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Being Modern: Apostasy or sacred obligation?

 

In this article we discuss four pictures, two works of art from the fifteenth century, and two others from our times.

The two paintings - "The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary" and "Saint Dominic in Prayer" - are the work of the famous fifteenth century artist Giovanni da Fiesole, better known as Fra Angelico. The work in metal, also representing the Annunciation, was done in our times by the artist H. Breucker. The sculpture was done by A. Wider, another contemporary artist, who has attempted to portray Saint Benedict, patriarch of Western monasticism.

Fra Angelico's "The Annunciation"

Such striking (if not shocking) differences in the rendition of the same and similar subjects, i.e., the Virgin Mary and saints of the Catholic Church, demand some commentaries.

The famous scene of the apparition of the Archangel Saint Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin constituted a moment of grace for mankind. Heaven, which the guilt of Adam had closed, opened and a spirit of light and purity came down in angelic form, bearing a message of reconciliation and peace. This message was addressed to the most beautiful, most noble, most innocent, and most benevolent creature ever to be born of the race of Adam. The Gospels recount the elevated and ineffable simplicity of the dialogue between the two.

The artist's task, challenged by such a theme, consists in expressing the moral values of that incomparable event in his rendition of the faces, attitudes, gestures, and setting as well as in his choice of colors and shapes.

Since this is printed in color, our readers can gauge Giovanni da Fiesole's success in this objective. The nobility befitting the angelic nature, his light and totally spiritual fortitude, his intelligence and purity - all are admirably mirrored in this figure so highly expressive of Saint Gabriel.

The Blessed Virgin is less ethereal, less light. One could almost say less intangible. This effect is reasonable since she is a human creature. Nevertheless, something angelic is perceived in the whole composure of the Queen of Angels. Her facial features surpass those of the heavenly emissary himself in spirituality, nobility and innocence.

Something else is to be noted here; the attitude of one toward the other: By nature, the angel is superior to Our Lady. The Virgin, however, is superior to the angel by her sanctity and by her incomparable vocation as Mother of God. This accounts for the elevated dignity found in the rendition of both the Virgin and the angel and the reciprocal veneration with which they address each other.

There is, yet, a more profound reason for this attitude. Although unseen. God still manifests His Presence by a supernatural light that seems to radiate from both personages-a light that washes over all of nature with a splendor of pure, peaceful, and virginal happiness. One almost feels the most pleasant temperature, the very light and fragrant breeze, the joy that permeates the whole atmosphere.

How could a moment of grace be better painted? With a profound sense of the whole, Fra Angelico knew how to create the lines and colors needed to express all the theological and moral content of this Gospel episode famous a thousand times over. Indeed, his picture is more than just a painted scene. It is comparable to a sermon because it forms, elevates, and stimulates one who contemplates it toward the good.

Breucker's modern "Annunciation"

A garish opposite is Breucker's modern "Annunciation." If a feeble minded person or someone delirious with a high fever were to ramble about the Annunciation, he might have conceived something like this. See how extremely extravagant the work is. It lacks the most elementary values and is devoid of any expression that would denote not only that which is elevated and supernatural but anything balanced or healthy as well. In short, everything works together to make this modern work a brutal and shocking antithesis of the picture from the fifteenth century. One is a marvel of spirituality and faith; the other, a product of a mentality that only knows how to see what is material-a psychology closed to the supernatural, a temperament that finds pleasure solely in horizons without beauty, nobility or anything which provides light, oxygen, life, and hope of eternity for the soul.

In his allocution on May 24, 1953, the Holy Father Pius XII defined the so-called modern spirit as "materialistic thought transposed into actions." In like manner, the example of art

depicted here can be classified as materialistic thought transposed into art.

Fra Angelico's image of Saint DominicNow, look at the picture of Saint Dominic. Elements of the spiritual shine admirably forth in it. It is more a portrait of the soul than of the body. The effort of thought, the exertion required for reading, the serene but strong strain of intellectual work, a countenance befitting one who understands and takes pleasure in understanding all, ultimately, are expressed here with unequaled discretion, intensity and veracity.

And still other aspects of the soul appear: the liveliness and exuberance of a young man, the equilibrium, innocence, piety, and temperance of a perfect religious.

