Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Two Unsustainable Political Illusions

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

One point of view of this Sanity and Social Justice blog is that both the public policy program of the Left and the program of the Right present unsustainable illusions. Both distort economic reality with partisan propaganda and spin. Both engage in wishful thinking. The same intensity of criticism should be focused on both the Left and the Right, but rarely is.

When completely victorious, as in the one-party rule of Chicago and Illinois, the Left descends into inefficient corruption and factionalism, fulfills few of its economic promises, and produces disorder if not financial and social ruin. When completely victorious, as for a time in the Reagan Era, the Right similarly lacks the discipline to fulfill its own economic commitments, engages in wishful thinking such as Jack Kemp’s (joined by Democrats) over-extending home ownership to an unsustainable percentage of the population, and descends into cronyism. Neither partisan platform ever fully realizes its economic vision. Each over-promises to critical, if not tragic, proportions.

It thus is something of a puzzle why people continue to believe that politicians can achieve economically what they say they will, when history perennially demonstrates that they consistently do not, and why people continue to treat political belief with a passion that surpasses religious devotion to the point of idolatry.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that our political beliefs do not represent historic or economic fact so much as they represent our own concept of ourselves, our own “identity maintenance,” as I have long called it. Also, since both the Right and the Left have consistently descended into cronyism, one can conclude that political passion depends in the end on that group of political cronies with which one wishes to throw in one’s lot. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in unrealized and probably unrealizable political ideas, but in our own self-concept and self-interest, framed as the public good.

Against a world of illusory political discourse, one can respond with competence and effectiveness, the Aristotelian Ergon and Arete of Work seeking Excellence. The teacher acts as a good teacher, the doctor or nurse as a good doctor or nurse, and by extension the school or university is a good school or university, the hospital is a good hospital, etc., and it is to be hoped that the society is a better society as a result.

For centuries, heady and trendy intellectuals have tried in vain to transcend Aristotle only to confirm him. I’ve said before that Stanley Fish has labored mightily, and brought forth in the end a few two-thousand-plus-year-old lines from Aristotle. Modern political thought has bypassed Aristotle to its peril.

Political economy is grounded on the variable strata of the physical world of natural resources as moderated by meteorological forces, of long-wave demographic trends, of cultural tectonics, of shorter-term markets, of sudden and disruptive innovation and disease and disaster, and of shifting public policy interventions. To a certain extent, politicians must practice the art of taking credit for the weather and for the prosperity that comes from the occasional financial bubble as their own personal artifacts. To do so, they must artfully lie with consistency about both economics and history.

Political partisanship, however, does sometimes fulfill its promises on non-economic issues. The Germans voted in politicians who did in the end kill Jews, and the West has voted in politicians who did in the end kill babies.

For a Catholic like me, the present political choice is sometimes falsely cast as the choice between social compassion (the Left) and Pro-life (the Right), as if the Left could actually deliver on social compassion, or the Right could actually carry through on Pro-life. Both promised political products are highly unlikely.

It is however very likely that the Left will continue to kill the unborn, so in this particular regard the Left must be vigorously opposed. But it is not likely that the Right will endure in consistently defending the unborn, either. Killing the unborn is based upon selfishness, which is an enduring human constant.

My political critique is not naive cynicism, but is grounded in history, science, and common sense. Against the political illusions of both the Right and the Left, I suggest that we concentrate our resources on building a society based instead upon professional and institutional competence and effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability imbued with human compassion, and informed by science. This approach is based upon trust and hope in what truly endures in human society.

Morally-committed and scientifically-informed professions and institutions promulgate order, and outlive politics. I pity the partisan true-believer, who presently lives in a spinning, self-referencing Twitter-cloud-dream uninformed by history or by economic science, or, for that matter, by perennial philosophy and theology.

The first step away from this illusory world-view is to consistently direct one’s critique in one’s own direction to the same degree that it is directed toward one’s adversaries. This is an ancient Christian principle (Matthew 7:3) that extends well to politics.

