Saturday, September 30, 2023

Torah and Haftarah in the Roman Liturgy (Part 3.2): The Ember Saturday of Pentecost, and Good Friday

This is the fourth article in an ongoing series (part 1, part 2, part 3.1), the first part of which explains the meaning of the terms “Torah” and “haftarah” in the context of the Jewish liturgy, and its influence on some very ancient parts of the Roman lectionary.

On the Ember Saturdays of Lent and September, the third reading is the haftarah of the first, and the fourth of the second. On the last day of Pentecost, however, the order is reversed, as also on the Ember Wednesday of September: the first reading is from a prophet, and the third from the Law. It seems likely that the lesson from the prophet Joel (chapter 2, 28-32), is given pride of place because the Apostle St Peter quotes him in his sermon on the very first Christian Pentecost. “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy: your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. … upon my servants and handmaids … I will pour forth my spirit, and I will show wonders in heaven…” (Acts 2, 17-21)

The Prophet Joel, depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1508-12. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
The corresponding reading from Deuteronomy 26 (1-3b and 7b-11a) instructs the Israelites on the offering of their first fruits to the Lord, who “brought (them) out of Egypt with a strong hand, and with arm outstretched, with great terror, with signs and wonders.” From the most ancient times, the Church has understood the crossing of the Red Sea, at which God worked these signs and wonders, as a symbol of baptism. The Roman Church therefore reads the story from Exodus (14, 24 – 15, 1, with its canticle) at the vigil of both of its great baptismal feasts, Easter and Pentecost. One week after the latter, She reminds us that in the Old Testament, both the Law and the Prophets bear witness to the signs and wonders which God has done, and above all, in the conversion of the nations, which began at Pentecost.

On the other hand, the second and fourth readings are both taken from the book of Leviticus, breaking the Torah/haftarah pattern. The former, a selection of verses from chapter 23, prescribes the manner of offering first fruits at Pentecost, and the latter, chapter 26, 3-12, is a promise that God will grant the fruitfulness of the earth and the defense of the land, if the people “walk in (His) precepts and keep (His) commandments.” In the annual Jewish liturgical cycle of Torah readings, the “parashoth” (sections) to which these passages belong will generally around the same time as Pentecost, from mid-May to mid-June, so it seems likely that this choice was also made in imitation of the custom of the synagogue.
The Ember Wednesday and Saturday of Advent, and the Wednesdays of the fourth week of Lent, of Holy Week, and of Pentecost, all have more than one reading before the Gospel, but these do not fit the Torah / haftarah pattern either. Thus, there remains only one last Mass to consider among those that do fit the pattern, the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday.
Here again, the order is reversed from that of the Jewish tradition, with the Prophet before the Law: the first reading is Hosea 6, 1-6, and the second, Exodus 12, 1-11.
St Jerome begins his commentary on Hosea by saying, “If we need the Holy Spirit to come to us when explaining any of the prophets, … how much more must we pray the Lord (to help us) in explaining Hosea… especially since he himself attests to the obscurity of his book at the end, where he writes, ‘Who is wise and shall understand these things, intelligent and shall know them?’ ” Such a mysterious book is eminently appropriate for a day of such ineffable mysteries, when the Church stands present at the death of the Creator Himself.
The Prophet Habakkuk, by Girolamo Romanino, from the Sacrament Chapel of the church of St John the Evangelist in Brescia, Italy (1521-4). The quotation on the banderole, the opening words of the canticle, follows the Old Latin text, which was translated from the Septuagint, rather than the Vulgate version of St. Jerome.
“... He will revive us after two days: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. We shall know, and we shall follow on, that we may know the Lord. … For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than holocausts.” This is explained by the words of the tract which follows, taken from Habakkuk 3 according to the Old Latin translation of the Septuagint: “O Lord, I heard Thy report, and was afraid: I considered thy works, and was amazed. Between two living creatures Thou shalt be known”. The “two living creatures” were first understood by St Augustine to be the two thieves crucified alongside the Lord; the tract therefore shows us that we attain to “the knowledge of God” in beholding the Crucified Lord. And likewise, as Hosea says “For I desired mercy…”, the tract says “in wrath Thou shalt remember mercy,” an expression of the idea, “a scandal to the Jews, and foolishness to the gentiles,” that God’s supreme act of mercy was to undergo His Passion, in the very midst of which He prayed for the forgiveness of those who inflicted it upon Him.
The second reading from Exodus 12 describes the slaying of the Paschal Lamb under the Old Law, which was of course taking place in Jerusalem even as Christ was in the midst of the Passion. This choice is grounded in the Christian understanding of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, of whom St Paul writes, “Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed”; but also, in the very nature of the ancient Good Friday ceremony, the vivid representation of the death of Lord, for which we are truly present.
Two readings, one from the Law and one from the Prophets, are therefore united as witnesses to the Passion, just as Moses and Elijah appeared at the beginning of Lent as witnesses to the Transfiguration.
Lastly, then, we may cite some of the many passages in which the Lord Himself and the authors of the New Testament refer to this custom of the two readings, the Torah and the haftarah.
  • Do not think that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. (Matthew 5, 17)
  • All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the Law and the Prophets. (7, 12)
  • On these two commandments dependeth the whole Law and the Prophets. (22, 40)
  • If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead. (Luke 16, 31)
  • And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures, the things that were concerning Him. … all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me. (24, 27 and 44)
Christ and the Two Disciples on the Road to Emmaus (the occasion on which the first part of the citation above is spoken by the Lord), 1560-65, by the Italian painter Lelio Orsi (1508/11-87). Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
  • We have found him of whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets did write, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth. (John 1, 45)
  • And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them. … the voices of the Prophets, which are read every sabbath… (Acts 13, 15 and 27)
  • so do I serve the Father and my God, believing all things which are written in the Law and the Prophets… (24, 14)
  • But now without the law the justice of God is made manifest, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. (Romans 3, 21)

The Communion of St Jerome by Domenichino

It is to be expected that the Renaissance would greatly admire the figure of St Jerome, second only to St Augustine as the most prolific writer among the Latin Fathers. Augustine himself describes Jerome as “learned in the Greek and Latin tongues, and furthermore in Hebrew,” and says that he had “read all those before him, or nearly all, who had written anything about the Church’s teaching in both parts of the world,” i.e., among the Greek or Latin writers. (Contra Julianum 1, 34) The scholars of the Renaissance prided themselves on their rediscovery of the classical world, and their return to the original sources of Greco-Roman culture. By learning Hebrew and producing a new and better Latin translation of the Bible, that which we now call the Vulgate, St Jerome had done what they themselves were doing, but with the very Word of God itself.

