Who Will Outlast Whom?
Apropos W. Patrick Cunningham’s article “What If Pope Francis Were to Rescind Summorum Pontificum?” (March): First, I don’t think rescinding Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio has ever been on Pope Francis’s radar screen, for one simple reason: he has absolutely no interest in the sacred liturgy. Deo gratias!
Second, unfortunately, the Latin texts of the Mass are no longer an appendix in the English edition of the Roman Missal. The lame excuse given for this most regrettable lacuna was that their inclusion (about 70 pages) would have made the volume too unwieldy — in a book that is already over 1,500 pages long! I suspect that the exclusion of the Latin was a sop thrown to the Angry Left who were so enraged by the “new and improved” Mass translation.
Finally, who says that Francis is going to outlast Benedict?
The Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas
Editor, The Catholic Response
Pine Beach, New Jersey
I read with interest — and dismay — W. Patrick Cunningham’s article on Summorum Pontificum. After stating that most priests in the U.S. would be happy if the “extraordinary form” disappeared tomorrow (probably true), Deacon Cunningham offers two levels of analysis: (1) Why Catholics are attracted to the Latin Mass, and (2) what parishes ought to do to accommodate such Catholics if the Latin Mass is formally taken away. In both levels of analysis, Cunningham misunderstands both what is and what will happen.
Deacon Cunningham’s article demonstrated a level of obtuseness that left me, a Catholic father who has raised his family almost exclusively in the Latin Mass, discouraged. He discussed the destruction of the most important part of my family’s life — and that of many other Catholic families — in the most blasé and nonchalant terms. It was as if he were discussing speculatively my spiritual vivisection. Perhaps he does this because he does not understand what motivates “the faithful who drive hundreds of miles each week” to assist at a Latin Mass. He crystallizes the attraction for these Catholics as a love of “formality,” which is wrong on several fronts.
In my experience as a member of several different Latin Mass communities, these Catholics have not become outcasts in the greater Church because of Gregorian chant or ad orientem worship (although they love those things). The much broader theme that motivates those who make a considerable sacrifice to build Latin Mass communities is a rejection of the entire modernist project in the Church — whether it is the contemporary Church’s false ecumenism and syncretism, her refusal to teach hard moral truths, liturgical deformations like altar girls and Communion in the hand, the collapse of time-honored devotions like the Rosary and Eucharistic devotion, etc. In sum, rather than “formality,” most Latin Mass Catholics are driven by a steadfast refusal to accommodate a false version of Catholicism that masquerades as the real thing in most parish churches in the U.S. and by a concomitant desire to live Catholicism in its fullness without compromise or vacillation. It is not a formalism concerned primarily with aesthetics that is at issue but rather a substantive fight over the right to live in a way that is consistent with how our ancient faith was always understood and practiced prior to the horrendous novelties that were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s.
Cunningham fails to appreciate what motivates Latin Mass Catholics, and so his proffered solutions completely miss the mark. Latin Mass Catholics will not return to either Latin Novus Ordo liturgies or to “reverent” vernacular Novus Ordo liturgies. If, God forbid, Rome tried to suppress the Mass of All Time again, Latin Mass Catholics would continue to assist at Latin Masses — wherever and however they could.
The battle in the Church transcends liturgy — it is over the survival of authentic Catholicism and the salvation of souls. And this battle will end with the destruction of the modernist influence in the Church, which includes the modernist liturgy epitomized by the Novus Ordo Missae. It will take time — a lot of time — for this to happen, but it will happen.
With all due respect to Deacon Cunningham, for most Latin Mass Catholics there is no going back. The very idea that we have to be “accommodated” is insulting — we are keeping the faith. With all of the outright heresy and approbation of immoral conduct afflicting the Church, it is odd that the mustard seed of Latin Mass Catholics is targeted, but it fits with the general theme that we are persecuted not for our disobedience but for our very obedience to the teachings of Holy Mother Church from time immemorial.
