"If our churches were temples of beauty, they would be filled again."
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    So says Sr. Joan Roccasalvo in this compelling article, "Beauty---The Church's Greatest Power."

    Sr. Joan R. joins author Dana Gioia in lamenting the decline of the fine arts in Catholic churches in America---not just in the area of sacred music, but also in literature, education, liturgical arts, and in sacred images.

    “The schism between Christianity and the arts has had two profound consequences,” Gioia observes, “two vast impoverishments—one for the arts world, the other for the Church. First, for the art world, the loss of a transcendent religious vision, a refined and rigorous sense of the sacred . . . . The shallow novelty, the low-cost nihilism, and the vague and sentimental spiritual medium—are the legacy of this schism . . . not that art needs to be religious . . . just something more subtle and complex. The second consequence of this cultural schism affects the Church. The loss of the aesthetic sensibility in the Church has weakened its ability to make its call heard in the world. Whenever the Church has abandoned the notion of beauty, it has lost precisely the power that it hoped to cultivate—its ability to reach souls in the modern world.”
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    Are you sure it isn't banners that'll do it? I think it's probably banners.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    Flying fish banners
    Thanked by 2francis tomjaw
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,437
    The problem with this thesis is that Rome's stunning churches are nearly empty.

    Of course, the music is execrable.
  • The schism is 300 years old though, from since aesthetics was sundered from cognition and beauty ceased to be seen as a category of the real. Aesthetics in the modern sense is not really part of Catholic heritage.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Flying fish banners

    IIRC, said devices were somewhere between a kite and a processional banner, no?
    Well, regarding aesthetic reform in the church universal, one can lead a horse to water...
    I think it's high time we Americans place a moratorium on the automatic inclination that when WE see a problem, here or elsewhere, we become fixated upon the mandate that is has to be corrected, and by God if they won't do it, we will!
    RotR is not WWII. And yes, I know that souls may be very well at stake in part because of the religious formation of the faithful, but I don't think our individual judgment will hinge upon whether we sang "Peace is flowing like a river" with the schlomo strumming two chords on a guitar at every Sunday Mass.
    Thanked by 1ryand
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    If our churches were temples of GOD, they would be both beautiful and full.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,437
    I think it's high time we Americans place a moratorium on the automatic inclination that when WE see a problem, here or elsewhere, we become fixated upon the mandate that is has to be corrected, and by God if they won't do it, we will!
    Is this laziness talking, or Rodney King, or what? "Souls are at stake, but our individual judgment is not going to depend on our action or inaction, so don't get involved"??? What kind of charity is that?

    [Would you mind easing up on the rancor here?--RC]

    This is a discussion board for sacred music. It is precisely a place where people discuss, among other things, the difference between good music and bad music, the effect this has on our brothers and sisters, and what we can do about it on every level. If someone finds some of these discussions so uncomfortable that he repeatedly speaks negatively about other participants' contributions and motives, including their religious motives, then perhaps he could participate in only those discussions that don't make him uncomfortable. There are probably other solutions, but that could be a good one. There would still be many interesting threads to participate in, and meanwhile those of us who want to distinguish between good and bad, good and better, etc., would have the freedom to do this without the discussions being diverted.
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    Andrew Malton, philosophy wasn't my best subject in college---do you think you could explicate further? I'm not sure what you mean by "aesthetics in the modern sense." It sounds intriguing.

    Melo, are you referring to the American Catholic conservative attitude that the whole world should revolve around "our problems" and the universal Church must stop everything and solve "our problems" in the liturgy and the lack of attendance, etc., instead of more pressing problems like the persecution of Christians in the Middle East?

    If you are, I agree wholeheartedly that liturgical/aesthetical abuse in my local church shrinks to almost nothing in comparison to the plight of persecuted Christians in Timor, but I'm still going to do what I can in my little corner of the Catholic world (and believe me, it's literally a tiny corner of a tiny cemetery chapel) to promote authentic Catholic liturgy and beautiful sacred music.