In the 15th century, which produced a great many images of St Jerome, he is often shown as a scholar in his study, sitting at a desk and surrounded by books. Since he had revised the Latin version of the Gospels at the behest of Pope St Damasus I, and served for a time as his secretary, he is traditionally depicted as a cardinal, which the contemporary Pope’s secretary would normally be. There are few episodes of what one might describe as a legendary character attached to him, but a famous one is the Christian version of the Androcles and the lion story, that while he was living in his monastery in Bethlehem, he removed a thorn from the paw of a lion, which henceforth became his pet. A lion is therefore usually shown in the study along with the Saint.

St Jerome in His Study, by Jan van Eyck, 1442 
A contrary trend, however, shows St Jerome as an ascetic and penitent, praying in the desert, as he did indeed spend much of his life as a monk in the deserts of the Holy Land. As evidenced by many of his writings, but especially by his fierce polemics against the errors of his times, Jerome was not the kind of man to do anything by halves; the apprehension of his character gave rise to the tradition by which he is shown beating his own breast with a rock as an act of penance. Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58) is said to have remarked on such a representation of the Saint, who also quarreled violently with several of his friends (including Augustine), “If it is true, that would be the only way you got into heaven.” The figure of Jerome the Ascetic corrects a tendency common among the learned men of the Renaissance, (Erasmus is a classic example), to disdain the Christian ideals of detachment and renunciation, a disdain which all too often degenerates into further disdain for “the ignorant”, and one’s fellow man generally.

St Jerome in the Wilderness, by Jacopo del Sellaio, later 15th century
Before the middle of the 16th-century, these two manners of representing St Jerome appear side by side, each with roughly the same frequency. In the Counter-Reformation, however, Jerome the Ascetic and Penitent comes to dominate almost completely. One of the most famous such paintings of the Roman Counter-Reformation is that of Domenico Zampieri, a painter from Bologna generally known by the nickname “Domenichino – Little Dominic.” After coming to Rome in 1602 at the age of twenty, and making a name for himself first as a student of Annibale Carracci, and then with various projects of his own, he was commissioned in 1614 to do his first altarpiece, for the church of San Girolamo della Carità, once the home of St Philip Neri. (“Girolamo” is Italian for “Jerome”.)

One of his contemporaries, Gian Pietro Bellori, described Domenichino’s Communion of St Jerome as follows: “Who could ever speak worthily and at great enough length of such a stupendous work, if one observes its drawing and expression? These are the parts that are unanimously considered the merits of Domenichino, over and above all other painters of this century.” He also reported that Nicholas Poussin, a much-esteemed French painter of the era who worked most of his life in Rome, “was ravished by its beauty, and used to set it beside Raphael’s Transfiguration… as the two greatest paintings that lend glory to the brush.” (Paintings in the Vatican, ed. Carlo Pietrangeli, p. 474) Another contemporary, Giovanni Lanfranco, famously accused Domenichino of plagiarizing the work from Agostino Caracci, a brother of his teacher, but he was fiercely defended from this imputation by Bellori and Poussin among others.

The Communion of St Jerome, by Domenico Zampieri, 1614; now in the Painting Gallery of the Vatican Museums 
St Jerome was a figure at once important and difficult for the Protestant reformation. He was the only Father of the Church to whose authority the early Protestants could appeal in their rejection of the Deuterocanonical books of the Bible, (he is cited to this effect in the Articles of the Church of England), even though he himself did not hold his position against them consistently. John Calvin famously stated about St Augustine, “totus noster est – he belongs entirely to us”, (a typically gross exaggeration), and as noted above, Augustine praised Jerome as the most learned man of their age. But Jerome was also a fierce defender of many things rejected by the Protestants: devotion to the Saints and the cult of relics, the Papacy, asceticism and monasticism, celibacy and virginity.

In Domenichino’s painting, therefore, an exemplary work of the Counter-Reformation, Jerome the Ascetic comes entirely to the fore, and there is no trace of Jerome the Scholar. His open robes reveal the body of an elderly man emaciated by years of fasts and long vigils. The robes themselves are cardinalitial red, representing the highest institutions of governance in the Church. A woman kneeling down beside Jerome kisses his hand, venerating him as a Saint. He himself gazes in adoration at the Host of the Viaticum which he is about to receive; Domenichino emphasizes its importance by making the background immediately around it very dark, and having several of the lines in the painting converge upon it. The priest who administers the Host is holding it in the traditional Catholic manner, between his canonical digits, and under a paten.

The Catholicity, i.e., the universality, of the true Church founded by Christ is highlighted by the fact that the priest is assisted by a deacon in a Roman dalmatic (note the tassels on the back), and another wearing the crossed horarion and cuffs (called “epimanikia”) of the Byzantine tradition. St Jerome spent about 35 years of his life in Bethlehem, and died there on this day in the year 419; in his time, the city had Christian communities of both Latin and Greek speakers, especially after the sack of Rome in 410, when many Romans fled to the East. The Counter-Reformation often sought to proclaim, as it does here, the unified witness of East and West, the Latin Fathers and the Greek, against the theological innovations of the 16th century.

Finally, we may note the Angels in the upper right hand corner, watching the scene and ready to welcome the dying Saint into their company. They are shown as smiling children, the emissaries of a loving and benevolent God, unlike the deeply unpleasant deity of Calvin. They will soon bring St Jerome before the Lord, who will receive him with the words sung at the Benedictus in the Office of Confessors, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

Friday, September 29, 2023

St Michael in the Apocrypha

The Archangel Michael is mentioned three times in the book of Daniel, once in the Apocalypse, and once in the Epistle of St Jude, and these are all of his Biblical appearances. Both New Testament authors introduce him quite abruptly, taking it for granted that their readers already know who he is. “And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon…” (Apoc. 12, 7) This would certainly be due to his prominence in pre-Christian Jewish literature, works of the sort which we now call (rather inexactly) apocrypha. And indeed, the mention of him in the Epistle of St Jude is taken from such a work.

St Michael Defeating the Devil, by Guido Reni, 1635
“When Michael the Archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses, he durst not bring against him the judgment of railing speech, but said: The Lord command thee.” (verse 9) These words refer to an episode in a Jewish apocryphal work called The Assumption of Moses, which is only partially preserved; it is not in the part that survives, but ancient scholars such as Origen, who had the complete text to hand, say that it is in the work cited by St Jude. One explanation of the story is that the devil sought to claim possession of Moses’ body as that of a murderer, since he had killed the Egyptian, (Exod. 2, 11-12), and it was for this that St Michael said, “May God rebuke thee.” (In this context, it should be remembered that the Greek word “diabolos” means “slanderer.”) Another explanation is based on a tradition which goes all the way back to Tertullian, that idolatry was taught to mankind by the devil; therefore, in the story cited by St Jude, the devil’s purpose in trying to get the body of Moses would be to have the Jews worship it as an idol.

