28 January 2009

Another very fine Bampton lecture.

And I wonder why more of those who are traditionalist Catholics in Oxford, whether Anglican or Roman, were not there. Pam justly commented that it seemed rather more about Bossuet than Pascal, but none the worse for that. Bossuet has long deserved resurrection. Obstacles, I suppose, have included a prejudice among English intellectuals against both the Baroque and the Rhetorical. Me, I can't get enough of either.

What came out was the passionate - Professor Parish kept using the word erotic, but, as Pam observed, without ever defining what he meant - and physical response among thinkers and mystics in mid-Bourbon France both to the Incarnation and its continuation in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. He seemed, indeed, as if he was almost surprised himself by the ultra-realism of the language concerned. Many English are. I have a sermon which I have preached in a number of places on just this theme ... alluding to resonances between the union of sexual intercourse and the union of the believer through his physical eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of God. Each time I delivered it I was aware of the acute embarrassment of the congregation. I wonder how many people have really engaged with the utter realism of their eucharistic communion with God. Similarly, Parish seemed taken aback by the realism of the incarnational references among the authors he surveyed: God in a manger. Throughout my pulpit ministry I have found the same disquiet among the Anglican laity. I suspect that not one in a hundred of either our clergy or our laity really either understands or believes what the Incarnation really means. And I challenge RC readers to deny the truth of this suspicion with regard to their own laity ... and clergy.

Two comments. (1) I suspect that a number of the topoi Parish found so striking in seventeenth century France were not as original as he seemed to believe to that culture. Take the one about how a Death resulted in the death of Death. I bet we could find that quite often in both the Latin and Greek Fathers and in medieval writers. Chesterton justly observed that if you can't do paradox you'll find it difficult to be a Christian.
(2) I wonder if the intensity of the devotional attitudes of the mystics of the period owed something to the theatricality of baroque architecture and liturgy. They exposed naked realities very vividly to the senses and to the intellect; and I don't just mean (although this is part of it) in the paintings and the statues. It was after prolonged exposition of the Blessed Sacrament that S Margaret Mary had her intensely physical First Friday visions of her beautiful beloved. I have long felt that a sort of suspicion of baroque liturgy which I think I discern in such interesting authors as Pickstock and Hemming might not represent the entire truth. The Baroque must have some place in God's Providence.

I won't describe all S Margaret Mary's acts of self-humiliation too vividly. You might never feel quite the same again about lentil soup.


Little Black Sambo said...

So are you the one in a hundred?
And GKC must be top Christian, on his reckoning.
Enough of these big beasts in the jungle!

Anonymous said...

I have marveled that coed strangers can flood a theater to watch graphic sex sans embarrassment. But at the mention of Christ Jesus being present while Christian couples exercise their prerogative in the marriage bed, blanches the sturdiest John Thomas.

Yours is, I think, a common experience among priests who try to teach their people that Matrimony is a Sacrament that involves action.

Pastor in Monte said...

I'm sure I've heard/read about the altar being the marriage bed of God and mankind: the curtains about it suggested this in antiquity.