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Online Edition:
September 2012
Vol. XVIII, No. 6

Why Create New Art or Music
When There’s Plenty of Good Old Stuff Around?

St. Michael Archangel

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David Clayton

by David Clayton

For me a living tradition in art (and the argument would apply equally to music) is not simply one that preserves and hands on the great work of the past, it is one that also reapplies its core principles to create new art or music. But one might ask, why bother? With the standard of reproductions in art now, you could have a Fra Angelico in your church at a fraction of the cost of commissioning an original work of art. Similarly, there is so much chant and polyphony already composed, you could have something different but of the highest quality every Sunday for several lifetimes.

Here’s why I think it is important. First is variety. It just seems a terrible shame to think of any tradition being a closed door in which there is no possibility of something new. Although we have so much to draw on from the past, the fact that we can see how mankind under inspiration can still create something previously unimagined is a wonderful thing. The seemingly limitless variety that is possible points, I think, to the limitless well of grace that is the ultimate source of that inspiration.

Second is that we need new expressions in order to attract more people. All the artistic traditions of the Church reflect timeless principles and so have something within them to which every person, potentially, can respond. Traditional chant and polyphony, or great art in reproduction or original work that imitates it, still have the power to touch many people and draw them into the Faith. The timeless principles that unite all good art and music will always have an effect. I speak from personal experience: I was bowled over by my experience of hearing Palestrina at the London Oratory. With a live performance in unity with liturgy, this was old music, but still fresh and new to my ear.

Nevertheless, a living tradition will be one in which there are artists and composers who are constantly creating new work, without ever compromising on the core principles that define it. In doing so it will reflect and speak to its time and its place in a unique way. When the timeless and the time-bound aspects are in harmony, you have the most powerful effect. When this harmony is present it will appeal to most people. For many, I believe, it will stimulate into life that part that can respond potentially to all other traditional forms. Once this is done then there is every chance that many who previously would have been unaffected by centuries-old chant or polyphony will now respond. This is the special value of “new traditional” art and music.

If there is an imbalance in the timeless and time-bound aspects (or just a poor attempt at both), you risk creating pastiche on the one hand, or sentimental imitations of modern secular fashion on the other. Iconography demonstrates this perfectly. Aidan Hart, my teacher, always says that those who understand iconography well can look at any icon without knowing anything about it, place to a particular geographical location and to a time period within 50-100 years.

What is changing here is not the principles that define the tradition — these never waver, but how they are applied. This is, for example, how we can distinguish between Russian icons and Greek icons, and within the Russian style, between Gregory Kroug and Andrei Rublev.

Sometimes the modern expression is not something never seen before, but a re-emergence of an old style that has its time again. Fra Angelico is an artist who seems to be liked a great deal at the moment, and so any artist who could capture the qualities of his art would do well I think.

Having said this, however closely we follow a past form, that time-bound aspect will never be absent altogether. Each artist is a unique individual and even the most cloistered monk will be susceptible to the culture of his day.

This individual aspect of the work cannot be quashed altogether. The task for the artist, or composer, is to direct it so that it conforms to what is good, true, and beautiful. To certain extent this will be an intuitive process but creativity is directed by conscious reason as well. When the artist is responding to a clearly defined need then this latter aspect comes into play particularly.

I think the music of composer Paul Jernberg does this. We have been collaborating in developing music for the liturgy of the hours at Thomas More College for the last year and we will be working together at the summer retreat at the college in August where the aim is to teach people how to sing it. What is so great about this is first, how appealing it is, and second, how easy it is to sing at a satisfying level. This is what the ideal of noble simplicity is all about.

Here’s another example. We had a priest who visited the college regularly and whenever he celebrated Mass would always lead us in reciting the Saint Michael prayer after Mass. He used to turn to the tabernacle as he said it. I thought that it would be great if we had an image of Saint Michael to focus on, so I painted one for the back wall. Then I then asked Paul Jernberg if he could come up with a musical arrangement so that we could sing the prayer. Very quickly he adapted a traditional Byzantine tone to it. In this case there is minimal change musically, because he felt it didn’t need it.

This arrangement has been very popular. The students have picked up on it and completely on their own instigation now sing it in four-part harmony every night after Compline. Dr. William Fahey, TMC president, has asked that we sing it after each Mass in response to the attacks on the Church in connection with the new healthcare legislation.

Dr. Tom Larson, who teaches the choir at the college, is so enthusiastic about it that he took this up to his men’s group in Manchester, New Hampshire. Within 15 minutes they learned it and were enjoying it so much they decided to record it on a mobile phone. The next day it was up on YouTube, and you can view it here: youtube.com/watch?v=fwIoAzbo9wA. As you listen to it remember that this is a cell-phone recording of an amateur choir of five men of varying ability (including myself on bass — right at the bottom in more ways than one) singing it virtually unrehearsed.

Paul Jernberg has just been made Composer in Residence at Thomas More College. He will be composing music for us to showcase and visiting to give master classes in performance and, for those who have the ability, composition. One of the things we have asked him to do is to compose a Vespers of Saint Michael the Archangel and I can’t wait to hear it.

