Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

Written by Michael Morris

Saint Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church, Carmelite reformer, and one of the most celebrated mystics of all time, was, by her own admission, a practical and forthright person. When asked by her confessors to write her life story detailing her prayer life and the special favors granted to her by God, she did as she was commanded but protested that she would have preferred to spend the time spinning or doing household work to benefit her poor convent. What she produced in her autobiography is a remarkable account of a woman’s entry into religious life, of the constant battle between sin and grace, and the progress of the soul towards mystical union with God. Her language, simple and unforced. Flows freely like that of a born conversationalist. It is no wonder, therefore, that it became a literary masterpiece, and one of the most widely read prose classics of Spain. While Teresa would not be labeled an intellectual, her writings are filled with a sublime wisdom that attracted, among others, the Jewish philosopher Edith Stein, leading to her conversion and entry into Carmel. This sculptural creation by Bernini is an artistic interpretation of a passage found in chapter 29 of Teresa’s autobiography. Around the year 1560 when Teresa was in her late forties, she experienced one of her most intense ecstasies. It was brought on by the visit of an angel. In her own words, she said “the angel was not large but small; he was very beautiful, and his face was so aflame that he seemed to be one of those very sublime angels that appear to be cherubim, for they didn’t tell me their names. But ference between some angels and others and between these latter and still others that I wouldn’t know how to explain it.” Students of angelology will notice that Teresa made a mistake in identifying her angelic visitor. Of the nine choirs of angels, the angels of fire and love are called seraphim, not cherubim, and they stand closest to the throne of God.
Furthermore, what this angel did do to Teresa was to fill her with God’s love, a love that was so incredibly intense that it was at the same time both sweet and painful: “I saw in his hands, a large golden arrow and at the end of the iron tip there appeared to be a little fire. It seemed to me this angel plunged the arrow several times into my heart and that it reached deep within me. When he drew it out, I thought he was carrying off with him the deepest part of me; and he left me all on fire with the great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan, and the sweetness this greatest pain caused me was so superabundant that there is no desire capable of taking it away.” Bernini’s angel holds the golden arrow in his hand, ready to plunge it again into Teresa’s heart. With a serene smile, he looks down upon the barefoot Carmelite nun as her mouth slackens, her body goes limp, her eyelids drop, and her head is thrown back in ecstasy. Critics were quick to remark how indelicately sensual this religious composition appeared. And yet, Teresa, in her own words, relates how closely the body trails the soul enraptured by God: “The pain is not bodily but spiritual, although the body doesn’t fail to share in some of it, and even a great deal. The loving exchange that takes place between the soul and God is so sweet that I beg him in his goodness to give a taste of this love to anyone who thinks I am lying.” Thus, the body of the saint is Bernini’s sculpture is levitating, lifted as it were by that same irresistible love that captivates her soul. According to Carmelite tradition, this mystical event occurred again in the life of Saint Teresa ten years later when she was prioress of the Incarnation convent in Avila. Known as the “Transverberation,” the occurrence was commemorated as a feast of the saint by the eighteenth century. As a sculptural composition, Bernini’s depiction of the Transverberation is a triumph of baroque ingenuity. Natural light is funneled from a concealed window above, shimmering against the golden rays and bathing the white marble figures with an ethereal glow. The golden arrow that plunged itself into Teresa’s heart reflects that light with the glow of fire. All these elements bring to the sensible observer a material approximation of the wonder and awe found in the invisible world of the spirit, a spirit relishing the embrace of divine, ineffable love. (Magnificat October 2001, Vol. 3, No. 8)

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Apologetics through Art: The Virgin of the Lilies

I love this painting by William Bouguereau entitled, The Virgin of the Lilies. I think it says a lot about the Catholic understanding of Mary. The center of our devotion to Mary consists of her relationship with Jesus. She is the mother of our Lord. In the painting Mary is holding Jesus but if you look close, it is like Mary is holding onto Jesus for support. It is as Jesus is a pillar suspended in midair and he supports Mary. Mary also has Jesus pressed against her heart with eyes closed in prayerful meditation. In contrast, the eyes of the child of Jesus are penetrating. They have wisdom and strength that are beyond a child. It is like they look through you to something deeper. Jesus’ right hand is making the sign of peace. In the background is a throne depicting Jesus as our king and consequently Mary as our Queen. The lilies at base of the throne symbolize Mary's purity, humility, and loving obedience to God's will.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Is Indirect Apologetics Propaganda?