The story has attracted almost no attention from artists, with one very prominent exception, a fresco of it in the Sistine Chapel. When the chapel was originally constructed, Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) commissioned a group of some of the most prominent painters of the era (Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Perugino among them) to paint eight episodes each from the lives of Moses and Christ; they are paired to show how the Church understands the life of Moses, the lawgiver of the Old Testament, as a prophecy of the life of Christ, the lawgiver of the New Testament. The final two, however, The Dispute over the Body of Moses and The Resurrection of Christ, break the parallelism; Moses, the giver of the old Law, dies and stays dead, but Christ, the giver of the new Law, rises from the dead.

These last two are on the chapel’s back wall, which has a large door in the middle, under part of each of the paintings. On Christmas Day of 1522, the architrave over the door suddenly cracked and fell, just after Pope Hadrian VI had passed under it while processing into the chapel to say Mass. (Two of his guards were killed.) This break would eventually lead to the complete deterioration of the paintings; around 1575, Matteo da Lecce replaced the original Dispute over the Body of Moses with the same subject, but in a very different style, as Hendrick van den Broeck had done about 20 years earlier with the Resurrection.

St Michael also figures very prominently in another apocryphal work, The Testament of Abraham, which exists in two recensions; the longer of these mentions him 24 times, the shorter 44 times. The basic idea of both is that he is sent to Abraham, whose life is extended from the Biblical 175 years (Genesis 25, 7) to 995 in the long recension, to persuade him to accept that his time has come to die. When Abraham’s son Isaac comes to meet the Archangel, the latter says to him, “the Lord God will grant you his promise that he made to your father Abraham and to his seed.” (chapter 3) Later on, Abraham meets Death himself, who appears to him with the heads of various animals, including a “terrible lion.” (chapter 17) Finally, when Abraham dies, “the archangel Michael came with a multitude of angels and took up his precious soul in his hands … and they tended the body of the just Abraham …. but the angels received his precious soul.” (chapter 20) These passage were clearly the inspiration for the first part of the Offertory chant of the Requiem Mass.

“O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell and from the bottomless pit; deliver them out of the lion’s mouth, lest hell should swallow them up, lest they fall into darkness; but let Thy standard-bearer, Saint Michael, bring them into Thy holy light, which Thou didst promise of old to Abraham and to his seed.”

Consecration of the FSVF’s New Altar Live on YouTube Tomorrow

Tomorrow, September 30th, His Excellency Alain Castet, Bishop Emeritus of Luçon, will consecrate the new high altar of the Fraternity of St Vincent Ferrer’s church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. The ceremony will begin at 9:30 a.m. Central European time, which is 3:30 a.m. on the East Coast of the United States, but I am sure the video will be available to watch afterwards.

Michaelmas Treats

The great feast of St. Michael the Archangel is upon us, and it behooves us, in the tradition of our ancestors, to honor him in food and drink.

Having a drink has long been a customary part of Michaelmas festivity. Michelsminne, or St. Michael’s Love, was the name given in some parts of northern Europe for wine consumed on St. Michael’s Day. The custom has been especially popular in Denmark.
In addition, we give you permission to drink the love of St. Michael in the form of a cocktail, such as our Drinking with the Saints concoction, St. Michael’s Sword. According to an old Irish legend, when St. Michael cast Lucifer out of Heaven, the devil fell on a blackberry bush and cursed and spat on the blackberries, thereby rendering them sour after September 29. Consequently, folks would eat blackberries on Michaelmas but not after. The legend gave rise to another nickname for Michaelmas: Devil’s Spit Day.
The St. Michael’s Sword Cocktail nods to this legend with blackberry brandy, as well as Jim Beam’s Devil’s Cut Bourbon. The “Angels’ share” is the portion of the whiskey that escapes into the air during distillation, but the “Devil’s cut” is the portion that seeps into the wood of the barrels. Jim Beam’s claims to have stolen this cut back from the Devil, and so we gratefully offer this portion to St. Michael for a job well done.
St. Michael’s Sword
1½ oz. Jim Beam’s Devil’s Cut bourbon
¾ oz. blackberry brandy
2 dashes orange bitters
1 cherry for garnish
Pour all ingredients except cherry in a shaker with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass. Use a cocktail spear (St. Michael’s sword) to transfix the cherry (the Devil, red with shame and rage).
And for those who are abstaining from strong drink (very angelic of you!), we have a mocktail that also hearkens to the Irish blackberry tradition.
St. Michael’s Dagger
1 oz. blackberry syrup
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
4-6 oz. sparkling water
Pour syrup and lemon juice in a shaker with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with sparkling water. Garnish with a cocktail sword and a red cherry to symbolize Michael’s victory over Lucifer, who like the cherry is red with rage and shame.