For more on my analysis of the commonsense propositions that underlay political discourse, please see chapters 2 and 3 of my dissertation.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

Chicken Sandwich Misdirection: Hercules Industries Case More Important

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Whenever a controversy breaks out with a big-city mayor picking a media fight with a business, I suspect political misdirection.

I learned this lesson years ago when, the very day the brother of the mayor of Chicago was caught by the newspapers in a questionable real estate deal, the mayor started a public squabble with the owner of the Chicago Bears which then dominated the news for weeks, thus taking the media heat off of the mayor’s brother.

Media fall for this kind of staged-controversy / misdirection ploy almost every time. Media have to report on the staged controversy due to the public interest momentum generated, even if they themselves realize that they’ve been had.

So I’m just a little suspicious when three Democratic big city mayors–in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco–went out of their way to jump into an argument with the Chick-Fil-A company over same-sex marriage at the same time.

What other important event could be obscured by this controversy?

And what concerted political action could be prevented by it?

Several important provisions of the HHS Mandate were scheduled to go into effect on 8/1/12. And the Hercules Industries case, Newland v. Sebelius, dealt the HHS Mandate a serious blow and gave relief to the Catholic business owners.

When people are lining up eating or boycotting chicken they are general not engaged in more direct political action. They are engaging in a self-satisfying social ritual that diverts their energy and attention away from direct political action. Although some savvy activists showed up at Chick-Fil-A restaurants to register voters, by and large the protests were almost liturgical, not political.

The last thing the supporters of the President Obama’s HHS Mandate would want would be more Catholic business owners joining in on Newland v. Sebelius, Hercules Industries-style lawsuits. But that is exactly what Catholic business owners should do: Skip the chicken sandwich and see their lawyers.

And there are few attorneys better than the Alliance Defending Freedom at fighting for religious freedom. Please see their news release on the Hercules Industries / Newland v. Sebelius case.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

Dorothy Day’s Therese

Monday, October 17th, 2011

In recent years many faiths have educated their clergy and religious to be brilliant, well-educated, entertaining speakers and socially committed individuals. But these qualities do not in and of themselves earn trust.

Nothing inspires, and is so quickly recognized by believers, as is authentic holiness or godliness. Few have won as much trust in the years since her death as has the holy saint, the Little Flower, discussed in the following lines.

During the height of her active maturity in the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day made time over several years to research and to write a biography of the “Little Flower,” St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, or St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Happily, this book, originally published in 1960, reissued 1979, reprinted 1985, is still in print through Templegate Publishers. This book represents Dorothy Day’s decades-long education in the school of the Little Flower.

Therese is a book about a saint by a likely saint. Despite Dorothy Day’s occasional repetition of phrases due to Day’s busy life, Therese is one of the most thoughtful and inspiring books generated within American Catholic literature. Because its subject is the Little Flower, who has been declared one of the soon-to-be thirty-four Doctors of the Church, it is likely to remain known centuries longer than some of Day’s currently more popular books.

Almost half of Day’s Therese is about family love, whether that of the author, or that of the subject, christened Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin in 1873. But the whole book is about love, divine and human, for love was the means, the end, and the transcendent purpose of Thérèse’s life. Thérèse discovered in her final years that her vocation was to be love.

The arresting first two paragraphs of Therese display Dorothy Day at her spiritual journalist best:

“The first time I heard the name of St. Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face (to give her whole title), also known as Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, was when I lay in the maternity ward of Bellevue Hospital in New York. Bellevue is the largest hospital in the world, and doctors from all over the world come there. If you are poor you can have free hospital care. At that time, if you could pay anything, there was a flat rate for having a baby–thirty dollars for a ten day’s stay, in a long ward with about sixty beds. I was so fortunate as to have a bed next to the window looking out over the East River so that I could see the sun rise in the morning and light up the turgid water and make gay the little tugs and the long tankers that went by the window. When there was fog it seemed as though the world ended outside my window, and the sound of fog horns haunted the day and the night.

As a matter of fact, my world did end at the window those ten days that I was in the hospital, because I was supremely happy. If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure, I could not have felt more the exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms. To think that this thing of beauty, sighing gently in my arms, reaching her little mouth for my breast, clutching at me with her tiny beautiful hands, had come from my flesh, was my own child! Such a great feeling of happiness and joy filled me that I was hungry for Someone to thank, to love, even to worship, for so great a good that had been bestowed upon me. That tiny child was not enough to contain my love, nor could the father, though my heart was warm with love for both.”