In comparison to this second masterpiece from the fifteenth century, consider the statue from the twentieth century. Certainly there are considerable factors bearing on such a comparison: a) the materials of a painting and those of a sculpture are not the same; b) the talents and temperaments of the artists are alsoWider's statue of Saint Benedict different; c) finally, the spirit of the two subjects. Saint Dominic and Saint Benedict also differ.

Is there a shock, a violent contrast? By no means. Does Wider's sculpture merit the censures that we made of the work by Breucker? No. On the contrary, Wider's statue expresses-with much propriety, precision and strength-the idea that one may have of the patriarch of Western monasticism, who was a model of gravity, austerity, manly tranquility, profound recollection and great wisdom.

No one can deny that this sculpture corresponds satisfactorily to the requirements of an authentic artwork marked by orthodox and well-balanced piety.

Are we against the modern? By this word one understands that which not only pertains to but is typical of our times but rather something a) inherent to it b) different from the past, and c) distinct from the future.

More and more - not only in the field of art but in other areas as well - clever, pertinacious, and all encompassing propaganda is introducing a certain spirit of materialism, sensuality, and delirious extravagance. The style animated by this spirit masterminds the construction and reconstruction of entire cities; it marks the external design and interior decoration of the majority of new buildings of great, medium, or even small importance, in all parts of the world. It exhibits its works in universal art expositions, and so on.

The man in the street instinctively reacts against it ... but only slightly. Thus, this spirit already is - or is on the way to becoming-the style of our twentieth century, which distinguishes it from the past, and God willing, from the days to come.

If it is this and only this that one calls modern, if to be modern is to accept the mark or stigma of materialism-not only of radical materialism but also of "moderate" materialism with all its hues and misrepresentations-then it is undeniable that we are anti-modern because we are Catholic.

However, if one takes into account that alongside this offensive current of our century there are still artists animated by another spirit, and if one means by modern that everything contemporary is modern-whatever be its inspiration, then we cannot be anti-modern because we are not idiots. There is no other name for anyone who, in the ocean of cultural productions of the twentieth century, would judge everything preconceivedly and indiscriminately bad-both the works engendered by the children of light and the works influenced by the neopagan spirit, that is, the spirit of darkness.

Considering these two definitions of modern, which is the more true? It is a problem of semantics. However, one thing is certain: if the materialistic style should not be called "modern," then another name should be devised for it, which has not happened yet. And this name ought to take into account that the modern torrent contains not only the materialistic ingredients we are talking about, but also gnostic and satanic elements (which are the subject matter for another article).

To give a name to this current is an interesting assignment on which we invite our readers to test their wits. However, naming this phenomenon is not the most urgent thing. The twentieth-century man in the street still does not accept the "modern" in the depths of his soul. Let us preserve him from this disgrace. Let us be "modern" in the sense that we behave in accordance with the problems and dangers of our century.

This is what we are trying to do in these articles, amidst the clamor of much applause and to the muffled and furious snarls of hatred of some-certain though, whatever the case, of fulfilling a sacred obligation.

 


  

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for May 18, 2021

Our Lord loves you and loves you tenderly; and if He does no...

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May 18

 

Our Lord loves you
and loves you tenderly; and
if He does not let you feel the sweetness of His love,
it is to make you more humble and abject in your own eyes.

St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Eric IX of Sweden

The king’s zeal for the faith was far from pleasing to his...

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St. Eric IX of Sweden

Eric the Holy or Erik the Saint was acknowledged king in most provinces of Sweden in 1150, and his family line subsisted for a hundred years. He did much to establish Christianity in Upper Sweden and built or completed at Old Uppsala the first large church to be erected in the country. It is said that all the ancient laws and constitutions of the kingdom were, by his orders, collected into one volume, which came to be known as King Eric’s Law or The Code of Uppland.

The king soon had to take up arms against the heathen Finns. He vanquished them in battle, and at his desire, St. Henry, Bishop of Uppsala, who had accompanied him on the expedition, remained in Finland to evangelize the people.

The king’s zeal for the Catholic Faith was far from pleasing to his nobles, and we are told that they entered into a conspiracy against him with Magnus, the son of the king of Denmark. King Eric was hearing Mass on the day after the feast of the Ascension when news was brought that a Danish army, swollen with Swedish rebels, was marching against him and was close at hand. With unwavering calm he answered, “Let us at least finish the sacrifice; the rest of the feast I shall keep elsewhere”. After Mass was over, he recommended his soul to God, and marched forth in advance of his guards. The conspirators rushed upon him, beat him down from his horse, and beheaded him. His death occurred on May 18 in 1161.

