Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Connecting Ad Orientem, Sacred Art, an Ordered Environmentalism, Social Graces, and a Hierarchical Society

The Good, the Better and the Sunday Best, Part 2: Thoughts on Harnessing St Thomas’ 4th Way for Evangelization.

This is the second part of an article,(the full article is here), in which I suggest that the 4th Way of St Thomas is a powerful tool for evangelization, but not through an explanation of the proof itself, no matter how engaging it might be. Rather, the 4th Way describes after the fact a mode of thinking that leads naturally to faith as a response to the world around us. It is seen most commonly, therefore, in those who already have faith, regardless of whether or not they have even heard of St Thomas Aquinas, let alone read his proof. This being so, as a method for evangelization, one approach to using the 4th Way is to do so indirectly. Accordingly, the goal is to stimulate and nurture the natural facility in us for “4th-Way thinking” (leading in turn to faith in God), through the influence of the culture, and our actions and interactions with others. That mode of 4th-Way thinking is one that uses analogy in connecting beings to each other, recognizes the natural place of a hierarchy of being, and that all lesser beings participate in the fullness of Being which is the ultimate cause of their existence. This mode of thinking comes so naturally to us that even small children can employ it. Furthermore, when we apprehend beauty, we intuitively employ all of these modes of thinking, and so in many ways, the 4th Way is itself analogous to, if not directly identifiable with, the Way of Beauty. Finally, and in the light of this, after suggesting general principles by which we might create an environment that evangelizes, I illustrate with some specific examples that occurred to me. 

Last time I got as far as giving examples of things that might be done in the context of the liturgy and the culture of faith. In this article, I focus on some ways of encouraging this faithful mode of thinking in the wider culture. This is not meant be an exhaustive list, but rather some particular examples that I think would have an impact and through which you can discern the general principles.

The Liturgy
As with nearly all human behaviour and thought, whether directly or indirectly, the most important influence is the liturgy. If we get this right, it catechizes the faithful and evangelizes the faithless. Here are some suggestions:

Ad Orientem: This is perhaps the most striking and immediate way of symbolizing that we look to and recognize a Higher Power. My own conversion was influenced by seeing an ad orientem Mass in which the priest was seen as the head of a body of people, leading us towards a common destination. This impression just described was accentuated by the architecture and art, which served to focus my attention on and present to me visually images of what I otherwise would not have intuited.

Sacred Images: In regard to sacred images, in particular, we must again learn to pray with and venerate sacred images, especially in the context of the liturgy. To do so requires us to think analogically and hierarchically when we recognise that the image presents to us in a particular way the prototype in heaven. Accordingly, when we venerate an icon we understand that the respect we show is transferred to its prototype; and furthermore, we understand that there are degrees of respect. These are traditionally seen as “latria - worship”, which is the highest and is for God alone; followed by “hyperdulia”, which is accorded to Our Lady only among the Saints and Angels; and then “dulia”, which is for Saints and Angels. This mode of thinking, which takes delight in and recognises degrees of perfection that point us to an ultimate Being, is powerful 4th-Way thinking.

So important is this to our faith that the Church asserts that sacred art is not just permitted, but necessary in the Christian life. When we cease to pray with images, they become superfluous to our worship and this, in turn, undermines further the authenticity of our worship. Sacred imagery has a powerful role in preserving and stimulating a faithful mode of thought; by contrast, the neglect of them opens the way to a chain of negative consequences connected to each other: the rejection of the Church’ authority, the inversion of the hierarchy of being, an inversion  which seeks to bring “god” down to us (rather than allowing Him to draw us up to Himself by our partaking of the divine nature), and then atheism, which rejects Him altogether. People may doubt that these things are connected, but I am certain that they are.

It is not the only thing to think about, but I suggest nevertheless that until devout Catholics once again engage actively with sacred images in the act of worshipping God in the liturgy, we will not stop the decline in the Faith that we see in the West. One cannot underestimate the importance of this or how far from this ideal we have strayed today. Remember that Christians died in order to defend the orthodoxy of holy images. Today in the Roman Church, it seems, we so often give away freely what Saints in the past fought so hard to defend. We have a situation (in both forms of the liturgy, I might add) where, generally, imagery is irrelevant to our worship. Even for the pious, prayer can become an internalised, eyes-closed affair which reduces the role of art and architecture to that of a beautiful but essentailly irrelevant backdrop.

How Can We Transform The Wider Culture So As To Engender Faith
Here are just a few examples:

Polis and metropolis
When possible, we should design cities and towns so that God has pride of place; the heart of the community is where we worship because that is where we meet God, not at the shopping mall or even the government building. This is the tradition going back centuries which has been lost in the last couple of centuries. Vitruvius knew that the temple ought to be the focal point of the city. This meant placing it centrally and prominently, and treating it as the source of an architectural style in which all other buildings participated, with design modified to suit the purpose of each building.

We often have to start from where we are, and if our church and neighborhood don’t conform to this standard already, it doesn’t always mean that we have to flatten everything and start again. Wherever the church is, to the degree that it is beautiful and it houses right worship, a community will naturally develop around it, and it will start to become the natural heart of the community. Then, organically and slowly, but perceptibly, the neighbourhood will order itself to the natural focal point. People who are outside of that religious community will notice that it is the worship in the church that is the beating heart of a community, and will be curious to see more.
Redeveloping the art of thinking and acting symbolically.
This encourages an appreciation of the natural connections between things that convey meanings to us. We must learn again to look symbolically at the culture of faith, at nature and the world around us, and then strive to create a culture that reflects this symbolic way of thinking. This is not simply the re-establishment of the old symbolism that has been lost, but rather a creative and discerning retrieval, informed both by tradition and our new understanding of things; for example, of nature in the light of developments in natural science. The pelican symbolized the Eucharist at the time of St Thomas because it was thought to feed its young with its own blood. This was reasonable at the time, but nowadays nobody seriously believes it anymore. I wonder if it might be that the case that, beautiful though such symbolism might seem, that to persist with it makes us look superstitious and foolish.
Symbolism based upon scripture should be the starting point of the recovery. Who are the two figures on fish in this scene?
Natural Hierarchies in Society
We must strive to re-institute or preserve the natural authorities that exist in society, based upon family, nation and Church. When we visibly and joyfully respect those authorities, it tells others that we are happily conforming to the natural order of things, and will provoke curiosity. Similarly, when we are in positions of authority, we must assert it, but responsibly and lovingly, otherwise people will rebel. These are high ideals and we will fall short, but the effort will bear fruit. As an aside, I always thought that one of the things that made the series Downton Abbey so popular was the portrayal of a community in which, generally, people respected authority, and those in authority recognized their obligations to those over whom they had authority, and did their best to exercise it lovingly. This contrasted with the usual dramatic narrative, in which the hero leads a rebellion against tyranny or fights injustice. Sometimes rebellion against unjustly exercised authority is right, I don’t deny, but it’s not an inevitable dynamic in society, and not the only story worth telling!

Nurture our inherent facility for 4th-Way thinking from the earliest age
“Suffer the little children…”: Cornelio Fabro describes how even young children have the natural faculty for recognizing the existence of God as a personal God and Creator. It is still natural to them, perhaps because the awareness of hierarchy is so strong. They depend upon their parents who have full authority over them, and are the apparent source of all that is good in their lives.

Another reason that children have this natural inclination to faith might be that they have not yet had it knocked out of them by our culture, bad education, or bad liturgy.

Modern secular education deliberately, it seems to me, seeks to undermine faith by subtly but powerfully undermining the 4th Way, while professing a mind open to personal belief. This will be no surprise, but what is sad is that sometimes what we generally think of as a good Catholic education can do it too. Any education which is too focused on what Newman called scientific or analytical thinking will stifle our sense of the beautiful, if our abilities to think synthetically are not nurtured in parallel with our ability to analyse. There is little point in learning anything if we are incapable of bringing it into the whole body of learning via synthetic thinking, which then places it into the context of our ultimate purpose in life, union with God. A formation of beauty develops this facility.

There is a prejudice in academic circles, even amongst Catholics, that says that book and classroom-based learning is the real education, while other activities that develop our ability to apprehend beauty, a powerful mode of synthetic thinking, are just recreation. In point of fact, if education is not re-creating the person, it fails to attain its highest goal. Very few Catholics argue would with me on this point, I think, but when it comes down to curricula design, many seem to hesitate to actually devote time to the formation of synthetic thinking through creative pursuits. This is a subject I address at length in The Way of Beauty.
Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, England
Social graces and good manners 
These are natural modes of behaviour that indicate respect for others in accordance with the natural hierarchy. They tend to be disparaged today as old modes of behaviour that are restrictive and stifling for other peoples’ natural expression of thought. A rigid rulebook of manners can be stifling, but when it is understood that good etiquette, when well taught, promotes respect in accordance with the natural order of things, it can be liberating. The virtuous gentleman is one who makes all around him feel at ease; for most of us, this is a skill that has to be learned.

Behave and dress so that we demonstrate to others that we respect authority...and them!

Even what we wear can send out visual messages. It is right to dress up on certain occasions, and even the seemingly innocent trend of no longer wearing “Sunday best” for church contributes to the destruction of the Faith more than we imagine. The clothes we wear reveal something of our attitudes and who we are. We all make judgements about people based on the clothes they wear, whether we admit it or not. In church, we should dress and behave in a way that reveals to others the respect we have for God. When we go for a job interview, we take great care to make sure that the clothes we wear and the way we behave indicate respect for the person who is going to give us a job; so much more should we remember a church is God’s house. Formal dress does not alienate fellow worshippers if it is appropriate to our actions, and our subsequent interactions with others speak of the love of God. Our appearance contributes to the sense that we want to invite others to join us, rather than to push them away. The goal here is to dress in a way that tells people what we think about God, not what we want them to think about us. This should be thought of a principle that we apply to ourselves and those beholden to us, not one by which we can criticise others!

This is a true humility. All that we do ought to draw the attention of others, not in a way that says, “Look at me”, but rather, “Look at the One who made me,” or “Look at the One who inspired me.” All that we do can potentially speak of the love of God and so direct others to Him. When we strive for this ideal, it is a true humility, for it recognises our responsibilities as Christians and our place in relation to our fellows and to God. Reflection upon the lives of Our Lady and the Saints, especially through the prism of the liturgical year, will help us in this regard, for they are the experts in showing us God through their lives.
Many youth fashions are intended to give out the message of disrespect for the traditional conventions of society, including orderly behaviour and respect for the law. Yet if anyone ever admitted that they accepted the message and crossed the road to avoid such people on a dark night, or let it affect a hiring decision, they would be pilloried as intolerant and discriminatory. Take note SJWs: you cant have it both ways!
Cultivate an ordered appreciation of the beauty of the natural world
Nearly all people recognise the beauty of the natural world, but not all recognise the natural hierarchy of being within nature. Hence, that hierarchy as it ought to be - man highest, then animals, plants, and inanimate nature last - is often distorted or inverted.

Furthermore, in the right way of things, man is made to cultivate nature; when he does so well (and it has to be admitted he can do this badly!) he raises it up to something greater than what it was originally. I would argue, therefore, that there is also a hierarchy of beauty in nature, which puts the work of man at the pinnacle: gardens cultivated for beauty highest, land for production of food next, and wilderness lowest. The task here is twofold: we must change the general understanding of this hierarchy, as well as strive to work in harmony with the cosmic order, so that what we cultivate reflects this hierarchy.

People used to see things this way, but it is not so common now. Those who hate God aim to destroy our natural desire to praise Him for it by inverting the hierarchy, so that man is at the bottom of the pile. Some forms of extreme environmentalism do this. For them, man in the ideal is the noble savage in harmony with nature. Modern man, however, has been corrupted by the false constructs of society, and as a result of this corruption is inferior to the rest of nature. “Corrupted” man, it is maintained, will tend to destroy nature, for he no longer lives in harmony with it. The only way to save the planet, so the argument runs, is to restrict man’s activity. The easiest way to do this is to aim to reduce the number of humans. This is why abortion and contraception are promoted across the globe and why the garden, created by man’s dominion of nature, is a powerful and underappreciated antidote to this as a symbol of the culture of life. I wrote about this in a blog article here: Come out of the wilderness and into the garden!

In this regard, it is interesting that after the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene mistook the Risen Lord for a gardener. Our Lord did not deny that He was when asked, rather He made Himself known to her more fully. I suggest that Mary was correct, although perhaps she didn’t appreciate why, for as the new Adam, Christ is the gardener par excellence who cultivates Eden. We participate in the creation of Eden through all human activities that synthesize and use the natural world gracefully and beautifully, and within this, gardening particularly speaks of this special role of man in nature.

The liturgy can form us here too. Our delight in the beauty of creation is completed when we sing our praises to God for his creation in the psalms and canticles of the Liturgy - for example, the Canticle of Daniel, or Psalm 18(19). This not only trains us to see God through his works but supernaturally forms us as people who might imitate the work of the Gardener.
Ness Gardens in Cheshire. My mum used to work as a gardener here!
Work to change the things that have the opposite influence
Sometimes one wonders if atheists and anti-Catholic forces understand better than we do ourselves how the changing of our mode of thinking leads to faith, so skillfully do secular educators and shapers of the culture promote the values of atheism while appearing to promote the values of freedom and tolerance. They seem to realise that they don’t need to attack faith directly, but can destroy it by restricting the parts of our culture that reinforce the sort of thinking that leads to faith. We must learn to recognise this, and learn to assert what is good and true and beautiful to counter it.

All the structures of false egalitarianism, which fails to recognise the unique value of each person, disguised by exaggerated identity politics and supposed tolerance for individual faith, promote a culture of ugliness and disrespect for natural authorities, while asserting respect for unnatural authority and an unnatural hierarchy.
It has occurred to me that perhaps they do so because deep down, they recognize in themselves the power of this 4th Way thinking, and because they hate God, wish to erase all evidence of Him and our tendency to a natural and healthy response to that evidence.

We need to present to them a counter to the art of protest. That is the art of suffering and hope!

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