Cunningham would do better by speculating how he will be accommodated when the Novus Ordo Missae is abrogated — because it most certainly will, in due time. This might seem like a ridiculous assertion today, but the only segment of the Church that is producing large families and vocations is where Latin Mass Catholics are found because we are faithful. Given that the typical clustered Novus Ordo parish is halved in each generation through the great falling away of Catholics, it will not be long before we number as many as them. To give up the Latin Mass would be tantamount to apostasy for us. No matter what happens, and no matter who purports to outlaw this Mass, we will never give it up.
Professor of Philosophy, Sacred Heart Major Seminary
W. Patrick Cunningham’s imagined scenarios of possible alternatives to the Tridentine Mass, should Pope Francis rescind Summorum Pontificum after the death of Benedict XVI, suffer from an inordinately superficial grasp of traditionalist concerns.
Cunningham says that in his experience the Tridentine Mass has three “primary attractions” that are largely aesthetic: (1) sacred music, (2) ad orientem celebration, and (3) formality — e.g., traditional postures of prayer, genuflections, incensation, multiple vested ministers, and formal processions. As important as these considerations might be to traditionalists, they would dismiss them as relatively superficial. Even framing the question in terms of “primary attractions” sets one up to miss what is most fundamental in the view of traditionalists.
Traditionalists want the ancient Mass because it’s traditional! It’s not something they or their contemporaries have cobbled together, improvised, or designed; it’s something they’ve received, something passed down to them unchanged in its essentials from time immemorial. They are sick and tired of the view that “worship” is something we can “design” in some new way that is more “relevant” and pleasing to contemporary sensibilities. That view was essentially a conceit of the 1960s and 1970s, and the conceit still hasn’t been shaken off, as can be seen even in this otherwise sympathetic and well-intended article.
As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said of the post-Vatican II liturgy in his preface to the French edition of Msgr. Klaus Gamber’s Reform of the Roman Liturgy, “What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it — as in a manufacturing process — with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.”
Reading Cunningham’s article reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a retired 80-year-old Presbyterian English teacher about the Sacrament of Confession. After pondering my description of confession, he declared thoughtfully, “Yes, I can see what would attract a person to confession. It would seem to effectively help get rid of guilt feelings.” What he said, of course, was true, but he entirely missed the point. Cunningham likewise says something true but entirely misses the most important point, which is why the alternatives he proposes probably won’t work.
Director, Honors Program, Department of Philosophy, University of St. Thomas
W. Patrick Cunningham asks what would happen if Pope Francis were to rescind Summorum Pontificum. The easy answer is that the Church would continue as she had prior to Pope Benedict’s 2007 motu proprio.
In 1984, with Quattuor Abhinc Annos, Pope St. John Paul II allowed the Latin Mass to be celebrated in limited circumstances. His reasons were pastoral and compassionate because the lay people for whom the Latin Mass had been normative were still having difficulty with the transition to the vernacular. I was one of them, having been raised in a Catholic family, educated in Catholic schools from kindergarten through university, and attended daily Latin Mass from the time of my First Communion. Much of my missing the Latin Mass, however, was due to nostalgia and the loss of the close-knit Catholic ethnic community of my youth.
Deacon Cunningham is concerned about “the faithful who drive hundreds of miles each week to participate in” a Latin Mass. Those of us who grew up with the Latin Mass are in our 70s and 80s, and most of us lack the time, money, and physical stamina for such weekly travels. We are grateful for the grace to be able to come to Mass in our local parishes. Cunningham acknowledges that Mass in the vernacular can be uplifting, reverent, and beautiful. So why not focus on this rather than maintaining two rituals with different languages and rubrics in the same parish church? Is not unity of worship laudable?
The Latin Mass is part of the Church’s history (it is not the language of Christ on earth), and it could be preserved in monasteries, seminaries, and houses of religious orders — and those so inclined can travel to these locations. If Pope Francis, in his pastoral care of the people of God, decrees that in parish churches Mass is to be celebrated in the local language, this would be reasonable as a general rule, personal prelatures notwithstanding. In those areas where people conduct their daily affairs or do business in Latin, they too would have Mass in their own language.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
I have asked myself the same question Deacon Cunningham asks: What would happen if Pope Francis rescinds Summorum Pontificum? But I find his solution of a more formal Novus Ordo wanting. More important than the formality of the traditional Latin Mass is the text of the Mass itself (including the liturgical calendar that goes along with it). A more formal Novus Ordo would mean that we would no longer say the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. The Sundays after Pentecost and the time of Septuagesima would disappear. The Last Gospel would be gone, along with the longer and more beautiful Confiteor, and likely the Leonine Prayers, not to mention prayers that are said more than once in the Latin Mass, as opposed to only once in the Novus Ordo, such as the Domine, non sum dignus. I encourage readers to look at the texts of the two Masses side by side. They will see that they are very different.