    Why? Precisely because I believe that if I don't throw my whole heart and soul and just about every second of my spare time in rebuilding Christendom in this post-Christian age, my children and grandchildren might very well be the victims of neo-barbarians right here in America in the very near future.
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    Furthermore, I might add, it's an open question whether the Catholic Church will survive except in tiny pockets of the United States at the rate things are going now so building up the Body of Christ in the best way I know how---through the fully realized beauty and power of the Catholic liturgy and the sacraments---- is the only way I know of to combat the threat of our eventual extinction.

    Just look at what's happening to the Little Sisters of the Poor if you're not concerned that the Catholic Church is under attack in America. We may not have mobs of wild-eyed fanatics waving swords and demanding our heads, but give it some time.

    Sorry to be aggressive about this, but I guess my mama bear instinct is coming out.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,743
    Fr. Gabriel Bunge, an interesting former Benedictine who wrote an excellent book called, " Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer According To The Patristic Tradition," converted to Orthodoxy at some point. Here is the interview with him where he has some interesting insights on the East and the West. He makes the argument that the Church in the West needs to get back to its roots.

    http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/65138.htm

    Here is a quote from him (in the interview) on comparisons between ancient liturgy and modern Latin Church liturgy. I put this here because I found it interesting, and not to provoke any arguments.


    —Just as an aside, last spring there was a delegation from Russia present at a celebration in Sicily commemorating the aid given by Russian soldiers to victims of the great Messina earthquake in 1908. The Russian clergy present were invited to serve the Liturgy for the local Orthodox congregation in the Capella Palatina in Palermo.

    —Ah, beautiful. The Russians continually celebrate solemn Liturgies in the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Bari. I have seen one Liturgy there celebrated by a Russian Metropolitan, about 20 priests, with a large choir. And I thought, “That is the Liturgy required by this beautiful cathedral. But when it was over, the Latin mass started… and you want to cry. You want to ask, “What are you doing here?”

    In a way, this is something out of the ordinary, but it shows that many Catholics are not sure any more that they are right.
    Thanked by 1JulieColl
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    "The Church must breathe with her two lungs!"

    - Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, no. 54

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,743
    Fr. Gabriel goes into some differences between East and West that we haven't reached agreement on, and may not for any number of years. But on worship in sacred and beautiful spaces, I think he nailed it.
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    I was trying to say my observations about American Catholics interested in liturgy seem to think they have a moral imperative to make wholesale and blanket criticisms of liturgical praxis around the globe, and offer up immediate opinions on how to remediate those.


    Point well taken, Melo, since almost none of us, at least that I'm aware of, have chancery positions or have offices in Rome and so we're trying to work from the ground up instead of the top down. This forum and resources have been enormously helpful in assisting and encouraging people to work towards authentic reform, and personally I'd be very much handicapped without it. I receive so much inspiration and hope from listening to all of you. I often feel like a little mouse listening at the feet of giants, but that's alright since it's always good to be stretched intellectually and musically.

    The point is, though, even if it sounds trite, that each of us does exert significant influence on the state of the liturgy in our own corners of the world. Do you ever stop to realize that generations of people may be influenced by your music decisions? People will carry the hymns and music you sing and play at Mass with them wherever they go. Do you remember the musician from China who came to the forum once and recalled how Catholic Chinese prisoners would sing church hymns in their prison cells from memory for inspiration and solace?

    I've spoken probably ad nauseam of my humble place at the keyboard at our diocesan TLM in St. John's Cemetery, and it's probably the lowest rung on the totem pole by church music standards, and that's fine with me because it offers us a unique perspective and opportunity (and responsibility) to do things correctly from the beginning. I should call my reflections "Notes from the Crypt" because I feel like we're like the Christians in the catacombs and are trying to establish a liturgical music program and Catholic community literally from the ground up. I'm very grateful for the opportunity and only hope God will multiply and bless our efforts, and the efforts of all of you who are laboring in the Lord's vineyard.
    Thanked by 1expeditus1
  • francis
    Posts: 10,079
    If that flying fish banner had ever dipped down near me (however you wouldn't find me DEAD at an NPM conference), Ida grabbed its friggin tail and torn the whole thing off, hook, line and sinker, and then smiled and proclaimed, "fish sticks for din din, yall!"
  • JulieColl: "While the ancient and medieval theories of beauty grew from metaphysics (where beauty was treated primarily as a property of being), the aesthetic theories have completely different roots. They are connected with the milestone that was Cartesian philosophy [NB R. Descartes 1596 - 1650].. as a result of [which] beauty was separated first from being, then from nature, and in the end it became a value ascribed to art alone." (P Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, ch. 5).

