Happy Christmas 7 December, 2006

We would like to wish all our readers a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why. – G.K. Chesterton

Pope Benedict recently spoke on the meaning of Christmas:

“Why did God become man?” St. Irenaeus writes: “The word has become the dispenser of the Father’s glory for the usefulness of men…. The glory of God is the living man — ‘vivens homo’ — and the life of man consists in the vision of God” (“Adv. Haer,” IV, 20.5.7).

God’s glory is manifested, therefore, in the salvation of man, whom God has so loved “who gave him,” as John’s Gospel affirms, “his only Son so that he who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). So love is the ultimate reason for Christ’s incarnation.

Eloquent in this respect is the reflection of the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who wrote: God “is not, in the first place, absolute power, but absolute love whose sovereignty is not manifested in keeping for himself what belongs to him, but in its abandonment” (“Mysterium Paschale” 1,14).

I can’t resist adding these wonderful remarks by Pope Benedict to university students on 14 December:

Christmas is appropriately emphasized by the many gifts that people give to one another in these days. But it is important that the principal Gift of which all other gifts are a symbol not be forgotten. Christmas is the day on which God gave himself to humanity, and in the Eucharist this gift of his becomes, so to speak, perfect….
The Eucharistic mystery is the privileged point of convergence between the various contexts of Christian life, including that of intellectual research.
Encountered in the liturgy and contemplated in adoration, Jesus in the Eucharist is like a “prism” through which one can penetrate further into reality, in the ascetic and mystical, the intellectual and speculative, as well as the historical and moral perspectives.
In the Eucharist, Christ is really present and Holy Mass is a living memorial of his Pasch. The Blessed Sacrament is the qualitative centre of the cosmos and of history. Therefore, it constitutes an inexhaustible source of thought and action for anyone who sets out to seek the truth and desires to cooperate with it.
It is, so to speak, a “concentrate” of truth and love. It not only illumines human knowledge, but also and above all human action and human life, in accordance with “the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), as St Paul said, in the daily task of acting as Jesus himself did.
Dear friends, let us enter into the mystery of Christmas, now approaching, through the “door” of the Eucharist; in the grotto of Bethlehem let us adore the Lord himself who, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, desired to make himself our spiritual food to transform the world from within, starting with the human heart.

A progress report on Second Spring

These are the projected contents for issue 8 of Second Spring, which was due out by the end of 2006:

Two Benedicts and the Renewal of Catholic Culture – Carol Zaleski
The Art of Proclamation – Robert Barron
Art of the SpheresDavid Clayton
Angels in the Architecture – Stratford Caldecott
Thomas on Beauty – David W. Fagerberg
The Distinctive Agnosticism of Charles Darwin – John Hedley Brooke
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Kenneth Asch
Implementing the Reform of the Reform in Parishes – Shawn Tribe
Plus Poem, Bookwatch, Reports, Last Things

The need to develop a programme of short courses and other events under our new umbrella organization, ResSource, has caused some delays in the editing and production of the new Second Spring, but we hope to send issue 8 early in 2007. Thanks for your patience. I hope to make an announcement shortly about improved publication arrangements for Second Spring that will take effect in 2007.

At the beginning of another year, thanks for your interest and support.

[Picture credit: Icon of the Nativity by Solrunn Nes.]

The Cosmic Liturgy 12 October, 2006

Have you ever felt that your Sunday service in church leaves something to be desired?

Would you like to deepen your awareness of the world-shattering Event that is taking place on the altar and in our lives?

On Thursday, 31 August 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave some beautiful words of advice to priests who had come to him at Castel Gandolfo:
“I have no claim to be, as it were, an ‘oracle’ that could respond adequately to every question … Day after day, the Pope too must know and recognize ‘infirmitatem suam,’ his shortcomings. He must recognize that only in collaboration with everyone, in dialogue, in common cooperation, in faith as ‘cooperatores veritatis” – of the Truth that is a Person, Jesus – can we carry out our service together, each one doing his share…

“… Today, we heard in the Gospel the parable of the faithful servant (Matthew 24:42-51). This servant, the Lord tells us, gives food to the others at the proper time. He does not do everything at once but is a wise and prudent servant who knows what needs to be done in a specific situation. He does so humbly, and is also sure of his master’s trust.