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David Clayton is an artist, teacher, published writer, and broadcaster who is Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture — with a special emphasis on art — and the liturgy. A native of England, Mr. Clayton was received into the Catholic Church in London in 1993.

He has his own blog, The Way of Beauty (thewayofbeauty.org), and he writes weekly for the New Liturgical Movement web site (newliturgicalmovement.org), where this article first appeared.

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David Clayton

David Clayton is the newly appointed Provost of Pontifex University, the Catholic online education provider currently at pilot stage; he is a visiting fellow of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH; and author of the book The Way of Beauty published by Angelico Press in 2015.

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Online Edition:
September 2012
Vol. XVIII, No. 6

Tuning to the Right Frequency

by Donald DeMarco

According to Ignatius, the third Bishop of Antioch (born in Syria around the year 50 AD), God devised three speeches for our benefit: Creation, Scripture, and Incarnation. Hence, God is not silent. However, if we are to hear any of these divinely originated “speeches,” we must be silent ourselves. Therefore, in order to achieve this receptive silence, we must shut out the interfering noise of the world.

In God’s first speech, Creation, He is not speaking to us directly. He speaks indirectly to us through the “speech of things.” Plants and animals speak to us in their own variously restricted capacities as God silences Himself. Human beings can turn a deaf ear to this speech and hear not “speech” but the mere sounds of nature.

In the second speech of God, Scripture, God speaks to us in ways that we commonly understand as speech. This is speech in the verbal sense. For Ignatius of Antioch, the proper response to the first speech is “mystical silence.” Our proper response to the second speech is our “yes” that “echoes” and affirms the mind of God.

The Incarnation gives flesh to the Word. It is the fullness or culmination of God’s speaking. It answers man’s deepest hunger. As the Word of God, Jesus Christ personifies the fulfillment of Creation. In this way, the third speech is directed to the heart of man, not just to his senses or to his intellect.

Each of these three speeches are forms of communication, though in ascending order: the first elicits reverence; the second, obedience; the third, love. The lower prepare the way for the higher. It is as if God wants to speak to us in stages, with increasing clarity and with greater directness.

For many in the modern world, being deaf to the “speeches” of God results in no longer believing in His existence, and consequently directing our inherently religious capacity for belief to the world itself. We currently witness this phenomenon on all three levels.

Scientists begin their investigations by reducing “Creation” to “nature.” This reduction essentially removes the Creator from His own act of Creation. Those who want to uphold this separation of God from Creation are most outspoken and are warmly welcomed by the major media. Richard Dawkins, a best-selling author (The Blind Watchmaker; The God Delusion), has stated that the universe described by biology “has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

Daniel Dennett, an American philosopher, concludes: “Love it or hate it, phenomena like [DNA] exhibit the heart of the power of the Darwinian idea. An impersonal, unreflective, robotic, mindless scrap of molecular machinery is the ultimate basis of all agency, and hence meaning, and hence consciousness, in the universe” (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon; Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life).

Scripture, in the eyes of the modern world, has been reduced to a collection of historical texts that are no longer relevant to man. Some of these texts are now widely regarded as offensive and discriminatory. In fact, preaching from or even citing certain passages in Scripture can result in heavy fines and being socially ostracized. For many scholars, Scripture must be re-interpreted, revised, dismissed, or de-constructed.

Finally, Christianity itself, which is based on the Incarnation, is attacked throughout the world. Many view Christians as intolerant, narrow, and attempting to impose their views on others. Christianity is reduced to just another religion, but one that is becoming more and more outmoded in an increasingly pluralistic world.

On the cover of Teresa Tomeo’s book Noise: How Our Media-Saturated Culture Dominates Lives and Dismantles Families, the author cites a most thought-provoking remark of Pope Benedict XVI: “We are no longer able to hear God. There are too many different frequencies filling our ears.”

We may associate “frequencies” with radio waves. A radio is able to pick up frequencies, but usually one at a time. “Jamming” occurs when more than one signal is transmitted at the same frequency (or wavelength) resulting in the inability to hear or discern whatever is being transmitted. Josef Piper remarks, in his book The Four Cardinal Virtues, that “Intemperance is enkindled above all by the seductive glamour of the stimuli provided in an artificial civilization, with which the dishonorable team of blind lust and calculated greed surround the province of sexuality.”

The frequencies or stimuli coming from our “artificial civilization” not only cause “jamming,” but also deafen our ears to the three levels of God’s speeches. This is a problem that is as old as humanity.

Saint Thomas Aquinas maintained that “There is not much sinning because of natural desires… But the stimuli of desire which man’s cunning has devised are something else, and for the sake of these one sins very much.”

Nonetheless, this perennial problem seems greatly exacerbated in today’s world by our artificial civilization in which people are bombarded on an hourly basis by commercial advertising, to offer but one example, an agency that stimulates lust and greed while directing its prey toward desirable consumer items. A myriad of worldly frequencies make it exceedingly difficult for people to clear their heads and be disposed to hear the Word of God.

