30 November, 2007

Benedict on Hope

Benedict XVI has released Spe Salvi, his encyclical on the subject of hope. I'll just provide the link for now - look for more next week after I've read it a few times.

29 November, 2007

Whapping Gems

Whapster Matthew has posted both a beautiful story about his father and a wonderful drawing and commentary on the state of modern iconography. I link to them here because both dovetail well with some of the discussions on this blog regarding art and iconography in the modern church. Please do check them out and visit The Shrine of the Holy Whapping regularly for more great stuff.

28 November, 2007

St. Christopher Wassail

I've been scouring the World Wide Web looking for good wassail recipes to try out this season. There are so many variations on this drink that finding the perfect recipe is a lot harder than I thought. I like to keep things simple so I combined aspects of a few different recipes into the one I'll use for our Christmas party in a few weeks. If it's a hit I'll let you know. I'm dubbing this one St. Christopher Wassail for the family namesake as well as the much deserved winter warmer after long traveling to reach family and friends.

St. Christopher Wassail


- 6 apples, cored and peeled
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 4 (12 fluid ounce) bottles brown ale
- 300 ml (½ pint) dry sherry
- 1 tablespoon mulling spices


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine 1 bottle of ale, brown sugar, butter and apples in oven-proof enamel pot and bake for 25-30 minutes or until apples are tender.
3. Transfer pot to stove and add remaining ale, sherry and mulling spices (tie spices in a cloth bag or use an infuser).
4. Simmer gently for 5 minutes, remove from heat and let steep for 5 minutes. Remove mulling spices and serve immediately.

27 November, 2007


The Intercollegiate Quidditch Association, coming soon to a college campus near you. Check out the article on collegiate Quidditch at USA Today. If I was still in school I'd be seriously building up my Geek Cred by playing a few matches on the weekends. Any college game involving capes, brooms, and some dude in a gold costume running around campus with a tennis ball hanging out of his shorts is a sure recipe for hilarity and general college awesomeness. Watch out NCAA, Muggle Quidditch is on the loose.

Mordor and Capitalism at Shea's

I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday! I ran across this post on Mark Shea's blog and thought it was worth a read. Click on the title of Mark's post to read the article he's commenting on. It's always sad to be reminded of what we allow to happen in our own back yard.

If we could ever get the Republicans to get their paws out of the pocketbooks of Big Business maybe we could mount a dedicated and vigorously funded push for practical alternative energy solutions. If we could put as much of a national push on that as we did for the Cold War or the Space Race I think we could dramatically compress the timeline we're currently facing.

This is not to say that we're destroying the planet - we're not. What we are doing is destroying a rural population that has the misfortune of living in a coal-rich region that they are powerless to defend against the mining industry. Just thought it would be helpful to be reminded that these issues aren't limited to foreign and far away shores.

21 November, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Everyone enjoy the bird and give thanks to God for family feasting and the freedom to do so. Remember all of those for whom tomorrow is just another day and pray for their presence at the great heavenly feast that we're honored to have a glimpse of tomorrow.

20 November, 2007

A Tale of Two Interviews

As an addendum to my previous post on the Intelligent Design case I want to present two interviews from the NOVA site. The first is a defense of Intelligent Design from Phillip Johnson and the second is a defense of Evolution from Kenneth Miller. If this controversy is your sort of thing then read them both and tell me who you think makes more sense. I think Dr. Miller won this little bout and his response to the second question is pretty simple and elegant.

Santa Susanna

With any luck, the American Parish of Santa Susanna in Rome will be home for a few months as I study in the Eternal City for grad school. Not too shabby, turns out that quite possibly the most beautiful parish for American Catholics isn't on U.S. soil! You also have to love a parish website that devotes a whole section to the favorite restaurants around town. Let's face it, Christians love to eat. Some are just more open about it than others...

19 November, 2007

Oil and Water

Okay, so I’m watching NOVA last night and they ran a pretty interesting little piece on the recent Kitzmiller v. Dover creation/evolution court case. It was fairly well done and very informative, yet I found myself getting increasingly angry as the program went on as I saw more and more Christian interviewees make complete and bumbling fools out of themselves. Not only did they succeed in making Christianity come off as incredibly stupid, they managed to do so in such a confrontational, attacking, and over-the-top manner as to impugn the supposed Christian value of loving your neighbor in addition to the supremely rational basis for Christian thought. When we have representatives such as these, the real rational and orthodox position on Faith v. Reason drowns in the sea of fundamentalist paleo-speak.