“So it is that we must likewise do our utmost to be wise and prudent and to trust in the goodness of our ‘Master,’ the Lord, for in the end it is he himself who must take the helm of his Church. We fit into her with our small gift and do the best we can, especially those things that are always necessary: celebrating the sacraments, preaching the Word, giving signs of our charity and our love.

“… I would say further that the Church gives us, imposes upon us – but always like a good Mother – the obligation to make free time for God with the two practices that constitute a part of our duties: the celebration of holy Mass and the recitation of the breviary … These two realities – holy Mass truly celebrated in conversation with God and the Liturgy of the Hours – are areas of freedom, of inner life, an enrichment which the Church bestows upon us. In them … we do not only find the Church of all the ages but also the Lord himself, who speaks to us and awaits our answer. We thus learn to pray by immersing ourselves in the prayer of all times, and we also encounter the people…

“… We seek to drink from this source so that it may become a source within us. And we can respond better to the thirst of people today if we have within us the ‘living water,’ the divine reality, the reality of the Lord Jesus made flesh. Thus, we can respond better to the needs of our people.

“… The liturgy developed in the course of two millennia and even after the Reformation was not something worked out by simply a few liturgists. It has always remained a continuation of this ongoing growth of worship and proclamation.

“Thus, to be well in tune, it is very important to understand this structure that developed over time and to enter with our ‘mens’ into the ‘vox’ of the Church. To the extent that we have interiorized this structure, comprehended this structure, assimilated the words of the liturgy, we can enter into this inner consonance and thus not only speak to God as individuals, but enter into the ‘we’ of the Church, which is praying. And we thus transform our ‘I’ in this way, by entering into the ‘we’ of the Church, enriching and enlarging this ‘I,’ praying with the Church, with the words of the Church, truly being in conversation with God.

“In other words, the ‘ars celebrandi‘ is not intended as an invitation to some sort of theatre or show, but to an interiority that makes itself felt and becomes acceptable and evident to the people taking part. Only if they see that this is not an exterior or spectacular ‘ars‘ – we are not actors! – but the expression of the journey of our heart that attracts their hearts too, will the liturgy become beautiful, will it become the communion with the Lord of all who are present.”

Truth is Love 12 September, 2006

After a successful Summer School devoted to Shakespeare under the umbrella of our new company ResSource, along with our first practical art classes and a course on Theology of the Body, we are beginning to plan a whole series of events for next year. Please keep an eye on our sister web-site (RESSOURCE) and also the ‘EVENTS and conversation’ pages, both accessible from the left of the screen, for details over the next few months.

Cardinal Renato Martino recently gave a helpful summary of the Pope’s first encyclical, which is proving to be foundational in this pontificate. He wrote: ‘Truth draws men together because it frees them from individual opinions. Love draws men together because it makes them overcome individual egoisms. The announcement of Christianity is that Truth is Love. Therefore Christianity is the religion of the communion and the unity of human kind … Benedict XVI writes: “God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation – the Logos, primordial reason – is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love” (No. 10).’

He goes on: ‘The metaphysical Principle looked upon man and loved him. God is truth, thus our world and our life have meaning. Christian truth, however, does not just give life an architectonic, abstract meaning. Christian truth, also and foremost, gives life an existential meaning, a vital experience of meaning. God is truth that comes toward us, that speaks to us, that meets us. He is truth as an event of love. Otherwise life would reflect an abstract, and therefore insipid, truth and love would be blind and reduced to mere passion…

‘Loving the world and man, God entrusts the world and man to humanity itself, not as a collection of “things” but as a gift and a duty, as a task to accomplish together. When he puts us in our own hands as a duty to ourselves, God asks us to help him in the fulfillment of creation and salvation at every level: spiritual and eternal, human and historical … In Jesus, the incarnated God unites with each man and “we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving” (No. 13). The incarnation of God in Jesus is not just “giving,” but “self-giving.” Christ draws us to him by giving himself. Since then the only way to unite is through self-giving. The marriage between God and Israel, as the marriage between Christ and the Church and the marriage between man and woman, has a strong social dimension. We can truly say that society is built on love.

‘”Love of God and love of neighbor,” says the Holy Father, are connected: “If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be ‘devout’ and to perform my ‘religious duties,’ then my relationship with God will also grow arid” (No. 18).

These three instances of charity that are illustrated by the encyclical – creation as an act of love, marriage and fidelity as a social fact, the love of God and the love of neighbor bound by an unbreakable bond – are the theological foundation of the prodigious unifying force of the Christian faith and of its tension to break all the barriers that separate men from one another. In this sense charity founds the community and urges the realization of justice.’ See Zenit 2006-08-26 for the full text.