(Day, Dorothy. 1985. Therese. Springfield, Ill: Templegate, p. v.)

Thanks to the World Wide Web and the University of Toronto it is now possible to read the same English translation of Thérèse’s autobiographic A Little White Flower that Dorothy Day read in 1928, to retrace Dorothy Day’s steps in her discovery of Thérèse, and also to find the book that eluded Day’s grasp at the time of her writing Therese, The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life, by Fr. Charles Arminjon, which was an influence on the young Thérèse prior to entering the Carmel at Lisieux.

Dorothy Day’s initial rebuff and later embrace of Thérèse’s spirituality is a familiar story among Catholic intellectuals and men and women “of the world.” Thérèse inspired several twentieth-century generations to enter religious life, and whether in religious life or not, to adopt her “Little Way.” But as Day matured in her day-in day-out tasks of Christian love and charity seeking justice, she returned to Thérèse definitively. Day concluded:

“It was the ‘worker,’ the common man, who first spread her fame by word of mouth. It was the masses who proclaimed her a saint. It was the ‘people.'”

(Day, Dorothy. 1985. Therese. Springfield, Ill: Templegate, p. 173.)

On first glance, Thérèse appears too pious, too simple. To this I respond, “Simple, all right. Simple like Mozart is simple.” A genius of the first rank makes the difficult appear straightforward and sublimely clear. Thérèse’s spiritual genius was recognized almost immediately after her death in 1897 with an intensity that spread as quickly as did the translations of her autobiography across dozens of languages and countries.

On the last page of her book, Day quotes Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, speaking on the occasion of the blessing of the Basilica of Lisieux in 1937:

“The dazzling genius of Augustine, the luminous wisdom of Thomas Aquinas, have shed forth upon souls the rays of an imperishable splendour: through them, Christ and His doctrine have become better known. The divine poem lived out by Francis of Assisi has given the world an imitation, as yet unequaled, of the life of God made man. Through him legions of men and women learned to love God more perfectly. But a little Carmelite who had hardly reached adult age has conquered in less than half a century innumerable hosts of disciples. Doctors of the law have become children at her school; the Supreme Shepherd has exalted her and prays to her with humble and assiduous supplications; and even at this moment from one end of the earth to the other, there are millions of souls whose interior life has received the beneficent influence of the little book, The Autobiography.”

(Ibid., p. 176.)

Thérèse promised “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.”

Day lists but a bit of the shower of love from Thérèse:

“So shortly after her death the rain of roses began: cures of cancer, tuberculosis, nephritis, and all manner of painful and mortal diseases. Nuns in need of money to pay off the mortgages on their schools, hospitals and orphanages found it appearing, sometimes in the form of gifts, sometimes carefully placed in a desk drawer. When Therese healed a little Irish child, she appeared to her as a little child in her First Communion frock, and shook hands with her as she left, and radiant little patient who had been unconscious and at the brink of death, sat up and told her mother to bring her her clothes, and food because she was starving. Soldiers saw Therese at the battlefield; she walked in Paris; she appeared to the sick. ‘After my death I will let fall a shower of roses,’ she had said, and sometimes the roses appeared literally, and sometimes just the fragrance of them.”

(Ibid., pp. 172-3)

The persistence of Thérèse’s appeal is surprising. In 2009, Thérèse’s relics were brought on a tour throughout Wales and England in the UK. To the surprise of a highly secularized society (and some of the secularized clergy), hundreds of thousands of people visited the relics, with many confessing their sins and returning to faith after decades.

Here are some of the pilgrims’ stories:

Over 100,000 faithful visited Thérèse’s relics in Westminster Cathedral, with ceremonies ending 10/15/09:

The Carmelite Sr. Patricia Mary of Jesus speaks about St. Thérèse of Lisieux:

Finally, a thoughtful homily by Westminster Archbishop Vincent Nichols:

In 1997, in a document called Divini Amoris Scientia, the Science of Divine Love, John Paul II proclaimed Thérèse a Doctor of the Church. I highly recommend close reading of this important document for those seeking for truth in the Spirit.