When I die, I want a traditional funeral Mass, not the Novus Ordo Mass, no matter how formal. In the former, the fear that the soul of the deceased is suffering in Purgatory is reflected in the constant intoning of prayer for the deceased, whereas in the latter, one hardly prays for the soul of the dead.
In describing a more formal Novus Ordo, Cunningham should have mentioned other aspects that traditionalists find excruciating, like the Sign of Peace, extraordinary ministers, altar girls, and, most importantly, Communion in the hand. No, Deacon Cunningham, the traditional Mass is about a lot more than Gregorian chant, processions, and incense. It’s about the Mass itself.
W. PATRICK CUNNINGHAM REPLIES:
I am grateful to Fr. Stravinskas for alerting me to the exclusion of the Latin Novus Ordo from the newer editions of the Roman Missal. I have also discovered that in the more compact version of that missal, the English chants are omitted, probably because many priests do not want to sing the Mass, as the Second Vatican Council encouraged. The Latin text is, however, available in older editions, and, as of this writing, at www.latinliturgy.com/OrdinaryFormMassText.pdf.
I join Fr. Stravinskas in his prayer that our Holy Father continue to find other issues to focus on and that our Emeritus Pope endure on this earth ad multos annos. In so many ways, Joseph Ratzinger has been a great blessing to us all.
I regret Christopher Gawley’s “dismay” at my article, and I hasten to remind him that my writing merely answers a question leveled by one of our local pastors. As one of the few deacons fluent in Latin, I am assigned to the one parish in our archdiocese that regularly offers Masses in Latin, Spanish, and English — the latter two according to the missal of Bl. Paul VI. I assist almost weekly at both the English and Latin Masses. In the extraordinary form, I sing the epistle during the Missa Cantata and offer Holy Communion there and during the Missa Lecta. I am also assigned to preach at both forms once a month. My association with the Latin Mass “community,” which our pastor is actively encouraging to become a vital part of the entire parish, extends back almost to the day of Pope Benedict’s motu proprio.
I am less than five years from retirement in my diaconal role, so I very much doubt that I will have to be “accommodated when the Novus Ordo Missae is abrogated.” Nevertheless, I applaud Mr. Gawley’s enthusiasm for the extraordinary form and his stout defense of Catholic tradition and family life. I certainly intended no insult to him or anyone else. There’s enough of that going on already, both inside and outside the Church.
I appreciate Prof. Blosser’s reflections, but I suggest that we both know what is at stake here. Is the Novus Ordo in continuity or discontinuity with tradition? In the immediate aftermath of Sacrosanctum Concilium, we entered a period of often thoughtless experimentation that gave us the “clown Mass,” the “polka Mass,” the “leavened bread Mass,” and other monstrosities. With the missal of Bl. Paul VI, consider what the Mass looks like if we use Eucharistic Prayer I. There is far more in continuity than in discontinuity. The expanded Scripture readings cannot be considered a step in the wrong direction. Even if, as I have written elsewhere, the gradual is seen as better than the responsorial psalm, the latter is still a valid option. When I am without my Sunday extraordinary-form missal in the pew, I simply use Eucharistic Prayer I as a translation and skip the acclamation. The pax can be experienced without what one wag called a “group grope.” With a little education, the congregation can understand that the “New” Mass is the same Mass in slightly different form, and in Latin it is marvelous when celebrated reverently and artistically.
Mrs. Hicks raises some valid points, but she should understand that we lose nothing by having two forms of the one rite. The vast majority of those who attend extraordinary-form Masses in our parish are considerably younger than my 71 years. There are several young families, and they tend to have more than two children, who appear to be participating as well as they can. At sung Masses, we have a whole flock of boys serving the liturgy. So it’s not nostalgia or accommodation; it’s sacrificial worship in union with Christ and the saints.