[Picture credit: Icon of the Transfiguration is borrowed from from www.virtualmuseum.ca.]

Editorial changes 12 August, 2006

As I write this we are in in the middle of our busy summer schedule – art classes, Shakespeare Summer School, and (in a few weeks’ time) the Tolkien conference at Exeter College. Come September, we will sit down and work out a programme for next year. I want to take this opportunity to mention a couple of important changes on this web-site. Regular readers will notice that place of the ‘EVENTS’ section on the left-hand menu, which used to advertise conferences and lectures, has been replaced by a link to our sister site, RESSOURCE. That is because most of our activities are now organized through that organization. The heading below that, called ‘EVENTS and conversation’, which leads to our online discussion forums, now contains a section for NOTICES where you can look up the latest scheduling information for our forthcoming events, and even advertise events of your own. The advantage of doing it this way is that the Ezboard site lends itself to instant updates, so we don’t have to bother our web-master with every little change in schedule. Please sign up for a free account in this section, so that you can join in the conversation as well as read other people’s contributions. Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Secret Codes 12 July, 2006

The Mass Illustrated for Children
(published by Second Spring Books)

The commercial success of The Da Vinci Code nonsense may indicate that a great many people want to believe the Church is covering up a big secret. Well, it is, but it is not the secret that many would like it to be: that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalen, proving that the call to celibacy was based on a lie. The fact is, human beings can do without sexual intercourse, whatever Freud may have said, and many are called to live that way. Nevertheless, Eros is rooted in human nature, as the Pope points out in ‘Deus Caritas Est‘, and this means that celibacy and singleness can only ‘work’ if Eros is transformed rather than repressed. The body has to be integrated with the soul, and Eros with Agape. That applies within marriage as well.

The transformation of Eros can be a long struggle, but it is how we become more human, in order – in the end – to become more than human, to be divinized. ‘God became man so that man could become God.’ And though we will certainly die, the process of death is like the planting of a seed. One day a new body will be given to us that resembles the body Jesus revealed to the disciples after his resurrection. ‘It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body’ (1 Cor. 15: 40, 44). Jesus conquered death, and in the Eucharist he gives us himself, including his resurrected body, in a way that nourishes that eternal life in us. That is one of the secrets that the Church carries within herself, and it is a lot more interesting than anything Dan Brown came up with.

The huge response to our recent study day on the Theology of the Body (20 May) indicates a growing awareness of the importance of the insights of John Paul II on the nature of human embodiment and sexuality. There is a code written into the human body. It seems an intriguing coincidence that the Church has deciphered that code just as scientists begin to decipher the genetic one inscribed within our DNA. The temptation is to reduce everything to biochemistry. What the Church offers is a wisdom-reading of biology that takes account of the other levels of the human person.

If you want to think more or know more about all this, scroll down the page, explore the menu, subscribe to Second Spring, read the articles stored on this web-site, join our online discussion pages, or attend the courses we will be offering through our new venture, ResSource. We promise plenty of excitement, without a single murderous monk in sight!

Practical Art 12 May, 2006

As reported last month, the new company Ressource has been set up, to expand our educational work. It will develop hand in glove with the journal Second Spring, where the ideas inspiring and shaping our endeavours will be developed, explored, and presented. Apart from the Shakespeare Summer School at St Benet’s, one of the first ventures of the new business is a series of practical art classes in Oxford, teaching both Western naturalistic techniques of drawing and painting, and Eastern Iconography. Later we will add further classes in pattern art and sacred geometry. You will find all this described in detail under Ressource School of Art, and a couple of articles by David Clayton provide valuable background reading. They are available online in our Articles section, including an important new one called ‘Art of the Spheres‘. The art school is linked to the Maryvale Institute’s course, ‘Art, Beauty, and Inspiration‘.

Art, of course, is only part of what Ressource is about, but it is a good place to begin, because of the immediate interest it evokes. The Pontifical Council for Culture recently dedicated its Plenary Assembly in Rome to the ‘Way of Beauty’. As Pope Benedict has said, ‘Being struck and overcome by the beauty of Christ is a more real, more profound knowledge than mere rational deduction. Of course we must not underrate the importance of theological reflection, of exact and precise theological thought; it remains absolutely necessary. But to move from here to disdain or to reject the impact produced by the response of the heart in the encounter with beauty as a true form of knowledge would impoverish us and dry up our faith and our theology. We must rediscover this form of knowledge; it is a pressing need of our time.’ (This is taken from the article, ‘The Feeling of Things, The Contemplation of Beauty‘, also on our web site).