Although Thérèse, like John Paul II, had read and mastered the foundational Carmelite literature, the complete works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, Thérèse read primarily the Gospels during her final illness, to listen directly the Word of the Lord Jesus whom she loved so dearly in a very direct, straightforward, and completely committed way. As a Carmelite, Thérèse wore a wedding gown at her “clothing” as a nun, focusing all her possible love on Jesus.

To the post-Christian imagination, this kind of spiritual commitment has a scary, terrifying aspect. But for Thérèse and her Carmelite sisters (among whom were three of her own sisters, and a cousin), nothing could have been more joyful.

Dorothy Day may be best known for her phrase, a “harsh and dreadful love,” but no one searches the life of Thérèse without searching for the source of joy, our Blessed Lord, to whom Thérèse is one of the supreme guides.

===

As a boy, I was taught at St. Priscilla School in Chicago by several Franciscan Sisters (from Rochester, MN) who were inspired by Thérèse among others to enter religious life. Years later, I visited my music teacher, Sr. Catherine Cecile Dwerlkotte, OSF, who past the age of 100 told me of the joy that was shared among contemporaries as they agreed together in college to enter the Franciscans as a group. Many of these Franciscan Sisters shared with us the tales of the Little Flower, and Sr. Catherine, to the end of her days, cultivated roses in Thérèse’s memory. She was a woman of high intelligence and wit, but joy and simplicity, and I might add, holiness. May she rest in peace!

Here is a 2010 post by blogger Kathy Riordan in thanks of the still-remembered witness of Sr. Catherine Cecile and her Franciscan sisters.

===

A few very useful resources on St. Thérèse:

As usual, the Houston Catholic Worker can be relied upon for a thoughtful review, this one by James Allaire.

Here’s some information on the National Shrine of St. Therese, in Darien, Illinois.

EWTN put together a number of web pages during St. Thérèse centenary, here, and here.

Also, please see Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway, which mentions the recent visit of the relics of Thérèse to Peru.

Presently, I’m reading St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations. More on this when time permits!

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

To Build and to Heal: A Response to 9/11/01

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Late in the day on 9/11/01, I began to compose a short letter, which was published in the Chicago Tribune on 9/15/01:

After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Chicago, with the help of New York and of international financiers, boldly committed itself to rebuild bigger, and better.

With New York’s and God’s help, and with its own hands, Chicago did.

Other great cities of the world have known disaster:

London burned down several times in 2,000 years.

Berlin, Tokyo, Beijing and other capitals had been leveled during World War II.

Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans and, previously, by other Near Eastern kingdoms.

Rome was sacked several times.

Warsaw was turned into a ghetto by the Nazis.

Each recovered, and grew beyond previous limits to maintain world stature.

New York, as America’s Empire City and one of our symbols of hope and freedom, must rebuild and heal beyond what it lost.

In five to 10 years, the world must see on the New York skyline a new center of world enterprise and leadership.

Building and healing, not war-making, make the strongest statement against terror, because building and healing are what terrorists can never hope to do.

About a year later, on 9/5/02, I jotted some further reflections:

While the [rebuilding] will some day come to pass, the scope of the human healing and enterprise necessary to rebuild humbles the dreamer in us. According to press estimates, an amount of office space equal to all that in the city of Atlanta was obliterated on 9/11. Eighty-five thousand jobs and a major portion of the tax base of New York City have been lost. From a cold fiscal standpoint, New York has no choice but to rebuild.

Such a prospect offers little comfort for the human suffering and loss, which no brilliant scale model of the architects can ever heal.

So something greater than a mere set of buildings must be rebuilt to surpass the hurt and anguish. That something is the city itself, in all its mundane and transcendent meaning, in all its grit and humanity, in all that we love about each other.

© Copyright 2001, 2002, 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

Urban Catholic Education: Tales of Twelve American Cities

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

For the past few months I’ve been deepening my understanding of the history of Catholic schools in America by reading a new book entitled, Urban Catholic Education: Tales of Twelve American Cities, Edited by Thomas C. Hunt and Timothy Walch, published by the Alliance for Catholic Education Press at the University of Notre Dame (2010).

