the sea,” and which so well befits the Virgin Mother. Rightly is she likened to a star. As a star emits a ray without being dimmed, so the Virgin brought forth her Son without receiving any injury. The ray takes naught from the brightness of the star, nor the Son from His Mother’s virginal integrity. This is the noble star risen out of Jacob, whose ray illumines the whole world, whose splendor shines in the heavens, penetrates the abyss, and, traversing the whole earth, gives warmth rather to souls than to bodies, cherishing virtues, withering vices. Mary is that bright and incomparable star, whom we need to see raised above this vast sea, shining by her merits, and giving us light by her example.

All of you, who see yourselves amid the tides of the world, tossed by storms and tempests rather than walking on the land, do not turn your eyes away from this shining star, unless you want to be overwhelmed by the hurricane. If temptation storms, or you fall upon the rocks of tribulation, look to the star: Call upon Mary! If you are tossed by the waves of pride or ambition, detraction or envy, look to the star, call upon Mary. If anger or avarice or the desires of the flesh dash against the ship o f your soul, turn your eyes to Mary. If troubled by the enormity of your crimes, ashamed of your guilty conscience, terrified by dread of the judgment, you begin to sink into the gulf of sadness or the abyss of despair, think of Mary. In dangers, in anguish, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let her name be even on your lips, ever in your heart; and the better to obtain the help of her prayers, imitate the example of her life:  “Following her, thou strayest not; invoking her, thou despairest not; thinking of her, thou wanderest not; upheld by her, thou fallest not; shielded by her, thou fearest not; guided by her, thou growest not weary; favored by her, thou reachest the goal. And thus dost thou experience in thyself how good is that saying: ‘And the Virgin’s name was Mary.'”

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St. Alphonsus Liguori, author of The Glories of Mary. (Source)

St. Alphonsus Liguori, that Mariologist who so scrupulously records the thoughts of prior saints, affirms the antiquity and holiness of this devotion.

To begin with life, the holy anchorite, Honorius, says, that the name of Mary is [full] of all divine sweetness. And the glorious St. Anthony of Padua attributes to the name of Mary the same sweetness as St. Bernard attributed to the name of Jesus. The name of Jesus, said the latter, the name of Mary, said the former, is joy to the heart, honey to the mouth, melody to the ear of their devoted servants. It is related in the life of the venerable Father John Ancina, Bishop of Saluzzo, that when he pronounced the name of Mary, he experienced so great a sensible sweetness that he even tasted it on his lips. We also read that a certain woman in Cologne told the Bishop Marsillius, that whenever she pronounced the name of Mary she perceived in her mouth a taste sweeter than honey. Marsillius made the trial, and he also experienced the same sweetness. We read in the holy Canticles, that at the Assumption of the Virgin, the angels three times asked her name: “Who is she that goeth up by the desert as a pillar of smoke?” “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising?” And in another: “Who is this that cometh up from the desert, flowing with delights?” Richard of St. Laurence inquires why the angels so often asked the name of this queen, and answers: The sound of the name of Mary was so sweet to the angels, and they repeated the question that they might hear it repeated also.

But I do not hear speak of this sensible sweetness, since it is not commonly granted to all, but I speak of the salutary sweetness of consolation, love, joy, confidence, and strength, which the name of Mary universally gives to those who, with devotion, pronounce it. Speaking on this subject, Francone the Abbot says, that next to the holy name of Jesus, the name of Mary is so rich in blessings, that no other name is uttered on earth or in heaven from which devout souls receive so much grace, hope, and sweetness. For the name of Mary, he goes on to say, contains in itself something admirable, sweet, and divine, which, when it meets a friendly heart, breathes into it an odor of holy sweetness. And the wonder of this great name is, he concludes, that if heard a thousand times by the lovers of Mary, it is always heard as new, the sweetness they experience in hearing it spoken being always the same.

The blessed Henry Suso, also speaking of this sweetness, says, that in pronouncing the name of Mary, he felt his confidence so much increased, and his love so joyfully enkindled, that amidst the joy and tears with which he pronounced the beloved name, he thought his heart would have leaped from his mouth ; and he affirmed that this most sweet name, as honeycomb, melted into the depths of his soul. Whereat he exclaims: Oh most sweet name! oh Mary, what must thou thyself be, if thy name alone is so lovely and sweet?

Nor is this devotion entirely absent outside the Church of Rome. One of George Herbert’s better epigrams runs as follows:

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“Anagram,” from The Temple. (Source)

Incidentally, the aforementioned Bishop of Saluzzo, Bl. John Juvenal Ancina, was a founder of the Naples Oratory and a personal disciple of St. Philip Neri. Can there be any doubt that the bishop learned his devotion at the side of his spiritual father?

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Bl. Juvenal Ancina of the Oratory. (Source)

And we should learn it in turn from the saints who have gone before us, those holy men and women who now stand rejoicing in an eternal contemplation of Our Lady’s beatific name.

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St. Philip Neri Exhorting the Youth to Pray to the Virgin, Pala Pietro. A good metaphor for how the saints instruct us in Marian devotion. (Source)