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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 25, 2020

“I will take away not the grace but the feeling of grace...

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May 25

 

“I will take away
not the grace but the feeling of grace.
Though I will seem to leave you
I will be closer to you.”

Our Lord to St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi


My Mother, I will stand with you on OCTOBER 10, 2020

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

Pope St. Gregory VII

In 1073 at the death of Alexander II, the people of Rome cri...

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Pope St. Gregory VII

Pope Gregory VII was born Hildebrand in Tuscany, Italy. Little else is known of his early life. Hailed, historically, as one of the greatest of the Church's pontiffs and one of the most remarkable men of all time, his name, Hildebrand, meant “bright flame”. Those who hated him, which were many, interpreted the name as “brand of Hell”.

Hildebrand was a Benedictine monk, for a time living in Cluny, from whence he certainly gleaned the monastery’s ideal of societal reform.

As a cleric, he became chaplain to Pope Gregory VI, and a few years later, under Leo IX was made Cardinal Deacon. A man of outstanding energy and insight, Hildebrand became a power in Rome. It is greatly due to him that the practice of electing popes through a college of cardinals was established.

In 1073 at the death of Alexander II, the people of Rome cried out for the holy genius who had helped steer the Church for twenty years, “Hildebrand for Pope! Holy Peter wants Hildebrand, the Archdeacon!” Once before the holy monk had eluded the tiara but this time a proper college of cardinals, seconding the popular cry, induced him to accept an honor duly his.

Hildebrand assumed the name Gregory VII, and threw his energy and zeal into a continued reform, especially fighting simony (the sale of ecclesiastical posts) and clerical incontinence.

He confronted Emperor Henry IV head- on about his practice of choosing men for ecclesiastical positions. On meeting with dogged resistance, the pontiff finally had recourse to excommunication which drastically curtailed the proud monarch’s power, ultimately bringing Henry on foot to the Pope at the Castle of Canossa. Because of Henry’s rebellious obstinacy, Pope Gregory saw fit to leave him out in the cold for three days before receiving and reinstating the royal penitent.

But Henry failed to make any true personal reform and alienated his princes who elected another ruler. Still, he later rallied and went as far as electing another Pope, a Clement III, calling down upon himself another sentence of excommunication. He also attacked and entered the Eternal City in 1084, which forced Pope Gregory into exile. Henry had his protégée “pope” crown him Emperor. Ultimately repelled by an army fighting for the true pope, the Emperor Henry left Rome, but complications sent Gregory VII again into exile, this time to die.

His last words before his death were a summary of how he had lived, “I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile.”

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

There was once a young country wife who practiced devotion t...

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Mary and the Simple Country Wife

There was once a young country wife who practiced devotion to Holy Mary, just as her mother had taught her to do. This simple young lady considered herself fortunate to have married a handsome soldier. Little did she know that her soldier-husband had made a deal with the devil, that he would sell his wife for a certain sum of money.

One crisp, autumn morning the couple went out for their customary walk. Oddly, this time the young man insisted on heading towards the forest. It was at the forest where he intended to deliver his young bride over to the devil.

On their way to the forest, the couple passed in front of a Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The wife, overtaken with a desire to enter the church begged her husband to allow her to pray a Hail Mary in that church.

As the young lady entered the church, Holy Mary came forth from it, taking the form of the wife and accompanied the man into the forest.

When they at last approached the devil at the forest, he said to the man, “Traitor! Why have you brought me instead of your wife, my enemy, the mother of God?”

“And you,” said Mary, addressing the devil, “how have you dared to think of injuring my servant? Go, flee to hell.”

And then, turning to the man, Mary said to him, “Amend your life, and I will aid you.”

She then disappeared and that wretched man repented, amended his life and became a husband worthy of his simple country wife.

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

 

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There was once a young country wife who practiced devotion to Holy Mary, just as her mother had taught her to do. This simple young lady considered herself fortunate to have married a handsome soldier.

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