Permission to post granted by copyright holder

Editors Hunt and Walch have assembled in this volume twelve accounts of Catholic education in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, each written by an experienced Catholic historian and/or educational practitioner. Because of differences in geography, economics, ethnicity, theology, and leadership, each city represented a differing story of the Catholic school movement.

Since my review has grown into a major analysis, still not complete, I’m posting this short notice in the mean time to highly recommend this book, especially if you work in and around Catholic schools, or have benefited from their work.

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

True Christian love: Hildegard of Bingen and Richardis von Stade

Monday, November 15th, 2010

When one thinks of a touching (and doomed) medieval love story, the first historic couple who come to mind are Abelard and Heloise.

But this same 12th Century renaissance revealed another very intense and well-documented love, the spiritual love between the Benedictine Abbess St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), and her protege, the Abbess Richardis von Stade (ca. 1123-1151).

This friendship is dramatized in the film Vision: From the life of Hildegard von Bingen, as directed by the noted German artist Margarethe von Trotta (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, The Promise, Rosenstrasse, Rosa Luxemburg).

First, some background on the film, which was scripted personally by director von Trotta from Hildegard’s own writings and letters, and accompanied by Hildegard’s music. Von Trotta therefore lets Hildegard substantially speak (and sing) for herself.

The film carries the viewer through major episodes in Hildegard’s life from her eighth year to her sixtieth (Hildegard lived until the age of 81, and indeed faced and overcame many other challenges not depicted by this film). Vision presumes that the moviegoer know who Hildegard is, and something of her life story. For further background on Hildegard, please see my previous post.

Vision demonstrates through a number of vignettes the many foundational contributions of Hildegard in music, theology, botanical medicine, gynecology, drama, and ecclesiastical polity as Hildegard strove for the foundation of an all-female abbey while seeking ecclesiastical permission to convey her visions to paper.

The warm collaboration between Hildegard (played by the luminous German actress, and I might add, singer, Barbara Sukowa) and Richardis (depicted by the lovely and intense Hannah Herzsprung), a young noblewoman for whom her family had ambitious plans, allowed Hildegard, who despite her genius had significant gaps in her formal schooling, not to mention poor health, to finish and illuminate her books of visions, theology, and science, with a significant assist from the monk Volmar, one of Hildegard’s earliest teachers and advocates (played with occasional humor by Heino Ferch).

Von Trotta utilizes the character of the nun Jutta (Lena Stolze), raised with Hildegard from a young age by the anchorite Jutta von Sponheim (Mareile Blendl), to bring Hildegard down to earth as the “prophet in her own country.”

Like Robert Bolt’s film A Man for All Seasons, von Trotta’s Vision depicts in part conversations which in real life were based upon letters.

Warning: film spoiler. If you don’t want to know the ending of the film, stop reading here, see the film, then come back to this article.

It is therefore appropriate at this point to turn to a few of the letters of the actual players in this drama. Thanks to the continuous tradition of the Benedictines, and to the work of many scholars, we can read today what these characters were actually saying to one another over 800 years ago.

Vision dramatizes the struggle between Hildegard and the family of Richardis over the appointment of Richardis to leave Hildegard at Mt. St. Rupert to serve as abbess at Birsim (today Bassum). Hildegard made no secret of her opposition to this appointment, viewing it as based upon human ambition (presumably, to extend the influence of the von Stade family, rather than to follow a divine calling). Hildegard was not shy about her feelings, and wrote, literally, to everyone who would listen, from the Pope on down to Richardis’ mother and brother, respectively, the Margravine (played in the film by Sunnyi Melles) and Hartwig, Archbishop of Bremen. Finally, Hildegard wrote to Richardis herself, all to no avail. Richardis moved away from Hildegard.

We turn now to the collection of letters, Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen, ably compiled and presented by the scholar Joseph L. Baird, and published by Oxford University Press in 2006. Here are a few key excerpts.