    The process (of shifting "beauty", from "perfection of being, goodness, and truth in relationship to the understanding soul", to "sensual expression ordered to the spirit"), would be completed by the time of Hegel [eg 1820-1830] but aesthetics as a separate (Cartesian) science begins with Baumgarten (1714 - 1762) which is why I said 300 years.

    Not much Catholicism in there, at any rate.
  • If we used Vin Mariani as the matter for the Precious Blood, we'd have full churches too. But we wouldn't have strong churches. Which is not to say that beauty doesn't help. It does, but as a pointer to the Beauty which is Truth. If you don't have a church that stands for something and homilies that say something, you can get your beauty in a museum.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Melo, are you referring to the American Catholic conservative attitude that the whole world should revolve around "our problems" and the universal Church must stop everything and solve "our problems" in the liturgy and the lack of attendance, etc., instead of more pressing problems like the persecution of Christians in the Middle East?
    If you are, I agree wholeheartedly that liturgical/aesthetical abuse in my local church shrinks to almost nothing in comparison to the plight of persecuted Christians in Timor, but I'm still going to do what I can in my little corner of the Catholic world (and believe me, it's literally a tiny corner of a tiny cemetery chapel) to promote authentic Catholic liturgy and beautiful sacred music

    Yes, Julie, more or less this. And your intuition about what you doing affecting the future of your grandchildren and theirs I share as well, and act in accord as much as possible. I have neither sought to stifle free discussion, nor steer it away from those aspects most beneficial to the mission of the forum, and I've always allowed as how YMMV. That said, I think friend Jeffrey Quick's linking of beauty towards truth is remarkably on point. Our liturgical problems will always be a subset of ecclesial problems. I'll bow out at this point. Thank you.
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    Thanks to Jeffrey Quick for his excellent insight, and to Andrew for the explanation. I'll try a stab at this: does a Cartesian philosophy of aesthetics boil down to saying "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and is not a measurable, quantifiable, objective aspect of reality?

    Melo, I do so hope you're not bowing out on account of me. I never lightly dismiss what you say, and always find your comments interesting and challenging and always with some jewel tucked away inside them. It's not easy to put you in an ideological box which is a very good thing and I admire you for it.

    I'm afraid my ideological profile sticks out like a sore thumb: traditional Catholic homeschooling mom (need I say any more?) and it would get very boring very fast if all of us were exactly the same. Yikes. May the Lord forever preserve us from the bland and homogenized and the status quo.
  • Darned if I know, Julie. Considering the art I know best, beauty seems to involve ratios of small whole numbers (or their near-equivalent in 12th-roots of 2), body-measurable rhythm, formal symmetries, a certain amount of predictability but not too much. All of these can be quantified, but their perfection of balance can't be quantified, only experienced. There is other music which I find meaningful, but not beautiful. And sometimes, in my own work, beauty and meaning battle for which shall cede place at any particular instant. I don't see perfect beauty as being possible. I may change my mind about that if offered a commission for the Heavenly Choir, but here on earth, that's how it seems.
    Thanked by 2JulieColl CHGiffen
  • I think the catch-phrase about the Eye of the Beholder is rather ambiguous. Perhaps, if I behold the good and true in a subject, and that pleases me, and draws me towards the True and Good (thanks, Jeffrey), there Beauty in the ancient sense has appeared. Again, perhaps if my senses are satisfied according to my inner, say my human psychological needs, if the sense experience fits me, there beauty has appeared in the modern, enlightened sense. But in both ways of speaking there is a Beholder and at least by analogy an Eye, too.
    Thanked by 1JulieColl
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    Many thanks for these excellent and thoughtful explanations. It's bringing back memories of metaphysics classes. I remember reading Tolstoy's essay on art and being impressed with his definition of art as the activity by which one person accurately transmtis his experiences and feelings to others, but that still doesn't define beauty per se.