There are several culinary traditions surrounding Michaelmas. One is to make waffles baked in a gaufrette iron (if you do not have a true French gaufrier, you can use an American waffle iron). Crown your achievement with a blackberry syrup—made, of course, from blackberries picked before September 29.
In Scotland, the treat of the day was St Michael’s Bannock or Struan Micheil. This large scone-like cake is traditionally “made from cereals grown on the family’s land during the year, representing the fruits of the fields, and is cooked on a lamb skin, representing the fruit of the flocks.” When the eldest daughter of the family made the Bannock, she prayed: “Progeny and prosperity of family, Mystery of Michael, Protection of the Trinity.” You can honor this tradition by borrowing the Bannock recipe for Lammas Day.
As for side dishes, Scottish women would harvest carrots on this day with a three-pronged mattock, digging triangular holes. (No doubt they did so in honor of the Holy Trinity whom St. Michael serves so well, but the mattock can also symbolize a trident in the hands of the Archangel.)
And the main course was roasted goose. On “Goose Day” (another Michaelmas moniker), farmers held “goose fairs” and brought their geese to market. A Michaelmas goose was an appropriate way to celebrate the end of the harvest in Ireland and England, especially when the bird in question was a “stubble-goose,” an adult that had grown plump on the stubble of autumn wheat fields. A large-winged creature makes a fitting tribute to an angel, and a nice fat goose auspiciously evokes the financial hopes of the quarter days. Hence the old superstition:
Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day,
Want not for money all the year.
Michaelmas geese were popular in Ireland and England and have recently experienced a minor comeback in Great Britain. But since roasting a goose is too much of a hassle for most Americans (even with the promise of money!), how about a delicious duck? Duck was also a popular option for Michaelmas in medieval times. An when it comes to duck recipes, ours is a sure-fire, easy, and delicious way to get the duck crispy yet juicy, savory and yet sweet, and quickly prepared for a hungry family. A well-feathered duck evokes the tradition of St. Michael leaving a feather from his angelic wings as a relic for people who have a devotion him. The orange zest brings about a deeper citrus flavor, while the orange juice helps to flavor the gravy. The bright colors from the oranges and carrots are reminiscent of Michael’s pointed spear that is ablaze with the fire of God’s justice, while the carrots pay homage to the old Scottish tradition of carrots for Michaelmas.
Side Note: In this year of Our Lord 2023, Michaelmas falls on a Friday. If you are reluctant to have meat on this day, transfer the culinary component of Michaelmas to tomorrow. That will give you more time to go shopping, for I assume that you don't have duck in your refrigerator at the moment.
Roasted Duck with Oranges and Carrots
Cooking Time: 2.45 minutes
Serves 4-6 people
1 duck, approximately 5 lbs, cleaned and at room temperature
2 large oranges, zested and juiced
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp paprika
1 Bouquet Garni (tied up herbs of 1 rosemary, 4-5 sprigs of thyme, 3-4 sage leaves, 4-5 parsley stems)
2 Tbsp of butter
1 cup of chicken broth 4-6 carrots, pealed but kept whole
2 tsp flour
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Make the bouquet garni by using cooking twine to tie up the herbs listed in the ingredients and set aside
3. In a small bowl, combine the orange zest, garlic, salt, pepper and paprika and mix together. Rub this all over the duck, inside and out. Any left over, place inside the duck.
4. Place the duck legs upward on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan
5. Insert the bouquet garni inside the cavity of the duck
6. Place in the oven for 45 minutes
7. While the duck is roasting, use a small sauce pot to melt the butter and the chicken broth and bring it to a boil
8. Use this broth to baste the duck after 45 minutes
9. After 1 hour and thirty minutes, carefully remove the duck from the oven and and place the carrots in the roasting pan underneath the duck so that the melted duck fat can confit the carrots
10. Return the duck and cook for another 30 minutes
11. The duck should be dark golden brown with crispy skin with an internal temperature of 160 degrees. At that point remove the roasting rack and set aside for the duck to rest
12. Remove the carrots and place in a saute pan and cook until it begins to caramelize, 2-3 minutes and set aside
13. Make duck fat gravy by carefully removing about 2 tablespoons of duck fat and place in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk together to make a paste and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the basting broth, a little at a time to the saucepan, whisking constantly to incorporate the flour with the broth. Use about ½ cup of broth to saucepan. Add the orange juice and whisk together to make a gravy. Add a pinch of salt to taste.
14. To present the duck, remove the bouquet garni from the cavity and discard.
15. Serve the duck over a bed of arugula greens, with the carrot spears around the duck and a gravy boat with the orange infused duck fat gravy.
Food for Thought
During dinner, raise a glass and say, “May St. Michael the Archangel defend us in the day of battle.”
The cocktail recipe is taken from Drinking with the Saints; the duck recipe is taken from Dining with the Saints; and the mocktail recipe will, God willing, appear in a forthcoming book tentatively titled Abstaining with the Saints.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Another Hymn for the Eucharistic Revival by Kathleen Pluth

Last week, we shared a hymn for the Eucharistic Revival by Kathleen Pluth (, who excels as both a translator of older hymns from Latin, and as a writer of her own original ones. Here is another of her efforts, from a couple of years back, together with a recording by Francisco Carbonell, who also did the Spanish translation of the alternate verses given below.

Kathleen writes: In 2021, Fr. Justin Ward, Vicar for Sacred Liturgy for Bishop Steven Raica of the diocese of Birmingham, commissioned a hymn for the region’s “Year of the Parish and Eucharist.” The hymn was to focus on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the parish.

The tune the diocese chose has a tight structure of alternating 8- and 6- syllable lines, which in my experience calls for pithy, expressive images rather than long, developed thoughts.

The first two stanzas focus on the meaning of the Eucharist in the community. It does not literally call the Eucharist “source and summit,” but its meaning here is definitely that of “source.” What is the source of our communal life? The Blessed Sacrament.

The third verse expresses a devotion to the kenosis of the Incarnate Word, but cites 2 Corinthians 8, 9, rather than Philippians 2, as we might expect: “Although He was rich, he became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich.” Jesus’ sacrifice has implications for our life as Christians – not so much as moral imperatives, but as moral participations in His same sacrificial love. The love of Christ impels us.

The 5th verse, which begins with the “stay with us” of the disciples at Emmaus, goes on to speak to the Lord present in the viaticum which accompanies us on the path to eternal life.

The final verse of many hymns is doxological, praising the Trinity, and when I can I like to slip in some kind of litany, praising God in particular ways. Here we acclaim the Lord, “Our gracious Host, our saving Guest, our life, our unity.”

St Jerome’s Introduction of the “Alleluia” and Its Mystical Signification


As mentioned on Monday, over the next couple of week we are sharing passages from a 1907 English edition of a Life of St. Jerome written by the monk Spanish Fr José de Sigüenza in 1595. Today we continue the First Discourse of Book IV, where Fr Sigüenza discusses the introduction of the Alleluia into the liturgy.

*          *          *
St. Jerome likewise set great diligence to improve and perfect the divine worship throughout the Roman Church, for which end he endeavoured to translate to her all the good usages and ceremonies which he had attentively observed in the Greek and oriental churches; and from an expression of his, it appears that the custom of holding lighted candles when the Gospel is chanted was introduced by him, for he says it was in use in the oriental church, but does not say it was in use in those of Rome, to which said use he gave a very lofty signification; and this custom, which has been brought down to our time, was no doubt his act.

He had also observed that in the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and others the Alleluia was sung, and he therefore pleaded with the Pontiff Damasus that it should likewise be sung in Rome. St. Gregory the Great, in the Seventh Book of his Epistles, in the Epistle 65 to John, Bishop of Zaragoza (recte Siracusa), in Sicily, replying to the objections of some who deemed the manner of celebrating mass incorrect, on coming to the Alleluia, says: “The singing of the Alleluia is a custom taken from the church of Jerusalem, according to the tradition and teaching of St. Jerome, since the time of St. Damasus, Pope, for thus is it affirmed by all.” By these words St. Gregory manifested the great authority in which St. Jerome was held, and of what great value was the tradition which he had taught, and which had been handed down to his time.