The relics of St. Eric IX of Sweden are preserved in the Cathedral of Uppsala, and the saintly king's effigy appears on the coat of arms of the city of Stockholm.

Pope St. John I

The king had the pontiff arrested at Ravenna and thrown into...

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Pope St. John I

St. John I was a native of Siena in Tuscany and was one of the seven deacons of Rome when he was elected to the papacy at the death of Pope Hormisdas in the year 523.

At the time, Theodoric the Great ruled over the Ostrogoths in Italy and Justin I was the Byzantine Emperor of Constantinople. King Theodoric supported the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ.

Justin I, the first Catholic on the throne of Constantinople in fifty years, published a severe edict against the Arians, requiring them to return to orthodox Catholics the churches they had taken from them. The said edict caused a commotion among eastern Arians, and spurred Theodoric to threaten war.

Ultimately, he opted for a diplomatic solution and named Pope John, much against his wishes, to head a delegation of five bishops and four senators to Justin.

Pope John, refused to comply with Theodoric’s wishes to influence Justin to reverse his policies. The only thing he did obtain from Justin was for him to mitigate his treatment of Arians, thus avoiding reprisals against Catholics in Italy.

After the delegation returned, Theodoric, disappointed with the result of the mission, and growing daily more suspicious at reports of the friendly relations between the Pope and Justin I, had the pontiff arrested at Ravenna.

Pope John I died in prison a short time later as a result of ill treatment.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

As the century began anew, so did Catherine’s life. Cathe...

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The Rosary & True Beauty

As the century began anew, so did Catherine’s life.

Catherine was a young woman possessing great beauty. So much so, that she was known to those in Rome where she made her home as “Catherine the Beautiful.” Sadly, Catherine’s beauty went only skin deep, and she led a very sinful life.

One afternoon, strolling the streets of Rome, Catherine heard the voice of St. Dominic. This was the early 13th century and it was not unusual to cross paths with this great man of God.

On this particular day, he was preaching on the devotion to the Mother of God and the importance of praying her most holy Rosary. Caught up in the moment, Catherine had her name inscribed in the book of the confraternity and began to recite the Rosary. Though praying the Rosary gave her a sense of calmness she had not known before, Catherine did not abandon her sinful ways.

One evening, a youth, apparently a nobleman, came to her house. Catherine invited the handsome young man to stay to dine with her. When they were at supper, she saw drops of blood falling from his hands while he was breaking a piece of bread. Moments later, she observed, much to her discomfort, that all the food he took was tinged with blood.

Gathering up some courage to appease her curiosity, she asked him what that blood meant. With a firm but gentle look in his eyes, the youth replied that a Christian should take no food that was not tinged with the blood of Jesus Christ and sweetly seasoned with the memory of His passion.

Amazed at this reply, Catherine asked him who he was. "Soon," he answered, "I will show you." The rest of their meal passed uneventfully, yet always the drops of red catching Catherine’s eye, causing her to wonder about this man she supped with.

After dinner, when they had withdrawn into another room, the appearance of the youth changed. To Catherine’s stunned gaze, he showed himself crowned with thorns, his flesh torn and bleeding.

With the same firm but gentle gaze he said to her: “Do you wish to know who I am? Do you not know me? I am your Redeemer. Catherine, when will you cease to offend me? See how much I have suffered for you. You have grieved me enough, change your life."

Catherine began to weep bitterly, and Jesus, encouraging her, said: "Now begin to love me as much as you have offended me; and know that you have received this grace from me, on account of the Rosary you have been accustomed to recite in honor of my mother." And then he disappeared.

Catherine went in the morning to make her confession to St. Dominic, whose preaching on the Rosary had brought so marvelous a grace into her life. Giving to the poor all she possessed, from that day forward Catherine led so holy and joyful a life that she attained to great perfection.

It could now be said of her among the inhabitants of Rome that Catherine was indeed beautiful, but her beauty was no longer skin deep; her loveliness radiated from the depths of her soul.

The Most Holy Virgin often appeared to her; and Jesus himself revealed to St. Dominic, that this penitent had become very dear to him.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

As the century began anew, so did Catherine’s life. Catherine was a young woman possessing great beauty.

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