Luckily, I found an essay by the always entertaining and informative Mark Shea that at least calms me down a bit and provides a small measure of hope for the future. We need more people saying these things and Christians involved in the sciences need to make this case as often as possible to let the world know we’re not complete dunderheads.

16 November, 2007

Funny for the Day

The Whapsters are quite good at Catholic comedy whenever they attempt it, as this post dealing with the Tedious Mysteries of the Rosary clearly shows. Good stuff.

14 November, 2007

A Treasure Trove

OK, there is so much good stuff floating around on the INTBAU site that I know I'll be referring to quite a bit as I sift through it. The few essays I've read so far have been great, check it out for your humanist architecture fix. I knew Prince Charles was good for something...

Metaphysics...Oh Joy!

I’ve decided to take a step back from the religious application of architecture to focus a little more energy on widely accepted architectural theory in general. I ran across a very well written, though fairly long, essay entitled The Ideology of Architecture by Peter Kellow. It’s worth a read if you’re at all interested in architectural theory or the role of ideology in modernist thought. It is an exposition of the ideological underpinnings of the modernist movement and their relationship to the metaphysics of both Hegel and Plato. Though it sounds incredibly tedious it is remarkably well done. I want to excerpt a paragraph from fairly late in the essay:

It is very rare that a Modernist architect will even use the word "beauty", for, when the criteria for assessment of quality are metaphysical, a word that evokes the human senses and individual appreciation is hardly appropriate. The vocabulary is rather that of "innovative", "cutting edge", "iconic" - words that distance us from our natural instinctive reaction to our environment. In relation to this, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the whole training of architects in our time is a training of how not to use our eyes, how not to be sensitive to beauty, in order to be able to focus absolutely on the importance of abstract concepts. And this must be the source of the split between non-architects and architects. The former use their eyes. The latter have been trained to be visually blind, as a glance at the buildings that are paraded as having merit in the architectural journals will confirm. The result of abandoning beauty in art and architecture is the same as the result of abandoning morality in politics and philosophy – inhumanity. And surely again the twentieth century achieved inhumanity in architecture and built environments that surpassed absolutely anything that had ever been seen before.

Quite a strong statement, but one I can certainly back up from my own experiences in architectural education. The arguments in juries are always metaphysical; there is the sole task of justifying your work through some sort of ideological construct that bends the architecture to a metaphysical will rather than a sensual will. That’s not to say that beauty was never discussed, but only that beauty had been in some sense reduced to a degree of the platonic ideal. The closer the architecture came to platonic absurdity while avoiding looking like platonic absurdity, the more “beautiful” it was. Beauty was no longer a sensual judgment, but a metaphysical one. It was as if they wanted to take humanist language and subordinate it to their ideology so as to appear to remain interested in a sensual appreciation of architecture.

What I have found baffling as I think about contemporary architectural theory is that the ideologies share the same DNA with those of Nietzsche and Marx, yet there has not been the sound rejection of those ideologies by similar principles. There has been the public backlash, but this has not been able to open the closed system of the architectural elite. There is a self-fulfilling cycle of life between competition juries and awards, architectural media, and architects that creates a closed loop of circular reinforcement that even public outcry can do very little against.

I’m still working on digesting much of this information. It’s as if over the past few months I have finally had my “Neo” moment of emergence from The Matrix and the difficulty now is to supplant ingrained ideology with reality. The re-education is a daunting task, but oh so immensely liberating. I no longer feel like I need to climb into my little populist closet and flagellate myself for wanting to see more Bernini (OK, I know it’s a stretch - I’ll take Bob Stern instead) and less Gehry.

09 November, 2007

Holy Hand Grenade

Something to file under Orthodox Patriarch humor - I think this dude is holding the Holy Hand Grenade. He looks like he knows how to use it too.

06 November, 2007

Papa on Art

I cannot recommend highly enough the wonderful book The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who we all know has a new name now. There is a great chapter dealing with images in the church and it has been excerpted here (part I) and here (part II). I think it is important reading for those who have been involved in discussing the role of Christian art. Hopefully it can provide some fruitful discussion on how Christianity should approach art in our current state. I’ll include a not-so-short excerpt here to at least get you interested, but please do read the links above and let me know what you think.

…What is more, art itself, which in impressionism and expressionism explored the extreme possibilities of the sense of sight, becomes literally object-less. Art turns into experimenting with self-created worlds, empty "creativity", which no longer perceives the Creator Spiritus, the Creator Spirit. It attempts to take his place, and yet, in so doing, it manages to produce only what is arbitrary and vacuous, bringing home to man the absurdity of his role as creator.

