Anthony Esolen: Mater Decoris | The Catholic Thing

Parents’ Joy by Kirill Vikentievich Lemokh (a.k.a. Carl Johann Lemoch), c. 1890 [Kaluga Art Museum, Kaluga, Russia]
Anthony Esolen: The Church has been the mother of beauty. Is that one more reason why she is so hated in our time?

Source: Mater Decoris | The Catholic Thing

“Shift your attention from the morally upright to the beautiful. Is it beautiful for a woman to rejoice over having murdered her children? Is it beautiful for someone to mutilate her body, to attempt a bad impersonation of a man, and to fail? Is it beautiful for a child to be born in an alley full of garbage, broken glass, and rats, when there was no need for that at all – to be born, I mean, in a chaos outside of wedlock and the home? Is it beautiful to foul the innocence of that child, as we do regularly in our schools? Is confusion beautiful?”

Another offering from the wisdom of the inestimable Professor Anthony Esolen, in which he gives us another way to look at the issues of our time – and a reminder of the close, indeed interconnected, relationship between the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

An excellent essay, from an admirably thoughtful, passionate, and erudite thinker. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest!

 

Anthony Esolen: Poetic Traditional Hymns Put Alternatives to Shame | Crisis Magazine (with comments)

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I have taken one small liberty, in substituting a more specifically Anglican image!

“Come on, priests, musicians, and singers. Learn some poetry. Open the old hymnals and read. You need not feed on slop all your life long when you might enjoy real meat and potatoes and vegetables. And sometimes—more often than you suspect—you might feast like kings.”

Source: Poetic Traditional Hymns Put Alternatives to Shame | Crisis Magazine

A typically excellent treatment of the subject, by the inimitable Professor Anthony Esolen.

“Not every carpenter in 1800 could make tables fit for Windsor Castle. But he made what would stand the test of time, because it required great skill and practice to make any kind of table at all. The sifting would already have occurred when the man was a boy, learning the feel of wood and tool.

“So, too, with the old hymns. A person would have needed certain skills not only to write a good poem in meter and rhyme, but to write any such poem, and he would have been accustomed to writing such poetry from his youth. Poetry was a big part of the ordinary person’s life. For some people it was only the poetry in folk songs and hymns, but for literate people—and I am not talking about college graduates—it was far more…

“Modernism is nearly synonymous with disruption from and dismissal of the past. The modernist says the clock’s hands have turned, that there’s no going back, and we must look to the future. Its results have been meager, and at worst a spree of destruction. I am not speaking merely of quality. Whole genres of poetry, to name one branch of art, have disappeared.

“This is not to say that modernist poets write poor dramatic monologues, poor epics, poor songs, and poor narratives; they do not write them at all. Poetry has shrunk to the confessional or political lyric, usually in free verse. Never in human history has poetry meant less to the ordinary man. It is a tree torn up by the roots.”

Click through and read on for more! It’s well worth it.

Of course, having identified and described the problem, the next issue is figuring out what to do about it. Professor Esolen’s recommendation – “Learn some poetry. Open the old hymnals and read” – is an excellent place to start! But how to get people to actually do that is a bit more of a conundrum.

As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” And you can lead a writer of “worship songs” to classic hymnody, but you can’t make him appreciate it, still less internalize its lessons, in such a way as to enable him to write in the same tradition… or at least, it doesn’t seem so.

It also helps to come from a faith tradition that actually is a faith tradition. Far too much of what passes for Christianity today is in point of fact what Patheos blogger Jonathan Aigner refers to as “jesusy” worship “experiences.” (He also refers to a lot of it as “masturbatory worship,” calling it a “self-worshiping, self-referential, nearly auto-erotic pursuit.” I don’t think he’s far wrong, but I’m trying to be nice.)

For a church – or a would-be hymn-writer – to have an authentic faith tradition, they have to be part of an authentic faith tradition: and for that, you need something like the Anglican tradition. Or the Lutheran, or Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or (God help us… after all, I am an Anglican!) Presbyterian / Reformed traditions: traditions that have developed over the centuries, even the millennia, of the Christian era.