Ressource 12 April, 2006

This month sees a major expansion of our activities. Not only is Second Spring (the print journal) being relaunched with our long-delayed seventh issue, but we are starting a company (ResSource) to develop further educational initiatives over the coming years, including a new art school in Oxford. Cardinal Cahal B. Daly wrote one of the warmly appreciative letters we have received in the last few days. “I wrote to you earlier to express my admiration of an early number of the journal and my sense of the great good which it has the potential to do. My admiration for the journal has not lessened, nor has the quality of its content. I think that the time is now ripe for a journal of faith and culture such as yours and I wish it God’s blessing and every success.” We invite you to comment on the new issue either by letter or in the online community pages, where articles can be discussed at length, and ideas for future issues proposed.

ResSource is directed by David Clayton, Stratford Caldecott, and Léonie Caldecott. Over the next few years we hope to offer a range of educational courses, summer schools, conferences and cultural pilgrimages in different parts of Europe, including England, Spain, Italy and France – beginning with the Shakespeare summer school at St Benet’s Hall in Oxford this summer. David Clayton’s particular project is the creation of a new kind of art school, the inspiration for which was described in his article, The Way of Beauty, in issue Four of Second Spring. Practical classes in Oxford will teach techniques of painting and drawing that have been shamefully neglected by many contemporary art schools, and ways of seeing and contemplating that are essential both to naturalistic art and to Iconography. David has trained in sight-size drawing in Florence and will be teaching this technique, while distinguished iconographers in the Byzantine and Russian tradition will be offering tuition in their own style. There will also be lectures, seminars, and excursions designed to help more people understand the spiritual and cultural importance of the visual arts in the history of Europe – and the relationship of beauty to goodness and truth.

This will not happen all at once, but over the next year or two. As we grow, we will be looking for potential students, as well as organizations and colleges that may want to join our growing association and help to shape the courses that will be offered. If any of this interests you, please don’t hesitate to write to us. We remain in close contact, also, with the G.K. Chesterton Institute, and still hope to find a permanent home for the Chesterton Library after the end of our current lease in 2008.

A new book by Stratford Caldecott is published shortly by Crossroad and distributed by Alban Books in the UK. Called The Seven Sacraments: Entering the Mysteries of God (details are on the website) it is the first of a projected three books that attempt to open up the Catholic tradition in a fresh way, reaching out beyond the existing Catholic community to people whose interest is primarily in spirituality and mysticism, and who may be coming to the Christian tradition from completely outside it. The last chapter contains a proposal for the development of new approaches to catechesis, reviving the ancient practices of mystagogy. (That is the goal, too, of a new series being offered by CTS called Deeper Christianity.)

The play’s the thing… 12 March, 2006

After mighty struggles, the seventh issue of our journal, Second Spring, is finally printed and available, approximately a year late. We apologise for the delay, necessitating the transfer of the journal back to the UK from Canada, and applaud your patience. As you will see from the image elsewhere on this site, our new cover (‘Depend on Heaven‘) features a rather elegant Elizabethan gentleman holding a hand that descends from a cloud. The chap is sometimes supposed to be William Shakespeare, and he is on the cover to advertise our summer school, which this year takes place at St Benet’s Hall, the Benedictine college of Oxford University. Its title, ‘Shakespeare’s Secret: The Catholic Imagination in Elizabethan England‘, is not meant to imply that England’s greatest poet was a practising Roman Catholic, since that is clearly not the case. But the best scholarship suggests that he was Catholic by instinct and sympathy, and to some extent by upbringing. His imagination – and that of many of his contemporaries – was a Catholic imagination, but the formal affiliation with Rome was naturally suppressed in the course of the English Reformation begun under Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII. The dramatic thesis of Clare Asquith’s recent book, Shadowplay, is that like many another writer living in a police state, Shakespeare communicated his true feelings by means of a literary code that adds another whole layer of meaning to the text.

