Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

A Little Culture, pt. 1

Lately, I have been trying to build my scant knowledge of classical music. A lot of it is very beautiful and moving. It is like a language of its own.

Check it out. The Ancient Greeks, I am thinking especially of the Pythagorean philosophers, studied music and harmonics extensively, and influenced Plato heavily. These folks believed that music, which they arranged in harmonic ratios that mirrored those they found in the ratios of distances of planets in the solar system, was the language of the soul, binding us directly to the cosmos by a common tongue, if you will.

The Jews believe(d) that in the final fulfillment of God's promises, all the holy ones will join the hosts of angels in singing God's praises for eternity. We Christians have built on this idea and even gone so far as to say that this purpose is the highest purpose of a person: to sing God's praises with his whole being. Victor Hugo gives a glimpse of the Christian rationale for this expectation. Though the French Romantic poet's sympathy with workers' rights seemed to him incompatible with practicing the Catholic Faith of his youth, he came from a deeply Catholic background. He wrote, "Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent."

Confucius wrote, "The inner nature of man is the province of music." He explains this in some further detail: "Therefore, the superior man tries to create harmony in the human heart, by a rediscovery of human nature, and tries to promote music as a means to the perfection of human culture. When such music prevails, and the people’s minds are led towards the right ideals and aspirations, we may see the appearance of a great nation. Character is the backbone of our human nature, and music is the flowering of character." He even asserted that by means of listening to the music being played in a city, the agents of a ruler could assess the moral condition of the people therein. And finally, "When music and courtesy are better understood and appreciated, then there will be no war," (all from the Analects).

What have all these wise people, from so many times and places, known that we modern Westerners have forgotten?

It is interesting. The classical music of China is very different from that of the West. I have no idea how different, only very. But I'll bet that even with different instruments, different preferences for tempo, and different arrangements of chords, etc., it is still based on tonality and harmonization - though different tones and harmonies may prevail there than here. I'll bet.

Yet in the West we have abandoned tonal harmony in our music. How symptomatic. One of my hopes is to drink in a deep appreciation of the classical Western culture that is so informed by the Incarnation of God as a man, so informed with the aspiration that the material and the human can bear witness to the spiritual and the divine, and can even transmit them to us, so in deeply hopeful that the material world means something. As I drink more of this appreciation, I hope deeply to share it with others. Thus the ideal of the West was preserved by Christianity during the Dark Ages, and rebuilt (resurrected?) during the Medieval. Thus, as modernity expends itself will the West be preserved amid the wash of postmodernism and God knows whatever will follow, and thus will it again be resurrected by the Church, if Jesus does not return first. Needless to say, I think it a very good thing that some Catholic parishes, cathedrals, and universities are beginning again to promote culture through music and the visual arts in particular.

For putting up with this little lecture, I'll give you a treat. Click here for free MP3 downloads of classical music. Go on, you know you want to. On me. Make your day a little more beautiful.

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