First, an impassioned plea from Hildegard to Richardis–

“Daughter, listen to me, your mother, speaking to you in the spirit: my grief flies up to heaven. My sorrow is destroying the great confidence and consolation that I once had in mankind. From now on I will say: ‘‘It is good to trust in the Lord, rather than to trust in princes’’ [Ps 117.9]. The point of this Scripture is that a person ought to look to the living height, with vision unobstructed by earthly love and feeble faith, which the airy humor of earth renders transient and short-lived. Thus a person looking at God directs his sight to the sun like an eagle. And for this reason one should not depend on a person of high birth, for such a one inevitably withers like a flower. This was the very transgression I myself committed because of my love for a certain noble individual. Now I say to you: As often as I sinned in this way, God revealed that sin to me, either through some sort of difficulty or some kind of grief, just as He has now done regarding you, as you well know. Now, again I say: Woe is me, mother, woe is me, daughter, ‘‘Why have you forsaken me’’ [Ps 21.2; Matt 27.46; Mark like an orphan? I so loved the nobility of your character, your wisdom, your chastity, your spirit, and indeed every aspect of your life that many people have said to me: What are you doing?”

“Now, let all who have grief like mine mourn with me, all who, in the love of God, have had such great love in their hearts and minds for a person— as I had for you— but who was snatched away from them in an instant, as you were from me. But, all the same, may the angel of God go before you, may the Son of God protect you, and may his mother watch over you. Be mindful of your poor desolate mother, Hildegard, so that your happiness may not fade.”

From Joseph L. Baird, Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 47-48.

Then we skip ahead to the very sad turn, the sudden death of Richardis at the age of about twenty-eight within a year of her departure from Mt. St. Rupert. The following two letters are perhaps among the most forthright and touching in Christian literature, first the letter from Hartwig, Archbishop of Bremen, notifying Hildegard of his own sister Richardis’ passing–

“Hartwig, archbishop of Bremen, brother of the abbess Richardis, sends that which is in the place of a sister and more than a sister, obedience, to Hildegard, mistress of the sisters of St. Rupert.

I write to inform you that our sister— my sister in body, but yours in spirit— has gone the way of all flesh, little esteeming that honor I bestowed upon her. And (while I was on my way to see the earthly king) she was obedient to her lord, the heavenly King. I am happy to report that she made her last confession in a saintly and pious way and that after her confession she was anointed with consecrated oil. Moreover, filled with her usual Christian spirit, she tearfully expressed her longing for your cloister with her whole heart. She then committed herself to the Lord through His mother and St. John. And sealed three times with the sign of the cross, she confessed the Trinity and Unity of God, and died on October 29 in perfect faith, hope, and charity [cf. I Cor 13.13], as we know for certain. Thus I ask as earnestly as I can, if I have any right to ask, that you love her as much as she loved you, and if she appeared to have any fault— which indeed was mine, not hers— at least have regard for the tears that she shed for your cloister, which many witnessed. And if death had not prevented, she would have come to you as soon as she was able to get permission. But since death did intervene, be assured that, God willing, I will come in her place. May God, who repays all good deeds, recompense you fully in this world and in the future for all the good things you did for her, you alone, more even than relatives or friends; may He repay that benevolence of yours which she rejoiced in before God and me. Please convey my thanks to your sisters for all their kindness.”
From Joseph L. Baird, Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 48-49.

And then, here follows Hildegard’s restrained and irenic response. But note, however, her parting turn on the concept of obedience, with which Hartwig began his letter–

To Hartwig, Archbishop of Bremen

“O how great a miracle there is in the salvation of those souls so looked upon by God that His glory has no hint of shadow in them. But He works in them like a mighty warrior who takes care not to be defeated by anyone, so that his victory may be sure. Just so, dear man, was it with my daughter Richardis, whom I call both daughter and mother, because I cherished her with divine love, as indeed the Living Light had instructed me to do in a very vivid vision.”