    This isn't a perfect definition either, but it comes close:

    A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
    Its loveliness increases; it will never
    Pass into nothingness.
    JOHN KEATS, Endymion
  • francis
    Posts: 10,079
    Thanks to Jeffrey Quick for his excellent insight, and to Andrew for the explanation. I'll try a stab at this: does a Cartesian philosophy of aesthetics boil down to saying "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and is not a measurable, quantifiable, objective aspect of reality?


    It depends on WHAT eye is in WHOSE beholden head! God gives the foolish and damned over to their own thinking (and seeing). Don't trust their eyeball for anything short of going to hell. Many people have eyeballs but it doesn't mean they can see. Nor can they determine what is beautiful and what isn't. Beauty is an objective truth. If something IS beautiful and you think it isn't, well, you need to get the ole eyeball repaired! (and that especially goes for the brain that interprets the message)

    Here is a little piece on the subject for you to consider:

    http://mereorthodoxy.com/is-beauty-objective/
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    I often notice that - especially in the context of the liturgical arts - people who claim as beautiful something that I think is downright gawd-aful tacky will also say, in another context, that they don't think beauty is that important in the liturgy.

    Just sayin'.
    Thanked by 2francis Jahaza
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,437
    At some point in the conversation, it might be good to look at (or listen to) a concrete instance of beauty and talk about it.
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    Okay, I'll buy that, Francis. I believe beauty is an objective truth as well, and the article was very helpful in establishing that, but if I attempted, as Kathy helpfully suggested, to offer a concrete example of musical perfection and beauty---the best of which I firmly believe to be John Eliot Gardiner's performance of Bach's Mass in B minor, and in particular the choral segment below from the Gloria--- there would be any number of people who could pop up and say they don't agree with my assessment at all, so where do you go with that?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5ohS-o4kys
  • scholistascholista
    Posts: 109
    ...but if I attempted...to offer the best concrete example possible of musical perfection and beauty...there would be any number of people who could pop up and say they don't agree with my assessment at all, so where do you go with that?

    I would suggest that it is possible for a person's criteria to be objectively flawed concerning what constitutes beauty.

    Sr. Joan, in the cited article, says that Beauty is a power. This brings to mind Fr. Thomas Dubay's book The Evidential Power Of Beauty in which he establishes three scientific criteria for beauty: simplicity, harmony & brilliance. It is a book worth reading for those interested in transcendental beauty and its power.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW JulieColl
  • francis
    Posts: 10,079
    JulieColl

    There are a number of layers to your hypothesis:

    1. The beauty of the composition on its own merit
    2. The truth to it's appropriateness in being used in an actual liturgy
    3. The beauty of the performance

    I would rate them as follows:

    1. 10 - the composition is true, timeless and beautiful.
    2. 0 - was never intended to be performed for the liturgy. It's waaaay over the top!
    3. A performance, in my mind, is not something that can receive an objective judgement. It is in itself flawed because it uses humans to execute it's performance, can receive a widely varried treatment concerning tempo, acoustic harmonics, dynamics, balance of voices and instruments, intonation, and more, which enter into a subjective analysis of a performance. Nonetheless, I would say the performance that you have posted is... simply beautiful, oftentimes because it is the human reaching for the sublime.
    Thanked by 1JulieColl
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    Scholista, now we're getting somewhere! Thanks so much for the recommendation of Fr. Dubay's book; his three criteria for beauty make eminent good sense, and I can easily see how they can be applied to just about anything--an objet d'art, music, a poem, a tree, a rock and even a math problem.

