Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chesterton and Labyrinths

"What we all dread most is a maze with no centre. That is why atheism is only a nightmare."

--G.K. Chesterton, Father Brown Mystery, The Head of Caesar

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cosmological Harmony

Cosmological harmony was actually one of the few ideas on which philosopher, scientists, and theologians of Bach’s time were agreed. Newton, for example, could not imagine that a world so orderly as this one could have occurred by “natural Cause alone.” A “powerful, ever-living Agent…governs all things,” he concluded, “not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all.”

—James R. Gaines, Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Children and Fairy Stories

It is accused of giving children a false impression of the world they live in. But I think no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did. All stories in which children have adventures and successes which are possible, in the sense that they do not break the laws of nature, but almost infinitely improbable, are in more danger than the fairy tales of raising false expectations.

Almost the same answer serves for the popular charge of escapism, though here the question is not so simple.

Do fairy tales teach children to retreat into a world of wish-fulfillment— 'fantasy' in the technical psychological sense of the word— instead of facing the problems of the real world? Now it is here that the problem becomes subtle…The other longing, that for fairy land, is very different. In a sense a child does not long for fairy land as a boy longs to be the hero of the first eleven. Does anyone suppose that he really and prosaically longs for all the dangers and discomforts of a fairy tale?—really wants dragons in contemporary England? It is not so. It would be much truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. This is a special kind of longing. The boy reading the school story of the type I have in mind desires success and is unhappy (once the book is over) because he can't get it: the boy reading the fairy tale desires and is happy in the very fact of desiring. For his mind has not been concentrated on himself, as it often is in the more realistic story.

…For, as I say, there are two kinds of longing. The one is an askesis, a spiritual exercise, and the other is a disease.

A far more serious attack on the fairy tale as children's literature comes from those who do not wish children to be frightened…Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean two things. They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can't bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu and the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened.

The other fears—the phobias—are a different matter. I do not believe one can control them by literary means…And I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing, or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St George, or any bright champion in armor, is a better comfort than the idea of the police.
—C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Musical Counterpoint and the Cosmos

The constant motion of the heavens is thus analogous to the perpetual revolution of the parts in a well-constructed piece of double counterpoint, whose inversions mirror the perfection of heaven and provide earthly beings with a glimpse of God’s unending order, a prelude to the heavenly concert.

But the relationship between these phenomena was more than simply one of likeness: the mechanics of the heavens were not simply allegorized by double counterpoint, they were manifested in its workings.

—David Yearsley, Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint

Music and the Four Elements

Let me note first that musicians most often write for four parts, which, they find, contain the full perfection of harmony. Therefore they call these parts elemental after the four elements. As every physical body is composed of the elements, so every perfect composition is composed of the elemental parts. The lowest voice part is called the bass; it is analogous to the element of earth, which I slowest of the elements. The next part in ascending order is the tenor, which is analogous to water. It is just above the earth and united to it; similarly the tenor immediately follows the bass, and its low tones are indistinguishable from the high tones of the bass. The next voice part above the tenor is called by some the contratenor, by others the contralto or alto. Its position, third and central among the voices, is analogous to that of air; as air blends in a certain way with water and fire, so the low alto tones blend with the high tenor tones, while the high alto tones blend with the low tones of the fourth and highest voice, the canto. This voice, called by some the soprano because of its supreme position, is analogous to fire, which follows air and holds the highest place.
—Gioseffo Zarlino, The Art of Counterpoint: Part Three of Le Istitutioni harmoniche, 1558

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Architecture and Belief

Church architecture affects the way man worships; the way he worships affects what he believes; and what he believes affects not only his personal relationship with God but how he conducts himself in his daily life…

One basic tenet that architects have accepted for millennia is that the built environment has the capacity to affect the human person deeply—the way he acts, the way he feels, and the way he is. Church architects of past and present understood that the atmosphere created by the church building affects not only how we worship, but also what we believe. Ultimately, what we believe affects how we live our lives. It’s difficult to separate theology and ecclesiology from the environment for worship, whether it's a traditional church or a modern church.

—Michael S. Rose, Ugly as Sin

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Church as the Ark of Salvation

[T]he nave, a term derived from the Latin word for “ship” (from which we get the English word naval) .... is the place where the worshipping congregation dwells and is called nave because it represents the “ark of salvation.” .... But the church itself is this ark, too, sometimes referred to as the Barque of Peter, the place where Christians are given sanctuary and are guided on their pilgrimage to the Father’s house.
—Michael S. Rose, Ugly as Sin

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Peacock Symbolism

The peacock is a symbol of immortality because the ancients believed that the peacock had flesh that did not decay after death. As such, early Christian paintings and mosaics use peacock imagery, and peacock feathers can be used during the Easter season as church decorations. This symbol of immortality is also directly linked to Christ.

The peacock naturally replaces his feathers annually; as such, the peacock is also a symbol of renewal.

Early belief held that the Gates of Paradise are guarded by a pair of peacocks.

The peacock has the ability to eat poisonous snakes without harm.

Both Origen and Augustine refer to peacocks as a symbol of the resurrection.

Pythagoras wrote that the soul of Homer moved into a peacock—a hyperbole to establish the respect and longevity of the Greek poet’s words.

The Greeks dedicated the peacock to Juno, the goddess of sky and stars, in recognition of the golden circles and blue background of the peacock’s tail.

Other images and beliefs:
“By the Peacock” was a sacred oath, because the peacock was thought to have the power of resurrection, like the Phoenix.

A necklace of Amethyst, peacock feathers, and swallow feathers were a talisman to protect its wearer from witches and sorcerers.

Christians thought, in early times, that the peacock's blood could dispel evil spirits.

The peacock often appears among the animals in the stable in Christ's nativity.

Two peacocks drinking from a chalice symbolizes rebirth and angels are often depicted with four wings of peacock feathers.

In Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology, the peacock feathers were considered much like the evil eye. They were all seeing.

In the western world, the peacock was referred to as a slayer of serpents. The shimmering colors of his tail feathers were explained by his supposed ability to transform snake venom into solar iridescence.

Alchemist thought the fan of the peacock (cauda pavonis) is associated with certain texts and images that are useful in turning base metals into gold.