“God favored her so greatly that worldly desire had no power to embrace her. For she always fought against it, even though she was like a flower in her beauty and loveliness in the symphony of this world. While she was still living in the body, in fact, I heard the following words concerning her in a true vision: ‘‘O virginity, you are standing in the royal bridal chamber.’’ Now, in the tender shoot of virginity, she has been made a part of that most holy order, and the daughters of Zion rejoice [Zach 2.10, 9.9]. But the ancient serpent had attempted to deprive her of that blessed honor by assaulting her through her human nobility. Yet the mighty Judge drew this my daughter to Himself, cutting her off from all human glory. Therefore, although the world loved her physical beauty and her worldly wisdom while she was still alive, my soul has the greatest confidence in her salvation. For God loved her more. Therefore, He was unwilling to give His beloved to a heartless lover, that is, to the world.”

“Now you, dear Hartwig, you who sit as Christ’s representative, fulfill the desire of your sister’s soul, as obedience demands. And just as she always had your interests at heart, so you now take thought for her soul, and do good works as she wished. Now, as for me, I cast out of my heart that grief you caused me in the matter of this my daughter. May God grant you, through the prayers of the saints, the dew of His grace and reward in the world to come.”

From Joseph L. Baird, Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 49-50.

While von Trotta’s film Vision: From the Life of Hildegard of Bingen is beautiful and inspiring, the letters above complement the film in a profound and touching way. I highly recommend close study of Joseph L. Baird’s collections of Hildegard letters.

Indeed, such close examination of Hildegard scholarship reveals that it is very possible that Richardis was dead by the time Hildegard’s morality play, The Play of Virtues, or the Ordo Virtutum, was performed in its final form. Therefore, the lovely “play within the play” within von Trotta’s Vision, with a prominent role played by Richardis, may or may not have ever really happened with Richardis personally playing the part. The brilliant Hildegard scholar Barbara Newman astutely pointed out (Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine, U. California Press, 1997, p. 223) that the very same words of praise for Richardis’ virginity contained in Hildegard’s letter to Richardis’ brother the archbishop appeared again in the very final version of the Ordo Virtutum. Therefore, who else but Richardis, according to “Central Casting,” would ever play the virtue Castitas, as inspired by Hildegard’s vision? Director von Trotta, by getting history probably wrong, more likely got a truth of the vision right.

How do I support my assertion that the love of Hildegard for Richardis was true Christian love? It is clear from the letters and the testimony of herself and others, at least on Hildegard’s part, that she loved Richardis completely and complexly, in all commonly describable ways, as a friend, a sister, a religious superior, a teacher, a student, a surrogate parent, an admirer, as a seer, as a patient to a caregiver, and by way of sacrificial Christian love, except for the love of sexual intimacy. This relationship appears to make concrete the teachings of Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. This multifaceted love might only be successful across a lifetime between two very strong and talented colleagues.

This kind of relationship would also probably not be tolerated in modern religious life! Even in her own time, Hildegard was asked, “What are you doing?”

I also can’t help recalling, however, that Jesus had his own Beloved Disciple.

To the modern witness, it may make perfect sense that Richardis would step away from Hildegard to lead another abbey shortly after the great project of Scivias was completed, especially since, to the modern understanding, the child must step away from the parent, no matter how loving. But we may never know Richardis’s mind on this subject to the degree that we know Hildegard’s. Whether Richardis received a spiritual call, had her own ambitions, was forced into accepting the abbey by her mother and her brother the archbishop (his letter points in this direction), or was seeking to put distance between herself and Hildegard (the timing of waiting to leave after Scivias was finished may indicate a planned departure), or all of the above, will remain an open question.

I am grateful that, into these open questions, such a director as von Trotta did not fear to step!

==

I end this post by sharing a number of reviews of the film, which are, as evidenced also by their titles, rather, if not humorously, divergent in their attempts to apply paradigms of various ages and interest groups upon the film and to Hildegard.

To the New York Times reviewer, Hildegard, known otherwise to history as a polymath, or universal genius, was the “multitasking nun.”

The Boston Globe applies in an otherwise perceptive review, the post-Freudian saw of “repressed eroticism.”

The dignified review from the National Catholic Reporter carefully relates that experienced nuns would recognize the “special friendship” (years ago also called, a “particular friendship”) that the film depicts in the story of a woman who “humbly initiated change.”