    Francis, what you said about the composition itself vs performance is a very important distinction, but, hypothetically, one might take even an average composition and turn it into a thing of beauty. I'm thinking of a brilliant violinist I know who can transform Mary had a little lamb into something truly exquisite and profound, or another wonderful girl of my acquaintance who can sing one note with such artistry and perfection that you think you've died and gone to heaven when you hear it.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • One would be loathe to suggest that beauty is anything other than an objective category. But, one is right back where one started by suggesting that 'simplicity', 'harmony', and (MOST of all) 'brilliance' are anything other than hopelessly subjective descriptors, which, besides being subjective, are hardly universal qualities of anything that is objectively beautiful. Coming immediately to mind is much rococo and baroque art and architecture that is certainly not characterised as simplicity, yet much of it is very beautiful; certain musics and art may be said to be 'harmonious' (whatever that means) and yet lack beauty in any meaningful sense; as for 'brilliance', well, what, pray, is meant by this? - splendour? genius? daring? light-filled? or what?, none of which are required attributes of the beautiful. Again, I, too, insist that beauty is an objective category; but, we are on the same old slippery slope when we cannot define how it is objective but in inevitably subjective language.
    Thanked by 1JulieColl
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    By the way, Choirparts, I just sent out links to my schola of your very helpful videos for Ne Timeas, Maria which we're going to sing on Candlemas.

    A thousand thank you's for your practice videos. We use them all the time.
    Thanked by 1Choirparts
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,179
    ...there would be any number of people who could pop up and say they don't agree with my assessment at all...


    Yah. Ya' think that B-16's "relativism" warnings were dead on-target?

    Based on experience, I fear that large portions of the US population couldn't recognize beauty at all, whether graphic, plastic, or musical. Especially musical. Education in the arts has become an elite pleasure (or affectation) in this country.

    Now, then: does beauty, per se, attract? Yes. But more often than not, there is resistance to beauty, and I think that's connected, somehow, to the materialism and pragmatism of "middle America."

    Worse, church musicians are not really allowed to educate the congregations on the nature of musical beauty; that's not allowed, for lots of reasons, mostly....ahhh...."practical."

    Pius X's dictum that church music should elevate the mind and the heart to God is in deep trouble. He described the purpose of musical beauty; no less will suffice for that purpose of lifting 'zu Gott'--but the conjunction "and" is morphed to "or", thus the treacle and trash which may 'lift the heart,' but definitely not engage 'the mind.'

    Your proposal is true, of course. Now all we have to do is find the audience which understands.

    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    I have enjoyed reading all of your contributions to this thread. I also agree that beauty is an objective reality toward which we all aspire. The difficulty in achieving it in liturgy (at least in my neck of the woods) flows from the difficulty in introducing our congregations to beautiful music. I have found that it is time consuming and requires patience, persistence and above all..prayer.

    I don't believe that this resistance is due to materialism or pragmatism and I have witnessed several fellow laborers in "middle America" who are doing God's work against great odds. I do think that much of the music which surrounds us on a daily basis is formulaic, and uninspired. Just turn on a radio and it is apparent. In my experience, much of the problem comes from a lack of exposure to beautiful music which is complicated by a lack of thorough musical training and curiosity in many liturgical musicians. It's easier to sing four hymns and call it a day than to study liturgical documents and play through more challenging works. We need to seek out that beauty and dedicate time and effort to mastering it.

    In addition, the majority of us must accomplish our work with little help from the clergy. While I am sure that the pastors that I am familiar with want beautiful music in liturgy, I am less confident that they have the musical vocabulary needed to recognize, inspire and support the efforts of dedicated scholas in their parishes. We have to delicately open minds and hearts to the same beauty that inspired us to use our talents for Christ.
  • Scott_WScott_W
    Posts: 462
    Ed Feser has an entry on aesthetics and plastic which is relevant because "plastic" is a good description of much of the modern liturgical ditties:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-metaphysics-and-aesthetics-of.html

    Moreover, plastic, though in another and obvious sense “artificial,” is not ugly when new and functional. Indeed, the plastic components of computers, automobiles, toys, and many other artifacts can all be aesthetically highly pleasing.

    But old, broken plastic seems pretty much always ugly in a way old, broken stone, metal, wood, or glass need not be. Why?
  • francis
    Posts: 10,079
    Because it is cheaply made to begin with