I worry about misusing the indirect method of apologetics. It seems to me that there is a fine line between guiding and manipulating people to truth. Does taking great artist’s masterpieces and subjecting their art to the service of Truth cheapen the art, degrading it into propaganda? Or is the opposite true, does subjecting art to the service of Christ give the art a transcended dignity? These are very fine lines and I do not want to fall. I think the answer to the question centers on the nature of propaganda. And who else to go to for enlightenment on propaganda than Hitler himself:


All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be....

The function of propaganda is, for example, not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right which it has set out to argue for. Its task is not to make an objective study of the truth, in so far as it favors the enemy, and then set it before the masses with academic fairness; its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly. (Adolf Hitler, Hitler on Propaganda, A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust)

In many ways indirect apologetics is the mirror image of propaganda. Propaganda turned on its head. We do not seek to dumb down our message. Instead we try to demonstrate truth in an unexpected manner. We strive to make the masses think more, not less. As Christians we possess a single point of view. We focus “exclusively to emphasize the one right” because Christ is the right, he is the truth. To fail at this point is to cease to be Christian. What saves us from propaganda as Christian apologists is the awe and transcendent mystery of truth. Catholics know where Christ resides but we do not know where Christ is totally absent. Our ignorance of the transcendent Christ saves us from a deceitful propaganda.

This is why I think art in the service for Christ is not propaganda. It does not dumb down but enlighten. It draws out the truth from whoever engages the art. Not by hiding the truth but by exposing the awe of existence. If art lacks integrity or does not respect it's audience then it will not connect and will fail to communicate truth. It will cease to be art if it was ever art in the first place.

Walker Percy

The following are some Walker Percy links and quotes that may be useful for indirect literary apologetics. I will be updating this log as I come across more information and insight.


Walker Percy Resources on the Web
The Walker Percy Project
Everything you ever wanted to know about Walker Percy...
Walker Percy: Seer of the "Self"



My aunt is convinced I have a ``flair for research.'' This is not true. If I had a flair for research, I would be doing research. Actually, I'm not very smart. My grades were average. My mother and my aunt think I am smart because I am quiet and absent-minded-- and because my father and grandfather were smart. They think I was meant to do research because I am not fit to do anything else-- I am a genius whom ordinary professions can't satisfy. I tried research one summer. I got interested in the role of the acid-base balance in the formation of renal calculi; really, it's quite and intersting problem. I had a hunch you might get pigs to form oxalate stones by manipulating the pH of the blood, and maybe even dissolve them. A friend of mine, a boy from Pittsburg named Harry Stern, and I read up the literature and presented the problem to [Dr.] Minor. He was enthusiastic, gave us everything we wanted and turned us loose for the summer. But then a peculiar thing happened. I became extraordinarily affected by the summer afternoons in the laboratory. The August sunlight came streaming across the room. The old building ticked and creaked in the heat. Outside we could hear the cries of summer students playing touch football. In the course of an afternoon the yellow sunlight moved across old group pictures of the biology faculty. I became bewitched by the presence of the building; for minutes at a stretch I sat on the floor and watched motes rise and fall in the sunlight. I called Harry's attention to the presence but he shrugged and went on with his work. He was absolutely unaffected by the singularities of time and place. His abode was anywhere. It was all the same to him whether he catheterized a pig at four o'clock in the afternoon in New Orleans or at midnight in Transylvania. He was actually like one of those scientists in the movies who don't care about anything but the problem in their heads-- now here is a fellow who does have a ``flair for research'' and will be heard from. Yet I do not envy him. I would not change places with him if he discovered the cause and cure of cancer. For he is no more aware of the mystery which surrounds him than a fish is aware of the water it swims in. He could do research for a thousand years and never have an inkling of it. By the middle of August I could not see what difference it made whether the pigs got kidney stones or not (they didn't incidentally), compared to the mystery of those summer afternoons. I asked Harry if he would excuse me. He was glad enough to, since I was not much use to him sitting on the floor. I moved down to the Quarter where I spent the rest of the vacation in quest of the spirit of summer and in the company of an attractive and confused girl from Bennington who fancied herself a poet. (The Moviegoer pp. 42-42)
(Vertical Search)