To the Christianity Today reviewer, the film did not convey enough of a “sense of the transcendent.”

Variety’s reviewer appears eager to end the review since the subject of the film is so obviously Catholic.

The San Francisco Chronicle thinks that Hildegard was a “very cool nun.”

NYPress.com sees “female will and independence” in the film.

The LA Times sees a “feminist centuries ahead of her time.”

Flip comments from the NPR reviewer, whose knowledge of the subject of the film (e.g., nuns, history) appears to be gleaned from. . . other films.

Roger Ebert sees the love between the characters as sublimated lesbianism, and is apparently unaware that Benedict XVI, like other recent Popes, explicitly recognized the sainthood of Hildegard in two Fall, 2010 general audiences, linked at my earlier post.

America Magazine, the Jesuit publication, saw Hildegard “caught in a riptide of lesbian love.”

Finally, two interviews with the director–

From FilmMaker Magazine, and from the Huffington Post.

Director von Trotta, in her FilmMaker Magazine interview linked above, explains why in this film she depicted participants kissing each other on the mouth in many different situations. She refers to a scholarly theory about mouth-kissing being more common prior to the Black Death, but it is probably safe to say that she is making a statement about a less inhibited and perhaps idealized “wholesome” approach to human love.

One final tale of the book Scivias, produced by Hildegard in collaboration with Richardis and Volmar. One important original manuscript of Scivias was taken to Dresden for safekeeping during World War II, where it was lost. Copies remain.

Vision as of 2011 is available for viewing on demand from Netflix.

Here is the link to the official website for the film at Zeitgeist Films.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share

A comment on the remarks of two Catholic Chicago judges

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Much has been said and written about the recent comments of two prominent Catholic women, each a judge from Chicago, on their disappointment with Pope Benedict XVI and the Church’s handling of the sex-abuse scandal.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, a former member of the National Review Board established by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to address the sex-abuse scandal, recently suggested that the Pope switch to a black cassock and don other than red shoes as an act of penance over the Church’s handling of the scandal.

Illinois Appellate Judge Sheila O’Brien wrote in the 8/4/10 Chicago Tribune a plea to “Excommunicate me, please,” out of her frustration with the Catholic Church over the abuse scandal.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Justice Burke on several occasions, a few being events of the former Reynold Hillenbrand Institute in Chicago. Chicagoans know that Justice Burke played an integral role years ago in the establishment of the Special Olympics, and that she is a very committed, talented, and special person. I do not recall meeting Judge O’Brien.

But as a Chicagoan, I must observe that it is rather contradictory for Chicago judges to be so very shocked at the Catholic Church, and to be generally silent on the long and jaded history of corruption in the very political party that benefited and advanced them almost every step of the way to their positions of prominence. I do not recall that these judges have called for the ward committeemen who slated them for election in exclusive sessions over the years to change their apparel, or to do penance for anything. Nor have these judges asked their political party to expel them out of embarrassment over their political party’s actions, or for that matter over their political party’s anti-life positions.

Indeed, political corruption is enabled, and government-reform factions appeased and kept within a winning voting coalition, when a few qualified judges like Justice Burke and Judge O’Brien are slated for judicial election along with former precinct captains and assorted other political hacks. For this corrupted judicial appointment arrangement to work, it is essential that qualified judicial candidates keep substantial silence about political corruption, and in some cases, the very means of their own selection to the bench.

I do agree that all of us Catholics should do penance, pray over, and work to end the sex-abuse scandal. But I also think that we Catholics have an obligation, if we work within one of the most corrupt political environments in the United States, to speak out about it on occasion.

The more silent one might feel constrained from speaking out about one’s job or one’s government, the more perfect one wants the Church to be.

Please see a classic article by journalist Abdon Pallasch on how Illinois and Chicago judges are slated for election. The slating of Justice Burke is described in the article.

Update:

On 8/11/10, I received a very cordial note from a person identifying herself as Judge O’Brien, who stated: “Just one note: I was not endorsed/slated by the Democratic party or any party in my run for public office. I ran against the Democratic party’s endorsed candidate.”

I thank the Judge for her kind note, and wish her well in her government reform efforts.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

Share