Mrs. Toler raises issues that I didn’t address in my article but that are worthy of consideration. I believe the biggest loss is that of the traditional calendar. Granted, there are improvements we can attribute to the new calendar, particularly the priority given to the weekday celebrations of Advent and Lent. And I very much prefer the Octave of the Nativity being dedicated to the Mother of God. But the loss of the three Sundays before Lent is a true downer. Now we just lurch into Ash Wednesday without preparation for the fast. The use of the term “Ordinary Time” is jarring. Down here in Texas, we are tempted to call it “Ornery Time.” Losing the weekly reminder that our lives are always “after Pentecost” is tragic.
Let me add one item to Mrs. Toler’s catalog of the benefits of the traditional Mass. This past Triduum, I served at one extraordinary-form service (Good Friday) and three ordinary-form services (Holy Thursday, Easter Vigil, and the morning Mass on Easter). On a typical Sunday, we have three or four male altar servers at a Missa Lecta (two in the choir), and as many as eight male servers at a Missa Cantata, including a thurifer and master of ceremonies. I don’t recall any male servers at the three ordinary-form Masses during this Triduum. One of the other deacons, without my prompting, said, “That’s one of the reasons for the priestly vocations crisis.” To which I say, “Amen.” We have had only one sacerdotal ordination of a parishioner in the past 10 years — and it was for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which is dedicated to the celebration of the extraordinary form. May they grow and prosper by the grace of God.
A Hopeless Proposition
Fr. James V. Schall, in his article “Do Historical Norms Alter Church Teaching? Should They?” (March), writes that “many modern theologians suspect that the rejection of the Church’s teachings is the Church’s fault, not that of the recipients.” He writes further that when Pope Francis “explains his views…questions immediately arise about their origins and meaning.” Fr. Schall does not elaborate. So I offer my own views on the version of Jesuit theology that Pope Francis seems to pursue in his writings and statements.
Jesuit theology today is captive to a form of thinking heavily influenced by current cultural trends coupled with the perceived need to reshape religion to fit those trends. Its proponents emphasize “pastoral care” and a more “pragmatic” interpretation of morality than is offered by traditional religion. The thrust of such an approach is revealed in euphemistic rationalizations that use words like discernment and compassion. When applied to the words of Jesus as enshrined in Scripture, the result is a more or less historical-critical interpretation that tends to override the absolute character of divine revelation.
For example, last year the Jesuit superior general, Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, said there are no tape recordings of Jesus’ original words, and so it follows that possible transcription errors made over the centuries might have obscured their real meaning and message. [See our New Oxford Note “Return of the Gnostic Jesuits,” June 2017 — Ed.] Other Jesuits have instructed us that circumstances and individual conscience must be evaluated before applying the black-and-white directives of Scripture. In line with such “discernment,” they advise us, the frailty of human nature and the unique pressures of the current culture limit people’s capability to conform fully to the overly “harsh” objective rules of morality. The way forward, then, is to mediate a program of pastoral relief and mercy that will provide practical solutions to the otherwise unresolvable problems that such undue objectivity poses.
In short, some Jesuits interpret the words of Christ that are incorporated into the canonical deposit of Scripture as no longer absolute. His words can and should be second-guessed by more compassionate and pastorally accommodating insights. Divine revelation, Scripture, and the Magisterium are thereby made vulnerable to rational analysis, grist for the mill of modernity. The old “rigid” demands must be tempered by “mercy” and a new “discernment” of moral restrictions that the people of today can and cannot tolerate.
This Jesuit philosophy (it hardly qualifies as theology) introduces what might be called an open season on revelation, Tradition, and the Deposit of Faith. Rather than “faith searching for understanding,” it represents reason in search of faith, a hopeless proposition for a theologian. A broad path is now open to the proverbial slippery slope, down which mainstream Protestantism has largely disappeared.