Until recent years, I read only ``fundamental'' books, that is, key books on key subjects, such as War and Peace, the novel of novels; A Study of History, the solution of the problem of time; Schroedinger's What is Life?, Einstein's The Universe as I see It, and such. During those years I stood outside the universe and sought to understand it. I lived in my room as an Anyone living Anywhere and read fundamental books and only for diversion took walks around the neighborhood and saw an occasional movie. Certtainly it did not matter to me where I was when I read such a book as The Expanding Universe. The greatest success of this enterprise, which I call my vertical search, came one noght when I sat in a hotel room in Birmingham and read a book called The Chemistry of Life. When I finished it, it seemed to me that the main goals of my search were reached or were in principle reachable, whereupon I went out and saw a movie called It Happened One Night which was itself very good. A memorable night. The only difficulty was that though the universe had been disposed of, I myself was left over. There I lay in my hotel room with my search over yet still obliged to draw one breath and then the next. But now I have undertaken a different kind of search, a horizontal search. As a consequence, what takes place in my room is less important. What is important is what I shall find when I leave my room and wander in the neighborhood. Before, I wandered as a diversion. Now I wander seriously and sit and read as a diversion.

(Starting point for search)

It no longer avails to start with creatures and prove God.
Yet it is impossible to rule God out.
The only possible starting point: the strange fact of one's own invincible apathy-- that if the proofs were proved and God presented himself, nothing would be changed. Here is the strangest fact of all.

Abraham saw signs of God and believed. Now the only sign is that all the signs in the world make no difference. Is this God's ironic revenge? But I am onto him. (REMEMBER TOMORROW pp. 128-129)

(On Scientism)
Question: Why does it make scientists uneasy that it appears to be the case that Homo sapiens sapiens, a conscious languaged creature, appeared suddenly and lately-- when scientists profess to be interested in what is the case, that is, the evidence?

A. Because scientists are understandably repelled by the theory of the special creation of man by God, in Biblical time, say 6004 B.C. at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday morning.

B. Because scientists find it natural to deal with matter in interaction and with energy exchanges and don't know what to make of such things as consciousness, self, symbols and even sometimes deny that there are such things, even though they, the scientists, act for all the world as if they were conscious selves and spend their lives transacting with symbols.

C. Because scientists are uneasy with discontinuities, even when there is evidence of such discontinuity in the appearance of man in all his contrarieties. Revealed religion has its dogmas, e.g., thou shalt not kill. But so does science: thou shalt not tolerate discontinuities. The question is which is the more entitled.

D. Because scientists in the practice of the scientific method, a non-radical [radical = `to the root'] knowledge of matter in interaction, often are not content with the non-radicalness of the scientific method and hence find themselves located in a posture of covert transcendence of their data, which is by the same motion assigned to the sphere of immanence. Hence, scientists operate in the very sphere of transcendence with is not provided for in science. Given such a posture, it is not merely an offense if a discontinuity turns up in the sphere of immanence, the data, but especially if the discontinuity seems to allow for the intervention of God. A god is already present. A scientist is god to his data. And if there is anything more offensive to him that the suggestion of the existence of God, it is the existence of two gods. (Lost in the Cosmos pp. 163-164)

Flannery O'Connor

The following are some Flannery O'Connor's links and quotes that may be useful for indirect literary apologetics. I will be updating this log as I come across more information and insight.


Catholic Educators: Flannery O'Connor
If Flannery Had A Blog...
Jimmy Akin: Flannery O'Connor Tribute
Flannery O'Connor
Wise Blood
Comforts of Home
Biblical Horizons: FLANNERY O'CONNOR
Flannery O'Connor's Short Fiction
Meet Flannery O’Connor


(On Mystery)
". . . if our writer believes that our life is and will remain mysterious, if he looks upon us as beings existing in a created order to whose laws we freely respond, then what he sees on the surface will be of interest to him only as he can go through it into an experience of mystery itself. His kind of fiction will always be pushing its own limits outward toward the limits of mystery, because for this kind of writer, the meaning of a story does not begin except at a depth where adequate motivation and adequate psychology and the various determinations have been exhausted. Such a writer will be interested in what we don't understand rather than what we do. He will be interested in possibility rather than probability. He will be interested in characters who are forced out to meet evil and grace and who act on a trust beyond themselves--whether they know very clearly what it is they act upon or not . . . the kind of writer I am describing will use the concrete in a more drastic way. His way will much more obviously be the way of distortion. . . . It's not necessary to point out that the look of this fiction is going to be wild, that it is almost of necessity going to be violent and comic, because of the discrepancies that it seeks to combine. (Flannery O'Connor)