You won’t find it in the “community church” model, which almost seems to take pride in not being part of any tradition, which seems to practically glory in being cut off from the past (which, of course, is what inevitably happens when you hitch your wagon to the “contemporary” star).

There are a few such churches that seem to be trying to graft themselves back onto the Great Tradition, and I wish them all the best! But they are still relatively few and far between, and they’ve got their work cut out for them.

And of course, far too many of those who are members of churches that have historically been part of the Great Tradition have, for the last four or five decades (or more), been doing their best to cast off those connections. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these have nearly all seen a steep decline in membership.

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But I digress. The point – for the purposes of this post – is that to write hymns that have both theological and poetical depth, one must be steeped in both the poetical tradition and in an authentic, historical faith tradition.

It is said that the old Celtic Bards had to study for 21 years to become masters of their craft and trade. They had to learn not only the musical arts, but history, folklore, genealogy, myths and legends, and much more. Even law codes! Then and only then were they seen to be ready to ply the bardic arts.

Yet now, it seems, everyone who can string together a few lines of doggerel thinks they can write “worship songs” or “praise music.” Maybe we need a more Bardic approach to Christian hymnody! We had something like it once, though we may not have called it by that name: Tony Esolen explicates it, and the fertile soil in which it grew.

I pray we can get it back.

 

QOTD: Progressives, sin, and soul-bleach

“The nineteenth-century progressives who founded socialistic communities to bring about a paradise here on earth took for granted that sin could be bleached out of the human soul as easily as you can smile and utter words of beneficence. The results were not good.”

— Anthony Esolen, Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World (2018).

 

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https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38926312-nostalgia

Tony Esolen on sexual hedonism

“The sexual equivalent to the rejection of culture is a crass and mechanistic hedonism, seeking the pleasure of the day for its own sake… So one body preys upon another, and the last thing in the mind of either “partner” – note the business term – is that what they are doing should partake of time long past and time to come. The man is planting seed that contains within itself unnumbered generations, and the woman bears the egg, the haven for that seed, to be penetrated by it and fertilized, so that what begins from that moment is a new human life, a new instantiation of the divine image, a new dweller in time, oriented to eternity. That is in fact what is happening, but the hedonist denies it. He says that the child-making thing is not for making children.”

— Dr. Anthony Esolen, professor of English Renaissance and classical literature at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, in Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World

50 Years of Effete and Infertile Liturgical Culture Is Enough – Crisis Magazine

“There is only one thing to do: for the future of the Church, we must build again, drawing on those cultural accomplishments that are timeless, in the service of Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, in saecula saeculorum.”

— Dr. Anthony Esolen

Source: 50 Years of Effete and Infertile Liturgical Culture Is Enough – Crisis Magazine

From the incomparable Anthony Esolen​:

“I am struck by the strange inability of the council fathers to do the very thing they were urging the Church to do, which was to take stock of the times. Again and again, they instruct bishops and priests to adapt the life of the Church, including her places and manner of worship, to the times and to the characters of the various peoples of the world.

“What they missed, and what was right in front of them to be noticed, was that modernism as an ideology, with mass entertainment and mass education as its main engines, was obliterating cultures everywhere. Romano Guardini had written of this loss in The End of the Modern World.

“It was therefore the task of the Church not to be enculturated in a vacuum, which would be akin to emptying herself of her peculiar character, but to be herself and thereby to form culture, i.e., to bring culture once again to people who were rapidly losing their hold on all cultural memory.”

He is speaking of the Roman Catholic fathers of the Second Vatican Council, but his words apply equally to most “mainstream” churches in this day, including mainstream Anglican ones. He continues,

“This did not happen. It would have required profound meditation upon the meaning of culture, by churchmen steeped in the learning of three thousand years of Jewish and Christian arts and letters, and of the Greco-Roman matrix wherein the Church, by the providence of God, was brought to birth. However, schools and universities were abandoning that learning by throwing it overboard as ballast.”

I have commented more than once, in more fora than one, on our collective tendency to throw out the baby with the bathwater! So it is good to hear a scholar with the eminence of Dr. Esolen confirming my intuition. Here he is again:

“I am aware that the Church has often had to prune back an excessive exuberance in the arts, so that the visible would not overmaster the invisible… [however,] we now have the worst of both worlds.”