John P. Moench
Monsey, New York
Welcome to Your "Wow" Moment
Though James F. O’Callaghan and I live in different areas of the country, we have shared similar experiences attending Mass in our localities and making a longer drive for a Latin Mass (“The Most Important Things in Life Are Obligatory,” March). In the diocese next to the one in which I reside, three parishes have been holding meetings to discuss their “time, talent, and treasure” to see how they can combine and which church might close. I attended one of the meetings. The topics were the Mass and how to be more welcoming. At one point, the diocesan representative stood up and said, “When someone leaves the church after Mass, we want them to say [at this point she threw open her arms], ‘Wow!'” Having never done the “Wow” after Mass, perhaps I’ve missed something?
The next day, I received a letter urging us to look at the amount of gray hair in our congregation and ask ourselves where the younger generations of Catholics went and why millions of Catholics have abandoned the Church. The letter went on to discuss “some important ideas” about how to “increase attendance” by presenting “an attractive spirit of friendly warmth and inclusiveness” and “a culture of hospitality.” The ideas included having the cantor ask everyone to stand before the opening hymn and greet those around them, having the priest express his personal welcome to visitors and members alike after the opening hymn, inviting new members to stand after final announcements (with the congregation applauding and the priest waving at the new members), offering a welcome gift to new members before the entire congregation, and inviting others to register as members. Another “important idea” was to have the priest ask those with birthdays during the week to stand so the congregation can sing “Happy Birthday” to them. This was also recommended for births, baptisms, marriages, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day because “the more interaction with those around us the friendlier and more outgoing we become.”
Thank you, Mr. O’Callaghan, for reminding us that attending Mass is our obligation. God bless your father for driving his family over 40 miles of gravel roads while on vacation to go to Mass, and Sr. Margaret for speaking the truth to her students those many years ago. You are so right when you write, “The important things in life are not optional.” And to that I say, Wow!
JAMES F. O'CALLAGHAN REPLIES:
I join Pamela Ahearn in lamenting the increasingly desperate measures she cites in that letter she received. I suspect that we share further reactions: disbelief, dismay, and a touch of anger followed by guilt about the anger. After all, these fellow Catholics propose birthday songs and such because their bishop or priest has asked for their suggestions. We must acknowledge their faithfulness and good will, even as we’re convinced that such efforts to strengthen faith will again prove worse than futile.
Misguided Attempts to Undo the Indelible Past
Regarding the controversy (letters to the editor and editor’s replies, Dec. and March) stemming from your New Oxford Note “Twilight of the Idols” (Oct.): Back in the 1970s I would visit the Boston Public Library nearly every day. At the first-floor level, in a small gallery to the right of the wide staircase, were two marble busts in opposing corners. One depicted Jesus Christ, and the other, Lucifer. Coiled about each was a serpent. Both were sculpted by the same artist, Horatio Greenough, in the 1840s. Once, in the 1970s, a man tried to vandalize the bust of Jesus but was tackled by an employee from the circulation desk before he could do any harm. The man did not try to attack the bust of Lucifer.
In 2007 there was another attack on the 160-year-old bust of Jesus, which was “knocked from its perch on the grand staircase and sent crashing to the floor. Nearby, a matching marble bust of Lucifer was left untouched. Library surveillance video given to police showed a man and a woman attacking…. The female suspect was seen on the video throwing an object at the sculpture and forcing it off a ledge” (Boston Globe, Sept. 21, 2007).
To date, the bust of Christ has not been restored. In fact, the Boston Public Library has decided to lump that project in with dozens of other art restorations until sufficient funding is raised. No special priority has been given to the bust of Christ. It might never be restored if certain agnostic or atheistic attitudes prevail in the library administration.
The repeated vandalism at the library is aimed at figuratively decimating Christ and removing His image from public display. Why? Perhaps to soothe angry, guilty consciences.
The recent fetish for removing or destroying historical statues seems similarly motivated: to assuage the offense of slavery imposed by Caucasian ancestors some six generations ago. It’s a sadly misguided attempt to undo the indelible past, to erase from sight those historical statues that offend the angry, guilty consciences of naïve millennials. What should happen instead — but won’t because statues are easier targets — is an inward demolition of the embedded racist engrams and programs that haunt those fifth and sixth generations.