The reason which moved the holy doctor to introduce the chant of the Alleluia into the Latin Church was, I believe, not so much the desire that it should be similar to that of Jerusalem, where it had been taught by the Apostle St. James, and appears in his liturgy, nor that the Hebrew and Greek words should resound in the Roman, as on account of the lofty mystery which he was well aware was enclosed in those two terms, a Hebrew name and verb Allelu-ia. A great deal was revealed concerning this word when he wrote to the noble matron Marcella, [1] who had asked him what meaning there was in some of the Hebrew words, such as Alleluia, Amen, Maranatha, Ephod. He tells her that allelu-ia is equal to praise be to God, because that last part, ia, is in Hebrew one of the ten divine names employed by those who speak the language.

In another Epistle to the same, [2] he declares Ia to be interpreted by the name of God. And when expounding those words of Isaiah, chapter xxvi., In Domino Deo forti in perpetuum, says that in Hebrew there are three names of God, the first is Ia, the second Jehovah, the third Zuria. He says that the first part of Allelu-ia signifies invisible, the second ineffable, the third means robust. And in an Epistle, which is found among his works, written to Damasus, a very good reason is given, which, despite that the Epistle does not seem his, yet the argument is like to the saint’s, that when we seek to praise God Incarnate with our voice, Alleluia is added to the Psalm; and forasmuch as our doctor [3] affords us so often occasion to declare his motives, it will not be foreign to this purpose to add here something concerning the mystery which is enclosed in the Alleluia.

That name so intimate and celebrated with the Hebrews of Jehovah, which through mystery and excellence is called by them Ineffable and nomen expositum, and among the Greeks tetragamaton, that is to say, of four letters, is called by them ineffable, not because, as some have said, they think that by it God is called as He is in Himself, because God has no name nor is there a symbol in all that is created, to embrace or comprehend what is a greatness without limits.
(Editor’s note: the Hebrew name of God is “Yahweh”;“Jehovah” is not actually a word at all. Because of the Jewish custom that the former was too holy to be said during the ordinary reading of the Scriptures, they would replace it with “Adonai – my Lord.” As a reminder to the cantors to not accidentally say the Divine Name, the Tetragrammaton YHWH (יהוה) was written with the vowels of Adonai, producing the nonsense word Jehovah. This fact was not generally understood by Christians in the sixteenth century, and Fra José has here reproduced a mistake common to the Tyndale, Geneva, and King James Bibles.)

It is true to say that all other names by which God is named He Himself has communicated to His creatures, angels and men; and that this one formed of the said four letters He has reserved for Himself; and this, not because it is so intimately His own, that it expresses what God is, but for other reasons. The simple reason of calling Himself Ineffable is because up to the present time it has not been written, nor can the manner of pronouncing it be properly written, nor is there a way in the divine letters, because the four with which it is written are not letters, which are pronounced singly among the Hebrews, but only by some differences of drawing the lips, to breathe in the air, and with the dots which were subsequently added, to breathe out the same—a thing which few of those who know Hebrew recognise.

From the observance of the holy Scriptures is gathered that when this name is met with in them it signifies God as a nature of eternal substance and essence, constant, invariable, of a most firm mercifulness, and that what He promises of good and salutary (to which He is most inclined by will) cannot even be deficient, nor be hindered by any circumstance whatever. This is what the ineffable name of Jehovah expresses, which name, although we may so pronounce it, is not its proper sound. It becomes opportune to say this here, in order that we should understand that God gave this name to the children of Israel as a military countersign, a token or symbol, as a watchword among them by which they should be known, like the word given as a password to the armies in their watches, because as it had been promised to that people, and declared to them His will, a thing He never had done to other nations; whensoever they called upon God under that name, they always named Him the God of the Promises, and whereas others have spoken of this, I come to my purpose.

Of this name the two first letters are i, a, and stand the last in the said word Alleluia; and when in the divine letters the name ia is placed in the praises of God, it gives us to understand not only God of the Promises but God who has fulfilled them, and carried them to due effect and the desired point; and not as God who fulfilled them with a people and nation to whom had been given the name as a countersign, but as God and Lord so magnificent and generous in fulfilling what He promises, that He has extended them to the whole world, to all peoples, and to all nations, and to all dwelling in the heavens and on the earth, so that all should praise and laud Him, acknowledge and glorify and adore Him.

Hence, when in church is said Alleluia, it is with extreme brevity to declare Praise the Lord, which is His name, essence, and being. He Who promised His salvation and His treasures of good to one only nation, and brought them to a most happy fulfilment, and extending all these for the benefit of all men, and of all creatures that exist in heaven and on earth. And praising God and man, as said our saint, is nothing else but to laud the One Who, having promised to become man for the good of mankind, filled all things with His divine gifts, fulfilling with excess what He had promised.

In order that it be seen how clearly this is manifest in the sacred writings, let it be recognised in the first place, that it will not be found in all the Books of Moses, unless I have not examined them aright, that this name Ia is once even mentioned, yet in the Psalms it is inserted many times; this was as though to tell us that what had been given to the people by Moses, as regards what related to law and ceremony, was not what God had promised man, nor what He had intended to give them, nor would it stop here. It was no more than a shadow of the body and reality of what was promised. But in the Psalms, forasmuch as they are prophesies which sing of things as seen and executed, constant and eternal, the word Ia is repeated.

Furthermore, let it be considered that when the name is set in the Psalms it always speaks to the multitude of nations and peoples, and not alone to the people of Israel. In the Psalm Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, laudate eum omnes populi, it ends with Allelu-ia; because it contains naught else in the whole argument but what we have said. The same occurs in Psalm cii., after having said: Scribantur haec in generatione altera, there is added and the people that shall be created, Alleluia. Observe also the Psalm cii., which commences, Laudate pueri Dominum, where in the epilogue is said He who maketh a barren woman to dwell in the house a Joyful mother of children, Allelu-ia, and in many more of its kind.

Hence, in view of the aforesaid, came truly from Heaven the inspiration and the motive our saint had for the Roman Church to sing what was so in keeping with herself, and from thence to spread throughout the world, as though from head to foot, the singing of this chant of joy, and not keep it enclosed solely in Jerusalem where the apostle had first ordered it should be sung. To that people and city was fulfilled the promise of God and man, and there the Ineffable fulfilled all that had been promised, His truth and intention complete in victory; thus was He there Ia, the God of the promises fulfilled.

And forasmuch as he came to His own house and heritage, as the great theologian says, and His own did not receive Him but one here and there, as though in vestiges, He passed on to communicate such great benefits to all the nations, who, on receiving Him were made sons of God, new Israelites, nay, out of stones sons of Abraham; for such as adored stocks and stones made themselves inferior to those very stones. Thus was Jerusalem extended, and its walls, according to the petition of David in Psalm 1. in his penitence, should be built up in order that such a great multitude should enter in and sing the Allelu-ia.

When St. Jerome persuaded Pope Damasus to have this new voice heard in Rome, and that it be thus sung in the Hebrew language, these and other greater secrets which we have not attained did he reveal, because for the saintly pontiff to order so extraordinary a thing (which no doubt must have caused some alteration), great secrets must he have necessarily disclosed to him. It is seen that even in the time of the Holy Father Gregory I this affair had not been so well received or established in all parts, through ignorance of the mystery which it enclosed within. All were not so careful as Damasus; they did not all heed or care to comprehend the divine mysteries. We have need always to lament this negligence; and even at the present day, at this period when so much light has been thrown over these things, there is smaller pleasure among the many in turning our eyes to study and investigation than the bats and owls have in turning their eyes to the rays of the sun.

But let us end here this discourse which would be lengthened to a great extent if we ventured to make it equal to the one which follows and similar to the foregone.

[1] Epist. 137, ad Marcel.
[2] Epist. 136, ad Marcel.
[3] Apud Mar. 9, t. in tertia serie.
Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s Substack “Tradition & Sanity”; personal site; composer site; publishing house Os Justi Press and YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify pages.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Torah and Haftarah in the Roman Liturgy (Part 3.1): The Ember Saturday of Lent

In the previous articles of this series, I described the Jewish liturgical custom of pairing readings from the Law of Moses (the Torah, as it is called in Hebrew) with readings from the Prophets called “haftaroth”, which are selected to match them thematically. I also described how this very ancient custom seems to have had an influence on some very ancient parts of the Roman lectionary, as evidenced by the Old Testament lessons for the Ember Days of September. These lessons coincide in part with some of the haftaroth of the major Jewish feasts known as the High Holy Days, which often fall in mid-September.

Moses, 1325, by Ugolino di Nerio. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.) 
However, even where it was inspired by this custom, the Roman lectionary often did not follow the Jewish arrangement exactly. For example, the haftaroth are read after the lessons from the Torah, but on the Ember Wednesday of September, the prophetic reading (Amos 9, 13-15) comes first, and the second reading, Nehemiah 8, 1-10, is not from the Torah, but about it. Similar changes are found on some of the other days on which the choice of readings is inspired by this custom.

As previously noted, on the Ember Wednesday of Lent, the first reading, Exodus 24, 12-18, ends with Moses fasting for forty days and nights, and the second, 3 Kings 19, 3-8, ends with the prophet Elijah fasting for forty days and nights. These readings look back to the Gospel of the previous Sunday, in which the Lord fasts for forty days and nights before His temptation by Satan, and to that of the following Saturday and Sunday, Matthew 17, 1-9, in which Moses and Elijah appear beside Him at His transfiguration.

Also as previously noted, on the Ember Saturday of September, the first two readings are taken from the Torah, and their corresponding “haftaroth” are the third and fourth. The Ember Saturday of Lent follows a similar arrangement, but the haftaroth are taken not from the Prophets, but from two different deuterocanonical books. The two Torah readings also do not correspond to the order of the Jewish lectionary, which begins reading Deuteronomy in late July or early August.

Here we must also note that the Missal of St Pius V has the same readings for this day found in all previous printed editions, and in the manuscript lectionaries before them, going back to the very oldest. However, in the second edition (issued by Pope Clement VIII in 1604), the first reading was lengthened, and the third substantially changed, a very unusual case in the history of a very conservative liturgical tradition.

Missal of St Pius V (1570) Missal of Clement VIII (1604)
Deuteronomy 26, 15-19
Deuteronomy 26, 12-19
(omitting the 2nd half of vs.
12 and the 1st of vs. 14
Deuteronomy 11, 22-25 Deuteronomy 11, 22-25
II Maccabees 1, 23 & 2-5 II Maccabees 1, 23-26 & 27d
Sirach 36, 1-10 Sirach 36, 1-10

The first reading from Deuteronomy contains three references to Israel as the people of God, which are underlined here: the words in bold type are liturgical additions to the Biblical text.

“Look, o Lord, from Thy sanctuary, and Thy high habitation of heaven, and bless Thy people Israel, and the land which Thou hast given us… Hear, o Israel: this day the Lord thy God hath commanded thee to do these commandments and judgments, and to keep and fulfill them with all thy heart, and with all thy soul. … the Lord hath chosen thee this day, to be His own people … to keep all his commandments, and to make thee higher than all nations which He hath created, to His own praise, and name, and glory, that thou mayst be a holy people of the Lord thy God, as He hath spoken to thee.”

This is the original haftarah of this reading, from Second Maccabees, again, with liturgical additions in bold:

“All the priests were praying, while they offered the sacrifice for the people of Israel, with Jonathan beginning, and the rest answering and saying, ‘May God be gracious to you, and remember His covenant which He spoke to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, (the covenant of) His faithful servants: and give you all a heart to worship Him, and to do His will with a great heart and a willing mind. May He open your heart in His law, and in His commandments, and send you peace. May He hear your prayers, and be reconciled unto you, and never forsake you in the evil time, even the Lord your God.’ ”

The reading from II Maccabees, the third of the Ember Saturday in Lent, in the so-called Lectionary of Alcuin, an epistolary of the 9th century whose contents represent the state of the Roman lectionary in the early 7th century. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 9452; folio 27r, image cropped.)
Before Ash Wednesday and the three days following were added to Lent, these lessons were read on the first Sabbath, the Jewish holy day, of the Church’s preparation for Easter. On this day, the Church does not just make her own a prayer which Moses, the author of the Torah, “who is read on every sabbath in the synagogues”, offers for the people of Israel. She addresses it directly to that people, adding the words “Hear, o Israel”, and saying that God “hath spoken to thee.” She then comments on it with the prayer from 2 Maccabees, adding her own words that it is made “for the people of Israel.” Moses says that Israel is commanded “to keep and fulfill (the Lord’s commandments) with all (its) heart”, and the corresponding haftarah asks that God may grant it to do just that: “May He open your heart in His law…”

At the same time, both of the “haftaroth” readings are taken from deuterocanonical books. Perhaps this is a subtle way of saying that just as Israel has not received its Messiah, it has not received the fullness of God’s commandments in the Old Testament either. The prayer should therefore be read as a plea from the Church to the synagogue, forthright, but peaceable, to become truly part of God’s holy people by accepting them both, and thus, being truly reconciled to God, to receive His peace.
An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments, 1530, by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 ca. - 1547). Counter-clockwise from the upper left: Moses receives the Law on Mt Sinai; Original Sin, and the Mystery of Justification (represented by the episode of the bronze serpent in Number 21), with the plagues of Egypt in the background: death; the Prophet Isaiah telling Man of the Virgin who shall conceive a child; St John the Baptist pointing to the Lamb of God, with the Annunciation to the Shepherds next to his head, and the Crucifixion above his outstretched arm, with the words “our justification written over the Cross”; Christ as the victor over death; the Lamb of God among His disciples; and an allegorical figure of Grace. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
In the second reading, Moses says to Israel, “if you keep the commandments … and walk in all (the Lord’s) ways, … (He) will destroy all these nations before your face, and you shall possess them, which are greater and stronger than you. … None shall stand against you…. the Lord your God shall lay the dread and fear of you upon all the land that you shall tread upon.” The reading from Sirach is on a very similar theme: “Have mercy upon us, … and shew us the light of thy mercies: and send thy fear upon the nations, that have not sought after thee… Lift up thy hand over the strange nations, that they may see thy power… that they may know thee, as we also have known thee…”

Here it should be remembered that this lectionary was compiled in Rome, the capital of the empire that conquered and ruled the lands of the Jewish people. Two rebellions against Roman rule in the Holy Land, one in 66-70 AD and another 132-35, were utterly crushed; the Jerusalem temple was destroyed after the first, and the city itself after the second. These readings seem to have been chosen to say that since God had not destroyed the nations from before Israel’s face, and since Israel had not possessed them, which are greater and stronger than it, this must have happened because it had not kept the commandments and walked in all the Lord’s ways. The prayer of Sirach is thus fulfilled not in the synagogue, but in the Church, in which the nations “know God as Israel as known Him.”
A relief panel on the inside of the Arch of Titus in Roman Forum, 81 AD, showing Roman soldiers carrying the spoils of the Jewish war into Rome in a triumphal procession, mostly notably among them, the seven-branched menorah which was kept in the Jerusalem Temple, and symbolized God’s presence therein. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, released to the public domain by the author.) 

Electronic Access to Sacred Music Journal Now Available to CMAA Members

As managing editor of the journal, I am very delighted to announce that electronic access to the CMAA’s journal Sacred Music is now available, in addition to the print copies delivered to mailboxes.

This has been made possible due to the excellent work of a team of members who have overhauled our website, and implemented a new member portal on the CMAA’s website.

Our new website,, showcases our amazing resources in an elegant and easy-to-navigate format, with beautiful photos and graphics, as well as the addition of even more resources for members and the public.

The new member portal is available at Through this portal, members can easily view their account status, renew their memberships, view upcoming events, join regional groups for networking and events, and have access to recordings from past events. And it is also at this link that members can access electronic copies of the journal by clicking on “Member Resources.” Generally speaking, this electronic copy will be available about a month in advance of the paper copy arriving in mailboxes.

Want to receive Sacred Music, by not yet a member of the CMAA? Click here to join.

Here is the table of contents for the most recent issue (150.2) of Sacred Music.

  • Tradition and the Future | Jennifer Donelson-Nowicka
  • Bach and the Language of Chant | Markus Rathey
  • Musician Nuns in Eighteenth-Century Bahia, Brazil | Rosana Marreco Brescia
  • The Offertory Proper: Motets that Maintain the Plainchant Ethos | Nicholas Lemme
  • Learning to Listen | Fr. Richard Cipolla
  • Summer Thoughts | Mary Jane Ballou
  • Good Music, Sacred Music, and Silence: Three Gifts of God for Liturgy and for Life by Peter A. Kwasniewski | Review by Jeffrey Quick
  • Sir Roger Scruton on Music | Kurt Poterack

TLM for the Feast of St Michael in Grand Rapids, Michigan

This Friday, September 29, the church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Grand Rapids, Michigan will celebrate a Traditional Latin Mass for the feast of St Michael at 7pm. The choir Gaudete Grand Rapids will sing works by Palestrina, Viadana, and Jacob Handl, as well as the liturgical premiere of an Ave Verum by American composer Andrew Bolden. The church is located at 151 Garfield Ave.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Blast from the Past: The 50th Anniversary of Cardinal Villot’s Letter to Cardinal Siri on Sacred Music

The choice before us
Those who specialize in liturgy will often find themselves picking up a doorstopper of a book called Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979. If you ever want to know what bureaucracy and overly enthusiastic reformism looks like, make sure you weight-lift this 1,500-page tome and flip through its contents: it is probably the best way to get a vicarious sense of how much was being constantly put up for discussion, questioned, changed, and changed again in the period of years covered in the book.

That is all by way of preface. I happened to notice the other day a letter written by the then-Secretary of State, Cardinal J. Villot, to Cardinal G. Siri of Genoa, on the occasion of a national meeting on sacred music in Genoa, Italy, 26-30 September 1973... exactly 50 years ago.

Let’s have a look at what this letter (DOL n. 521, pp. 1325-26) was saying, and how infinitely remote it was from the conditions on the ground, at that time or for many decades to come.
We must avoid and bar from liturgical celebrations profane types of music, particularly singing with a style so agitated, intrusive, and raucous that it would disturb the serenity of the service and would be incompatible with its spiritual, sanctifying purposes. A broad field is thus opened for pastoral initiative, the effort, namely, of leading the faithful to participate with voice and song in the rites, while at the same time protecting these rites from the invasion of noise, poor taste, and desacralization. Instead there must be encouragement of the kind of sacred music that helps to raise the mind to God and that through the devout singing of God’s praises helps to provide a foretaste of the liturgy of heaven.
          Pope Paul VI therefore invites all composers of sacred music to devote themselves completely to supplying music for the Church’s liturgy that is truly alive and contemporary, yet without disregarding the ancient heritage, as a source of inspiration, enlightenment, and direction. The liturgical reform still in progress offers to composers “an opportunity to test their own abilities, their inventiveness, their pastoral zeal” (Address to Cecilians, 24 September 1972); the reform initiates “a new epoch for sacred music” (General Audience, 22 August 1973). The Church awaits a new springtime in the art of sacred music that will also interpret the ritual texts in their vernacular versions.
          It remains Pope Paul’s firm expectation that Gregorian chant will be preserved and performed in monasteries, religious houses, and seminaries as a privileged form of sung prayer and as an element of the highest cultural and instructional value. He notes the many requests worldwide to preserve the Latin, Gregorian singing of the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster, and Agnus Dei. The Pope again recommends, therefore, that every appropriate measure be taken to transform this desire into fact and that these ancient melodies be treasured as the voice of the universal Church and continue to be sung as expressions and demonstrations of the unity existing throughout the ecclesial community.
Fine sentiments, dashed hopes, empty encouragements, and a wasteland instead of a new springtime. This is the legacy of Paul VI.

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s Substack “Tradition & Sanity”; personal site; composer site; publishing house Os Justi Press and YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify pages.

The Art of Virtue and the Virtue of Art

This is the foreword to The Shape of the Artistic Mind, by Fr Bradley T. Elliot, OP, recently published by Pontifex University Press on September 6. It is written by Margarita Mooney Clayton.

What is art for? For many, the answer is that art is simply for self-expression or for enjoyment. Listening to music is pleasing (who chooses to listen to ambulance sirens?) Anyone who appreciates art can see that a Picasso is not a Rembrandt—the imprint of each artist is distinct.

What is moral virtue for? Moral virtue is a means of human perfection. Moral virtue is doing good; moral virtue requires effort, perhaps sacrificing something short-term for a longer-term material or spiritual benefit. 

The idea that art is related to moral virtue will strike many as quite odd. Art, understood as self-expression or enjoyment, is a spontaneous realm apart from the calculating, choosing, and sacrificing of virtue. Art as self-expression or enjoyment must therefore allow for total freedom to explore one’s desires; by contrast, the hard-won perfection of moral virtue requires restraint and discipline.

Modern Romantic notions of art have emphasized the subjectivity of human creativity, purportedly to free human instincts in order to reach their fulfillment. But by separating art from reason, Romanticism opened the way for what we see today: much of the art produced today is kitsch—excessively sentimental—or transgressive (seeking to shock or produce outrage).

Catholic kitsch: prayer cards from the 20th century
But in his book The Shape of the Artistic Mind,,  Fr. Brad Elliott, O.P., provides a crucial philosophical grounding that will connect art back to moral virtue. Re-thinking the relationship between art and virtue leads to very different answers to the questions: What is art for? What is moral virtue for?

Through a thorough review of Thomistic principles, Elliott moves from considerations about art as an imitation of God’s creation to art as a virtuous participation in God’s governance. For Elliott, both art and moral virtue are ways that humans imitate God; by imitating God, we therefore participate in His governance, as he draws all things back to Himself. To some finite degree, all creation, from small living organisms like molecules to inanimate things like stones, participate in God’s being. But Elliott emphasizes that only the rational human person participates in God's governance through the activity of acting and making.

By bringing new things into being, humans co-create with God. Apart from virtue, the power to bring new things into being will be disordered. As he writes, “art and morality are merely two aspects of man’s participation in the reason and creativity of God.” Hence, art seen as a practical virtue extends God’s governance over creation. Humans move towards their proper ends, contribute to their own governance, through co-creation with God.

Elliott contrasts this view with Plato, for whom human creativity could only ever represent a shadow of the ultimate reality. For Plato, no human advancement in knowledge or art could ever get us out of the cave—we are forever seeing only shadows of reality.

By contrast, Elliott explains that our rationality is not purely speculative or abstract. Rather, the human person has the unique capacity to take an idea and impress it upon the external world, making what we create something that shares in the spark of God’s reason. As he explains, building on St. Thomas Aquinas, Etienne Gilson and other Catholic thinkers, “by learning to imitate nature and her laws through skill or craft, the human intellect is also learning to imitate the Divine creator… Simply put; God, nature, human intellect, and art all relate by a mysterious pattern of imitation spanning the whole range of the cosmos.”

By emphasizing the intellect as a commonality between art and moral virtue, Elliott does not dis-regard human enjoyment or self-expression. The problem is that not all things that humans create, think, or do are good. If we are fallen and wounded creatures, why would we magically expect all art to be morally good? And why do so many people seem to think that there is no objectivity in what we enjoy or how we express ourselves?

Elliott’s Christian anthropology—his understanding of who we are as humans—underlies his entire argument. Human beings are a unity of body and soul; we have the capacity to make things and to contemplate. Elliott brilliantly describes how humans imitate God in a finite manner by bringing the outside world into the mind through contemplation and then going back out, perfecting things in art. As he writes:

“This bringing the outside world into the inside world terminating in the perfection of the inside, the intellect’s perfection of knowing, is the intrinsic operation of which St. Thomas speaks. By this action, the created intellect imitates God-as-artist in an unprecedented way, by imitating, in a finite manner, the oneness and unity of its creator…Art or craft is the mode by which the perfection of the inside world (the act of knowledge) impresses its likeness on the outside world; perfective action moving from the inside out.”

If moral virtue is imitating God’s goodness, and artistic creation is imitating God’s creation, then co-creating through art is one of the ways we participate in God’s governance. Art and moral virtue, thus, participating in God’s governance: using human freedom to direct our thinking and action towards their true ends.

Art understood as a practical virtue makes visible the invisible inner world of the human person and the goodness of God. By participating in God’s governance, art understood as a practical virtue contributes to the right ordering of creation.

St Joseph with Our Lord, by Georges De La Tour, French 17th century.
In spite of our woundedness as experienced in laziness, idle curiosity, and self-centeredness, we can grow in virtue through art. Elliott provocatively states that “it is the virtue of art that emerges as the supreme master coordinator between man’s internal and external worlds.” The very act of writing this short essay is an expression of art as a practical virtue: I’ve fought many distractions as I read and pondered Elliott’s words and crafted my own thoughts into words to share with readers.

Art is not moral as in a command about how to act, but art can “indirectly influence morals by providing an ‘aptness’ to act well.” Like books and articles which encapsulate ideas into form, the music, paintings, nature, we encounter are an invitation to contemplate God’s goodness. Focusing my attention to craft this article forms my inner life to be more apt in moral virtue. By co-creating with God, we imitate His goodness, participate in His governance, and bring more of creation into the divine unity.
St Bonaventure Receiving the Blessed Sacrament, by Francisco Herrera the Elder, Spanish, 17th century.

Margarita Mooney Clayton is founder and Executive Director of the Scala Foundation, a non-profit which has the mission of promoting beauty in education and the transformation of American culture.

Fr Bradley T. Elliot is a priest of the Western Dominican Province of the USA.

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