In other words, mainstream contemporary churches have given up “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome” – by which I mean both culturally, as representing the core of Western civilization and, if by Greece is understood Eastern and by Rome Western Catholic Christianity, theologically and spiritually – for a doctrinally and aesthetically diluted and diminished form of Christianity which fails to uphold “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), and which embraces vapid kitsch in what passes for liturgical art, music, and architecture.

In traditional Anglicanism, there is another challenge to be met: on the one hand a too-eager, overly enthusiastic embrace of Anglo-Catholicism to the point of seeking to become Rome without the Pope; and on the other, an Anglo-Calvinistic insistence on “Anglicanism as established,” which can almost make an idol of liturgical starkness and simplicity, and which theologically and spiritually threatens to thrust the Anglican tradition into Protestant sectarianism, rather than its true identity as a distinctive expression of the Church Catholic.

It is not as easy as one might suppose to maintain a healthy and fruitful “via media” (middle way) between extremes, “not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth,” in the words of a Collect for the commemoration of the gifted Anglican divine and champion of that via media, Richard Hooker! Yet it is a task worth undertaking even if we often fall short of its accomplishment. As the great conservationist Aldo Leopold put it, “In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.”

The alternative is more of the same, the period and ethos which since Vatican II has transformed (and often not for the better) not only the Roman Catholic Church, but most of the Churches of the West; a period in which, as Dr. Esolen expresses it,

“we have endured fifty years of lousy church buildings, lousy music, lousy art, banal language, lousy schooling, dead and dying religious orders, and an unfaithful faithful whose imaginations are formed more by Hollywood than by the Holy One. We have been stuck in cultural and ecclesial neutral, i.e., rolling backward and downhill… neuter, effete and infertile.”

It is ironic indeed that a movement which was intended to make the Church more “relevant” to contemporary people and culture has had precisely the opposite effect: the more it attempts to ape popular culture, the less relevant it becomes.

For the relevance of the Church has always been in its critique of popular culture, pointing toward things which are higher, timeless and eternal: and ultimately, of course, to God the Three in One, Who is their Source – the perfection of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, of which our attempts at the same are always but pale reflections. Yet that does not mean we shouldn’t strive toward the higher things, quite the contrary:

“There is only one thing to do: for the future of the Church, we must build again, drawing on those cultural accomplishments that are timeless, in the service of Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, in saecula saeculorum [unto ages of ages].

The Faithlessness of Public Education | Crisis Magazine

“Our nation is mired in a chronic civil war, because the great concern that might unite us, a knowledge that we are all proceeding to the grave and to judgment before a just God, has been smothered, and there is nothing left for us but to scramble for the perks of the world and hate those who are more successful at it than we are.”

Source: The Faithlessness of Public Education – Crisis Magazine

The inestimable Professor Anthony Esolen recounts the dismaying degree to which public education has become not merely unconcerned with religious faith in general and Christianity in particular, but actively hostile toward it. The first is the perhaps inevitable result of a society, and an education system, which is secular, multicultural, and democratic. Separation of Church, and State, and all that. The second is the point toward which that trajectory seems, sadly, to inevitably lead…

“I am not saying that the teachers are all wicked, or that hatred is uppermost in anyone’s mind all the time, though the word ‘hate’ has become astonishingly common. I am saying that it is in the air, inescapable: hatred of the west for its sins, hatred of the west for its virtues, hatred of men, hatred of women who did not hate men as they ought to have been hated, hatred of religious people for taking their religion seriously, hatred of people who do not hate whom they ought to hate and who therefore vote the wrong way, hatred of the past for not being the present, hatred of the present for not being the future, hatred of all the imperfections of this world for being what they are, and, in the darkest souls, hatred of God, for being who he is.”

“Wisdom of the Ages” – Anthony Esolen

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Here is a quick and generally reliable rule to follow. If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

~ Anthony Esolen, noted Dante scholar, professor of literature and Western civilization (currently at Thomas More College), and author of many books, including Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization.