Some historians of philosophy argue that in the common enterprise of thought, pragmatism is the United States’ only significant contribution. When it comes to philosophic novelties, improvements, and developments, it appears that American culture is fit to produce only the most uninspiring of legacies: “When you do something, take into account what works.” The effect of this realization is something like that produced by slaving through hours of Myers Brigg indicator tests only to discover that you are what the profiles classify as “Eminently Efficient” or “Supremely Serviceable”—perhaps a good adjective to appear in the fourth paragraph of a litany of accolades but as the first and only it leaves one feeling somewhat culturally sterile.
Day of wrath and doom impending,
David’s word with Sibyl’s blending,
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!
These dramatic lines introduce one of western culture’s most memorable pieces of music—the Dies Irae. Originally a poetic sequence for use in the funeral liturgy, the text has been adopted for original works by Mozart, Verdi, Dvořák, and others. Centuries of creative expression have flowered from this simple chant piece!
Why are Catholic movies so bad? Historically the Church has been patron to some of mankind’s greatest artists; from the Sistine Chapel to medieval mystery plays, Catholicism has been a wellspring for the arts, both elite and popular. So why is it that “good Christian movie” is almost a contradiction in terms?
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?. . .
So sang the Dockhead Choir in a beautiful performance of England’s unofficial national anthem Jerusalem to open the 2012 Olympic Games.
Listening to the National Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of The Sea—to use an odd but apt comparison—is like hearing an Impressionist painting. Composer Frank Bridge surveys in sound the motion, the interplay of light and darkness, and the rich colors of the ocean in a way reminiscent of a landscape by Monet, Renoir, or even Cézanne. The varying timbre of each of the suite’s four movements evokes a different aspect of the sea’s mighty character. Admittedly, Bridge is one of the lesser-known English composers, but The Sea is proof enough that he is worthy to be numbered among his more famous contemporaries, such as Ralph Vaughn Williams, Edward Elgar, and Gustav Holst.
In Lent 2011, the Dominican student brothers gave a series of conferences, viewing the Cross from a number of different angles.
In the video below, Br. Gabriel Torretta, O.P., explores some key theological themes and developments in representations of the Crucifixion in the history of Western art in his talk, “Painting, Crucified.”
Find the schedule and locations of student-brother conferences for Lent 2012 here.
In Art and Scholasticism, Jacques Maritain argues that there is a certain unity of purpose in all artistic production, despite differences of time, place, and culture. He holds that this unity is discernable in the purest forms of each artistic genre, where the highest intentions and aspirations of both the artist and his societal context find expression. Ultimately, Maritain argues, these intentions and aspirations point toward and are consummated in the person of Christ: “Every spiritual radiance (found in the fine arts) is a promise and a symbol of the divine harmonies of the Gospel.”
There is a sense in which Maritain is correct.
“The good man is the measure of things to be done.” This principle—that the life and character of a truly virtuous man provide us with the best standard for deciding how to act—is at the heart of Aristotle’s approach to the moral life. It’s also at the heart of common sense, because we all know that morals isn’t math. We all know that ethics concerns what is irreducibly human and, therefore, inherently unquantifiable. Or most of us do.
Those of us who are in our first year of simple vows here at the Dominican House of Studies have just been assigned to new ministries in the Washington, D.C. area. These ministries vary widely. Some brothers run a parish youth group; others work with the Missionaries of Charity; still others visit the elderly at nursing and assisted care facilities. Most of our assignments require a certain amount of travel, but one of them—that of tour guide at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception—is just across the street.
Board-breaking, nunchuck-twirling, high-flying-acrobatic-drop-kicking—the martial arts are a dazzling spectacle. No wonder why my Dominican brothers want me to come out of my (ten-year) “retirement” from Tae Kwon Do. If people like to see kids, turtles, pandas, and men with red beards do karate, they will definitely be fascinated to see a fighting friar. I can see the title of my next movie: “Kung Fu Friar and the Quest for the Golden Rosary”—a box-office hit.
But martial arts are more than just a way of entertaining the crowds. They are more than just physical training for self-defense. The most important thing that I learned from my years of training in Tae Kwon Do as a kid was the moral formation. My master would drill us on the “Ten Commandments of Tae Kwon Do.” Here is what we had to recite at the beginning of every class:
Be loyal to your country.
Be a good son or daughter to your parents.
Be faithful to your spouse.
Be on good terms with your brothers and sisters.
Be loyal to your friends.
Be respectful to your elders.
Respect and trust your teachers.
Use good judgment before killing any living thing.
Never retreat in battle.
Always finish what you start.
I am forever grateful for the self-discipline that I learned from Tae Kwon Do. I am thankful because drilling these rules into my head helped me to stay out of trouble. I became a better man to my family and to everyone else around me, thanks to Tae Kwon Do. But I found something lacking every time I recited the “Ten Commandments of Tae Kwon Do.” My body was trained from all the physical exercise, my mind was trained from all the daily meditations, and even my conscience and decision-making were formed from the moral teaching of martial arts. But my heart was lacking formation. Tae Kwon Do taught me obedience, but this obedience was lacking in love. I obeyed my parents, but that did not necessarily mean that I loved them.
I realized then that only God can form the heart. Only through God can all our actions be ordered, and ordered in love.
Here are the Ten Commandments from Divine Revelation:
I am the LORD, your God: you shall not have strange gods before me.
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
Remember to keep holy the LORD’s Day.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
The Ten Commandments are not a list of rules imposed on us against our freedom. They are instructions on how we should love. When the rich young man asked Jesus what good he must do to gain eternal life, the Master instructed him that he should keep the commandments of the Lord. These commandments are to be followed because these commandments come from God, the “One who is good” (Matthew 19:17)—”the supreme Good and the source of all good” (CCC 2052).
And then the Master instructed the young man to empty himself of the world and to follow his Master in order to reach perfection. The heavenly Master reminds us that the commandments are for our perfection, aided by the counsels of obedience, poverty, and chastity. In this we are able to love God and our neighbor with an undivided heart.
If we truly want to serve in love, then our hearts need to be formed for greater love. The Commandments are indispensable guides for living in love, which is why Moses told Israel to “drill them into your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Every time we recite the 10 Commandments we are reminded of the instruction of our Master, who freed us from the slavery of sin: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Following these divine commandments, we will not only obey; we will lay down our lives.
Image: Katsushika Hokusai, Martial Arts