Friday, November 11, 2005

Who I’m listening to
Fr George Rutler at Ivy Hall, Philadelphia
Went to hear him last night at this cultural institute dedicated to the best of Catholic Europe, started by, of course, a former Anglo-Catholic priest.

Icons are hip right now (they’re relatively little enough understood in the West to be considered nonthreatening) but both Dr John Haas and Fr R seem to have adopted them largely in the spirit they were made: Our Lady of Kazan in a silver riza (оклад) on a mantel with a votive light in front of her seems to announce that this isn’t a case of Modernists playing with them.

Fr R spoke on a topic I’ve heard him address before: the university, not a seminary or place for catechesis nor a trade school. A concept that Newman, an Oxonian (search the blog for more on him), understood but neither the Jansenist-tinged Irish of his day (and I dare say many Irish-Americans in the good old days before the end of the world)* nor the sell-outs to political correctness today did/do.

The university in the true sense has academic freedom: unlike Sunday school, which has its different but legitimate purpose, one is free to debate every point in the catechism.

The most important point: when you abandon a notion of objective truth the academy becomes a mere mouthpiece for whoever happens to be in power, be it a dictator (Communist countries for example) or a mob (as some tried to do in the late 1960s). Long story short, the ‘Enlightenment’ down to Jacques Derrida were wrong. Thought so.

(By the way, student riots are nothing new. Dozens of townsfolk died in one in mediæval Oxford. Fr R says that’s why to this day that university’s chancellor has the legal right to hang an undergraduate!)

He also mentioned, without sounding hysterical in the protty culture-wars mode, what’s wrong with some kinds of popular music, particularly rock, saying that Plato in his Republic would have recognised it as a kind of music (the highest of the seven liberal arts — no, I can’t name the others yet) that should be banned from it. Its words are divorced from meaning:
Well, everybody’s heard about the bird!
B-b-b-bird! Bird! Bird!
B-bird’s the word!
- The Trashmen, 1964

and the music has a certain kind of rhythm (I don’t know the technical Greek word he used for it) that stirs up the humours.

Good points but there is still a place for pop music and I’ll keep listening to African Michael Babatunde Olatunji’s ‘Jingo’ covered by Carlos Santana at Woodstock: a primal, natural, sensual rhythm that like the mannerly music he and probably I would like shows a side of God and is part of the vibrant Catholic culture of Spanish America.

(Then again you can argue that Mr Olatunji was part of a tradition and ‘Surfin’ Bird’ — which I admit is catchy, joyful noise, punk without the sneer — wasn’t.)

Father agrees with the late Fulton Sheen (writing in the 1960s!) and what I’ve come to hold: if you want a good formation or to hold onto your faith, stay the hell away from mainstream RC colleges.

I’d say: in the States, go to the little preppy liberal-arts places that are genuinely liberal in something approaching the classical sense and get your religion honestly from some conservative church in town, not (heavens!) from the Newman Club (most of whose members probably don’t know or care who Newman was, says Father).

The intellectual quality of a university is inversely proportional to that of its gymnastic facilities.
(It’s not about mens sana in corpore sano but business: ‘normal’ people’s obsession with sport.)

He was on the scene in Manhattan during 9/11 and found himself surrounded by Catholic firemen wanting to go to Confession before going into the World Trade Center so he pronounced a battlefield-type absolution over the group. They went in and the rest is history.

Finally, he is charming, dresses like a Roman Rite priest should (proper collar and stock, better than a tab shirt) and loves Gilbert and Sullivan (‘kabuki for WASPs’): it doesn’t take much to get him to start singing a patter song from Ruddigore!

P.S. Online greetings to old friends Katrina Kelsch and David Ermine. Good to hear how Our Lady of Lourdes down the road from Ivy Hall is moving up the candle under the Mercedarians.

*Why many of their colleges were considered second-rate: not any fault of orthodoxy!

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