(On Transcendent Mystery)
“I often ask myself what makes a story work, and what makes it hold up as a story, and I have decided that it is probably some action, some gesture of a character that is unlike any other in the story, one which indicates where the real heart of the story lies. This would have to be an action or a gesture which was both totally right and totally unexpected; it would have to be one that was both in character and beyond character; it would have to suggest both the world and eternity. The action or gesture I’m talking about would have to be on the anagogical level, that is, the level which has to do with the Divine life and our participation in it. It would be a gesture that transcended any neat allegory that might have been intended or any pat moral categories a reader could make. It would be a gesture which somehow made contact with mystery.” Flannery O’Connor

(On Free will)
“The novelist does not write about general beliefs but about men with free will, and [that] there is nothing [in our faith] that implies a foregone optimism for man so free that with his last breath he can say No.” Flannery O’Connor
“An absence of free will in these characters would mean an absence of conflict in them, whereas they spend all their time fighting within themselves, drive against drive.” Flannery O’Connor

(On Method)
"When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures." —Flannery O'Connor, "The Fiction Writer & His Country"


Sunday, July 24, 2005

J.R.R. Tolkien

The following are some JRR Tolkien links and quotes that may be useful for indirect literary apologetics. I will be updating this log as I come across more information and insight.


The Catholic Imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien
Peter Kreeft: Insights into Evil from LOTR
Mythic Truth LOTR

Catholic Educator's: Tolkien


(On Evil)
Far above the Ephel Dúath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. (J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of The Rings”)

(On The Blessed Sacrament)
"Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament....There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, that every man's heart desires," (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Indirect Apologetics and Art

I am starting to see how important art is. I have prided myself on reason and objectivity. I am starting to see that truth goes beyond concepts of thought. Without art, science and theology is only looking at a portion of reality. Art and beauty can communicate spiritual reality that cannot be pointed at, formulated, or put into words. Art is indirect communication and it is a perfect medium for indirect apologetics.

The Catholic Church has a long tradition of conveying truth through art. We need to take this art out from under the bushel basket while at the same time continuing to create beautiful art for the glory of God.

Definition of Indirect Apologetics:

The Art of Apologetics is devoted to the defense of the Catholic faith through the use of indirect apologetics. Indirect apologetics is a method of defending the truth by challenging an error in an implicit manner in an effort to avoid defensiveness. An indirect defense is achieved by the following means; the Socratic method of questioning, parables, humor, truth expressed through art and beauty, truth expressed through love, and testimony. Indirect apologetics is best used when a person is motivated to keep a fallacy.

The Art of Apologetics has two battle cries: “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” (The Sun, Tzu, The Art of War) and "I want to fight for Jesus…To win for him souls without number"

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Mathematics of Monogamy

Through all this ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one. That is why, in spite of a hundred disadvantages, the world will always return to monogamy. (G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thurdsay)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Insults into Opportunity

Make a sacrifice by not saying the nasty word or answering an insulting remark. For in that way, we lower ourselves to the vulgarity we condemn. No one will ever get ahead of us so long as he stays behind to kick us. (Fulton Sheen's, Wartime Prayer book)

This is where we can gain some gracious merit in apologetics. When we do not return evil for evil we are in a way being an image of Christ. We are able to take the insult and offer it up as a “sacrifice”. The Internet is a poor medium to convey sacrifice and love, which are primary to Christianity. We need to rejoice when given the opportunity.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Become a Child of Faith

Unfortunately I cannot come to the lord as a child, as I am now 27. I have always thought this is a problem because whatever you are told as a child you tend to believe and it is not always an honest belief. I believed in Santa Claus as a child and that was a lie. If I remained as a child in that belief would that be reasonable? I doubt anybody would say yes. So we do have to apply reason in our beliefs to make sure they are based on truth.

You are misunderstand what I am saying. I am not telling you to join a Peter Pantheism type of religion where you act childish. What I am asking is totally reasonable because it is conforming to reality. God is the creator and we are his creatures. This is the reality and if we place ourselves as God or even equal to God then we are the ones who are living a lie. The reality is we are dependent on God like Children. Jesus said the following;

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Luke 18:15-17)

I am also not telling you to be unreasoable or never question. I am just pointing out that the starting point cannot be your mind or your understanding. The foundation is to submit with childlike trust with faith in God. In the words of St. Augustine, "I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe."

It’s kind of like looking at stain glass windows of a great Cathedral from the outside. The windows are really drab from the outside looking in. But if you look from the inside out then the true beauity and reality of the stain glass windows is realized.