Aquinas expressed his preference for studying Creation and Scripture because they are two sources of knowledge that cannot lie. We are well advised to turn our ears to God’s frequencies, which are Creation, Scripture, and the Incarnation. The messages conveyed through these frequencies or “speeches,” in the terminology of Ignatius of Antioch, calm rather than agitate, nourish rather than inflame, direct rather than mislead. And there can be no question of “jamming” since God speaks with one consistent voice.

Our world of deception need not prevent us from hearing God’s voice. But we must first turn away from the distracting frequencies that can fill our ears and close our hearts.

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Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. He is a senior fellow of Human Life International, and some of his recent writings may be found at HLI America’s Truth and Charity Forum (www.hli america.org/truth-and-charity-forum/).

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Donald DeMarco

Donald DeMarco

Dr. Donald DeMarco is Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Ontario, Canada, and Adjunct Professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, CT. He is a regular columnist for the St. Austin Review. His latest books, How to Navigate Through Life and Apostles of the Culture of Life, are available on Amazon.

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Online Edition:
September 2012
Vol. XVIII, No. 6

O Crux, ave spes unica! Hail, O Cross, our only hope!
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – September 14

On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (or Triumph of the Cross) we honor the Holy Cross by which Christ redeemed the world. The public veneration of the Cross of Christ originated in the fourth century, according to early accounts. The origin of this feast is the miraculous discovery of the cross on September 14, 326, by Saint Helen, mother of Constantine, while she was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Constantine later built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site of her discovery of the cross.

In the Western Church the feast came into prominence in the seventh century — after 629, when the Byzantine emperor Heraclius restored the Holy Cross to Jerusalem, after defeating the Persians who had stolen it.

Christians “exalt” (raise on high) the Cross of Christ as the instrument of our salvation. Our Adoration of the Cross is, thus, adoration of Jesus Christ, the God Man, who suffered and died on this Roman instrument of torture for our redemption from sin and death. The cross represents the One Sacrifice by which Jesus, obedient even unto death, accomplished our salvation. The cross is a symbolic summary of the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ — all in one image.

The Cross — because of what it represents — is the most potent and universal symbol of the Christian faith. It has inspired both liturgical and private devotions: for example, the Sign of the Cross, which is an invocation of the Holy Trinity; the “little” Sign of the Cross on head, lips, and heart at the reading of the Gospel; praying the Stations (or Way) of the Cross; and the Veneration of the Cross by the faithful on Good Friday by kissing the feet of the image of Our Savior crucified.

Placing a crucifix (the cross with an image of Christ’s body upon it) in churches and homes, in classrooms of Catholic schools and in other Catholic institutions, or wearing this image on our persons, is a constant reminder — and witness — of Christ’s ultimate triumph, His victory over sin and death through His suffering and dying on the Cross.

We remember Our Lord’s words, “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it” (Mt 10:38,39).

Meditating on these words we unite ourselves — our souls and bodies — with His obedience and His sacrifice; and we rejoice in this inestimable gift through which we have the hope of salvation and the glory of everlasting life.

Suggestions for family activities

• If possible attend Mass together. Consider taking your family to a church that has especially fine Stations of the Cross. Look at the images and explain their meaning. At each station pray, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, for by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.” Have the children kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and say a Hail Mary, an Our Father, and a Glory be.

• Make the evening meal today more festive than ordinary — light candles on the table or use the good dishes. Read one or more of the prayers or Scripture readings for the day before the evening meal. Older children could take turns doing the readings.

• Explain to children the meaning of the Sign of the Cross that we make before meals, and point out how this action is intended to unite every one of us with Jesus’ sacrifice for us — His crucifixion and His resurrection from the dead.

• Begin teaching even the very youngest members of the family to make the Sign of the Cross at the mealtime blessing. (Older brothers and sisters usually will be very glad to help the baby with this.)

• Make a point of mentioning to children how great is God’s love for us. Encourage them to memorize John 3:16. This is a key verse about the triumph of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, and encourages children to revere and respect God’s word in the Bible.

Give a small reward or privilege to each child who memorizes the verse. Have them recite it for you when they say their bedtime prayers. Two more ideas for this:

1. Have grade-school-age children write the verse in their fanciest writing and illustrate it with a drawing of Jesus on the Cross. Even little people think a lot when they are drawing something. Maybe you could set a crucifix on the table for them to look at when they draw it. (Don’t forget to display the results on the refrigerator — or maybe send it to grandma.)

2. Frost a sheet cake with white icing, and make a large Cross on the cake with red icing, and pipe “John 3:16” on the Cross. Let the children help decorate the cake further with silver dragees or colored sprinkles.

• If there are crucifixes in the children’s rooms, make sure to call attention to it during bedtime prayers. If not, today would be a very good time to get them!

— from Women for Faith & Family web site: wf-f.org/ExaltCross.html

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