Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas

Today, in the Catholic liturgical calendar, is the Feast of Corpus Christi. This feast was instituted in 1264 by Pope Urban IV. He commissioned St. Thomas Aquinas to compose an Office for Corpus Christi, which yielded the following beautiful hymns:

  • Pange, Lingua, Gloriosi (Acclaim, My Tongue, This Mystery).... stanzas five and six of this hymn have become the famous "Tantum Ergo Sancramentum," often sung at Eucharistic benediction ceremonies.
  • Sacris Solemnis Juncta Sint Gaudia (Let Joys Be Joined to Solemn Feasts)
  • Verbum Supernum Prodiens (The Word from Heaven Now Proceeding)
  • Lauds, Sion, Salvotorem (Praise, O Sion, Your Redeemer)

The Office for Corpus Christi is included in Devoutly I Adore Thee: The Prayers and Hymns of Saint Thomas Aquinas, published in 1993 in Latin and in original English translation by Sophia Institute Press.

On this beautiful feast day, spend some time in quiet contemplation and adoration-- and, perhaps, pen the thoughts that are inspired by your thoughts and God's inspiration.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The End of our Affair with Mannerists

Anyone else out there bored by the "Catholic writing" commentators who talk in endless circles about Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy? Are you interested in creating original work that will not be seen as a manneristic footnote on penumbras emanating from Percy's lousy, hackneyed wreck of a book, "The Thanatos Syndrome"? [Thanatos, in Freudian writing, was the death urge. Catholics cannot afford to wallow anymore in the culture of death. Read Joyce Kilmer, below, on self-destruction. The only logical response to self-destructive behavior is Kilmer's flip question, "And don't you think you were an ass?"] Anyone else wondering why we need to suffer through two hundred pages of shock reading to get to a not-so-bright point about morality?

An inordinate amount of Catholic "literary commentary" focuses on modern works that focus on ugliness. I'm sick of ugly books about sin. I'm at a loss to explain why conservative intellectuals who recommend books about sin [i.e., about breaking the sixth commandment] also trumpet family values and point fingers at politicians or other public figures who might need to go to confession every now and then. I suspect they're playing a game of Hegelian dialectic on us--- with the prudery of their public positions playing off against the license of their artistic voyeurism [please, someone explain to me the difference between Percy's verbal pornography and Paris Hilton's films. Will certain intellectuals finally completely flip their lid and discover that Paris Hilton is creating "art films" that illustrate the plight of modern sinners? Give me a break!]. So, with prudery on one hand, and literary voyeurism on the other, the commentators are set up as the pathfinders who can show us exactly what narrow path to walk so that we can be naughty and nice in just the right measure. [Jesus, by the way, wasn't into "naughty and nice"... goodness and redemption and true enjoyment instead. He also said to call no man father, that is, to elevate no one to a godlike status-- which would imply that we should be cautious about letting critics of any kind tell us what to read.]

I submit that the way out of this dialectical fraud is for Catholic writers to stop reacting to the Catholic critics. We can, of course, read what we want to, but must read critically. At some point, we must question why they keep recommending the same five or six authors. [I hope they have read other books....] Therefore, while the philosophes bore one another extolling the ugly books, I would like to recommend something transcendant. Fordham University's website features an Internet Medieval Sourcebook. As we readers and writers redicover the real canon, the modern literature of the grotesque can shrink to its rightful stature.

Note well that no Western Catholic writer of the twentieth century wrote a traditional epic. You can't spin an epic out of ugliness.

Enjoy the Fordham University Medieval Sourcebook:

And, if you don't want to read it, you don't have to. There's freedom to think for yourself on this website.


Friday, June 8, 2007

"Slavonic Pope" Poem Needs Translator

I have grown up in a Polish town, and know enough Polish to know that roughly 50% of the children in that town were "brats." Sadly, I do not yet know enough Polish to render a worthy translation of the most important Catholic poem of modern times, Juliusz Slowacki's "Slavonic Pope." I hoped to use this as a foreword for the John Paul II LifeGuide, and labored over this poem quite a while... In the interests of time and accuracy, though, I punted and including Pope Benedict's amazing funeral homily, itself quite poetic.

Nonetheless, current English translations of Slowacki's poem are very poor, and often abbreviated. Most omit Slowacki's spicier put-downs-- including those of Italian popes of yore, particular "that Italian" who fled Rome... I would imagine that's Pius fleeing from Napoleon.

I include the Polish text for my readers down on Milwaukee Avenue:

If you are able, please translate this! It is quickly being forgotten. The pale and annoying legend of a political "John Paul the Great" is nothing compared to Slowacki's vision, which is all the more dramatic because it was prophecy.


Thursday, June 7, 2007

Antidote to 20th Century Angst

To A Young Poet Who Killed Himself
by Joyce Kilmer

When you had played with life a space
And made it drink and lust and sing,
You flung it back into God's face
And thought you did a noble thing.
"Lo, I have lived and loved," you said,
"And sung to fools too dull to hear me.
Now for a cool and grassy bed
With violets in blossom near me."

Well, rest is good for weary feet,
Although they ran for no great prize;
And violets are very sweet,
Although their roots are in your eyes.
But hark to what the earthworms say
Who share with you your muddy haven:
"The fight was on -- you ran away.
You are a coward and a craven.

"The rug is ruined where you bled;
It was a dirty way to die!
To put a bullet through your head
And make a silly woman cry!
You could not vex the merry stars
Nor make them heed you, dead or living.
Not all your puny anger mars God's irresistible forgiving.

"Yes, God forgives and men forget,
And you're forgiven and forgotten.
You might be gaily sinning yet
And quick and fresh instead of rotten.
And when you think of love and fame
And all that might have come to pass,
Then don't you feel a little shame?
And don't you think you were an ass?"


Res ipsa loquitur. File this poem away and read it, next time someone presumes that writing is a foppish, self-destructive escape from reality.


Friday, June 1, 2007

Dateline: St. Louis

(EP)-- Catholic Writers has uncovered another unknown and worthy literary society. It is called the T.S. Eliot Society, and it is devoted to studying the work of amazing American poet T.S. Eliot (a St. Louis native, if I recall his bio from my Philosophy of Literature class). Eliot's The Wasteland was the most eloquent portrayal of modern atheism. His Four Quartets could be interpreted as his Anglican answer to The Wasteland.

A pop culture note on Eliot: the Crash Test Dummies' '90's hit Afternoons and Coffee Spoons was a reinterpretation of the Lovesongs of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Another random note. I had the privilege to take several worthwhile literature courses while at Notre Dame. I'll have to blog more about Philosophy of Literature--I signed up believing I'd be studying Dante's Cantos with medieval maven Eleanor Stumpf. On Day One, I walked in [in red plaid shirt and ripped jeans, like all the other disaffected nirvana-era philo majors] to meet Wes Kirkpatrick, disaffected atheist grad student and the best interpreter of modern literature I have yet met. Everyone in the class loved him because he would not allow us to dismiss serious questions with airy platitudes about "making a difference," "changing the world," "progress of history," and other foolish nineteen year old notions that poor writers carry with them into their careers.

If Jesus is the answer, we must be able to ask, "What was the question?" Remind me to search through the boxes of college notes...

In the meantime, here's the TS Eliot Society.