We are excited to have persuaded Clare Asquith to teach this new method of reading Shakespeare for the first time on our summer course. Together with the other lectures and events we have planned, the summer school will provide a unique educational adventure for anyone interested in the culture and religion of Elizabethan England. We have even booked a trip to Stratford to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Tempest, with Patrick Stewart (better known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard) as the wizard Prospero. Places on this course will be highly sought after, so we advise you to write soon for further information and if possible make a provisional booking.

Second Spring 7 contains an article on Shakespeare but others on the enigmatic sculptor Brancusi (by Aidan Hart), the equally enigmatic theologian Bernard Lonergan (Tim Russ), the theology of the body and its implications for the way we view technology (Adrian Walker), the rights and wrongs of genetic modification, C.S. Lewis on human divinization, and much more, including a contribution from the well-known columnist James Schall. Just to clarify: the articles in the print journal are mostly NOT available online from this site or any other: if you want to read them you will need to subscribe, or buy issue by issue. Credit card payments for Second Spring can now be made easily through CTS.

It is worth mentioning that the proceedings of the ‘Landscapes with Angels’ conference on fantasy literature (2004) have also now been edited and produced as a beautiful special issue of The Chesterton Review. This can be ordered through the Institute web site.

Deus Caritas Est 12 February, 2006

How extraordinary it is to have a Pope whose first encyclical is on Love, and which he introduces in a recent address in the following words: ‘The cosmic excursion in which Dante wants to involve the reader in his Divine Comedy ends in front of the everlasting Light that is God himself, that Light which is at the same time the Love “which moves the sun and the other stars”. Light and love are but one thing. They are the primordial creative power that moves the universe.’ (A translation of the encyclical is available on the Vatican website and John Milbank’s commentary on it is available here.)

He goes on to say that while the pagan philosopher Aristotle also saw this fact about Love, Dante as a Christian was able to go beyond this. He knew that ‘God, infinite Light, whose incommensurable mystery had been intuited by the Greek philosopher, this God has a human face and – we can add – a human heart.’ Only God himself could reveal this to us: ‘God’s “eros” is not only a primordial cosmic force, it is the love that has created man and that bends before him, as the Good Samaritan bent before the wounded man, a victim of thieves, who was lying on the side of the road that went from Jerusalem to Jericho.’

He adds: ‘Today the word “love” is so tarnished, so spoiled and so abused, that one is almost afraid to pronounce it with one’s lips. And yet it is a primordial word, expression of the primordial reality; we cannot simply abandon it, we must take it up again, purify it and give back to it its original splendour so that it might illuminate our life and lead it on the right path. This awareness led me to choose love as the theme of my first encyclical. I wished to express to our time and to our existence something of what Dante audaciously recapitulated in his vision. He speaks of his “sight” that “was enriched” when looking at it, changing him interiorly. It is precisely this: that faith might become a vision-comprehension that transforms us.’

Thus he says, ‘Faith is not a theory that one can take up or lay aside… In an age in which hostility and greed have become superpowers, an age in which we witness the abuse of religion culminating in hatred, neutral rationality on its own is unable to protect us. We are in need of the living God who has loved us unto death.’

In this way, the Pope seeks to give new depth to the notion that Love is at the centre of Christian existence, as expressed both in the love that finds expression in marriage, and in the charitable works that we must engage in. By emphasizing ‘love for the other that no longer seeks itself but that becomes concern for the other, willingness to sacrifice oneself and openness to the gift of a new human life’ the Pope has (among other things) reaffirmed and strengthened the Theology of the Body developed by his predecessor, which we will learn more about on our Study Day on 20 May.

Here is a link to the new Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Epiphany 12 January, 2006

We wish our readers a happy new year. This will be an eventful time for us, as we re-launch our journal Second Spring and plan an expanding series of activities – the first of which were announced in the December newsletter below and, of course, in our EVENTS section. (You might make a new year resolution to visit our site each month and see what is new.) The Pope has indicated his concern that Catholics should develop the dialogue between reason and faith with an open-mindedness inspired by the Second Vatican Council. A recent address by Pope Benedict on this topic can be found in our Articles section. In this light of this concern, we have begun to revise and improve the Christianity Q & A section (formerly called ‘Questions Questions’), where readers can search for a deeper understanding of the faith. Dialogue with other religions is also important both to the Pope and to ourselves, and the Other Religions section of our site offers a wealth of material on this subject. If you want to discuss anything you find on the Second Spring site, one way of doing so is by joining our online community. You can reach all these links from the main menu on the left. We hope to hear from you soon!