Again we must ask: Where do we go from here? Let us try to sum up what we have said so far and to identify the fundamental principles of an art ordered to divine worship.

…The complete absence of images is incompatible with faith in the Incarnation of God. God has acted in history and entered into our sensible world, so that it may become transparent to Him. Images of beauty, in which the mystery of the invisible God becomes visible, are an essential part of Christian worship. There will always be ups and downs in the history of iconography, upsurge and decline, and therefore periods when images are somewhat sparse. But they can never be totally lacking. Iconoclasm is not a Christian option…

…The image of Christ and the images of the saints are not photographs. Their whole point is to lead us beyond what can be apprehended at the merely material level, to awaken new senses in us, and to teach us a new kind of seeing, which perceives the Invisible in the visible…

…There must, of course, be no rigid norms. Freshly received intuitions and the ever-new experiences of piety must find a place in the Church. But still there is a difference between sacred art (which is related to the liturgy and belongs to the ecclesial sphere) and religious art in general. There cannot be completely free expression in sacred art. Forms of art that deny the logos of things and imprison man within what appears to the senses are incompatible with the Church's understanding of the image. No sacred art can come from an isolated subjectivity…

…But what does all this mean practically? Art cannot be "produced", as one contracts out and produces technical equipment. It is always a gift. Inspiration is not something one can choose for oneself. It has to be received, otherwise it is not there. One cannot bring about a renewal of art in faith by money or through commissions. Before all things it requires the gift of a new kind of seeing. And so it would be worth our while to regain a faith that sees. Wherever that exists, art finds its proper expressions.

Defensive Dogma

I came across a very interesting essay the other day entitled In Defense of Disbelief by Ralph C. Wood, a Baylor University professor. I think it does a pretty good job of defending the necessity of Dogma in Christian thought as a provider of freedom rather than a bringer of discord. I’ll quote a short excerpt here, but I encourage you to read the rest of the article. It’s very blunt, which I think makes it ideal fodder for blogosphere discourse!

A healthy dose of Christian disbelief or "holy skepticism" would serve as a much-needed antidote to the soft-core spirituality that saps much of contemporary Christianity, especially in its evangelical expression. An anti-doctrinal sentimentality often rules the worship and the art of our churches, where self-serving emotions are exalted over true mystery. The church of our time needs a theology that repudiates all saccharine substitutes for the hard thinking that Christian faith requires.

As in so many other matters, Flannery O’Connor foresaw our reduction of transcendent faith to sentimental subjectivity. She likened it to the scientific process whereby the wings can be bred off chickens to produce more succulent white meat. O’Connor said that it is possible to breed the moral and theological sense out of people in a similar way. She described our current generation as a brood of wingless chickens. This is what Nietzsche meant, she explained, when he declared God dead. It also means that nihilism is the atmosphere of our age, the gas that we all breathe, whether inside or outside the Church. The Church has made Christianity nearly indistinguishable from the coziness of a warm blanket and the kindliness of a golden heart…

…O’Connor believed that Christian dogma is what forms the Christian imagination into something larger than our own intelligence or the intelligence of those around us. Knowing that the word "dogma" is a pejorative term for most Americans, O’Connor boldly capitalized it, confessing in the upper case that "My stories have been watered and fed by Dogma." She rejected the popular view that dogma divides while ethics unite and that, since the practical and the useful are what truly matter, we can dispense with dogma. So long as everyone loves Jesus, according to the prevailing sentimentalism, doctrinal claims can be shelved. O’Connor believed, on the contrary, that dogma must be central rather than peripheral. It is the distilled essence of God’s self-identification in Israel and Christ, and thus the true means for understanding both ourselves and the world. "Dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality," she declared. It "is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery."

For Flannery O’Connor, "mystery" is not synonymous with "puzzle" and "riddle" - for those conundrums that balk the mind and stifle all understanding. Nor is mystery another name for a spirituality so vague that it cannot distinguish between John of the Cross and Max Lucado. "To St. Paul and the early Christian thinkers," wrote Claude Tresmontant, one of O’Connor’s favorite biblical scholars, "[mystery] was on the contrary the particular object of intelligence, its fullest nourishment. The musterion [a Greek word that can also be translated sacrament] is something so rich in intelligible content, so inexhaustibly full of delectation for the mind that no contemplation [of it] can ever reach its end."

02 November, 2007

The Faithful Departed

It is All Souls Day and I hope you'll all join me in remembering the faithful departed in your prayers today.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

May angels lead you into Paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your coming and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May a choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.