Richard M. Dell’Orfano
San Marcos, California
So Much More to the Story
Thomas S. Martin’s article “Is Modern Man Too Healthy for Literature?” (Jan.-Feb.) explores with unusual insight the crucial role literature should be playing in our universities and colleges. Surely it deserves a place at the core of a liberal education, not least for students majoring in the sciences as for those in the humanities. That the methods of natural science constitute a valuable mode of knowledge is unquestionable. Martin’s masterful analysis of Yefrem’s sudden and unsought-for self-awareness in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward demonstrates how imagination can be a powerful mode of knowledge as well. Today’s students desperately need to know this because they desperately need to know about the virtues — and about vices. They tend to think that stories are “just” stories that do not rise above the level of mere opinion or personal preferences. We all profit not only from Aristotle, who tells us what virtue and vice are, but also (and no less) from stories that show us, existentially, what they are.
As Martin reveals, via Solzhenitsyn, literature has the power to expose lies, deception, and falsehoods and thereby usher us into a healthy, moral world. Yefrem suffers (tellingly!) from cancer of the tongue, both literally and, more importantly, figuratively: the bodily organ, the purpose of which is to be an organ of truth, has, for him, been an instrument of the lie — for all his life. As Martin teaches, that is a deformation. More than merely suffering bodily sickness, however, Yefrem suffers from another sickness: a cancer of the soul. He harbors what Socrates calls “the lie in the soul.” It is only when Yefrem turns to Tolstoy’s stories that he, as it were, “comes to himself.” He experiences a conversion, the effect of which is to turn him around so he can confront himself and see himself as he is: afflicted with a “sickness unto death.” In this sense, we are all in a kind of cancer ward. Recall St. Augustine’s anguished cry, “Turn me around [Latin convertio, to be turned around], O Lord, and show me myself.” All his life, Yefrem has been immune to this “existential shock,” as Josef Pieper called it, because, having everything he thinks he needs — bodily health, material goods, satisfaction of base desires, and the pleasures of deceit — he thinks he needs nothing else.
As the Christ-haunted and therefore deeply confused Hazel Motes puts it in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, “A man got a good car, he don’t need to be redeemed.” Martin’s great insight is essentially this: A man who thinks he is perfectly healthy, that he is sufficient unto himself, is unlikely to be open to literature’s healing knowledge. The ancient Greek poets knew this well. Aeschylus’s chorus said it long ago: “Justice so moves that those only learn / who suffer.” That is the voice of the “old Western men.” We need more of these men. Thomas S. Martin is one.
Director, Honors Program, Department of Philosophy, University of St. Thomas
Thomas S. Martin opens his article with Phillip Roth’s observation that literature has become obsolete, having been usurped by “the screen”: movie screens, HDTV screens, computer screens, iPad and tablet screens, smartphone screens, etc. Roth’s observation does not describe mental dysfunction so much as a life bound by materialism, consumed by the immediacy of the moment, and dominated by the need for entertainment and distraction, which eliminates the possibility of silence and contemplation. Such a life is comfortable, neither good nor evil — it is a life of dulled ignorance.
Martin recognizes these symptoms in his students. But he is also cognizant of Kierkegaard’s warning that a direct attack “only strengthens a person in his illusion, and at the same time embitters him.” So Martin introduces his students to literature by means of Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward, in which each character is a soul severed from the world of materialism who must deal with his own mortality, the antithesis of the immediacy of the sensual life. Martin thus exposes his students to a different view of life — a life from which immediacy, distraction, and entertainment have been removed. It might help them see that there are other possibilities in life besides immediacy and materialism.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Thomas S. Martin asks if we are too complacent to think we have anything worthwhile to learn from a novel. That certainly seems to be the case. It’s as though we need a hurricane or plague to live up to our humanity. Why must we be faced with catastrophe in order to reflect on our lives and whether we are living them as we should, when there are great novels with living characters that illustrate life lived well, poorly, or in mediocrity?
I am a musician and professor of music. A few years back, I taught a summer-school class on contemporary music literature. “The mind that prefers the screen” can manifest in a music student in two ways: (1) focusing exclusively on the technical aspects of notes, rhythms, and stylistic accuracy, and (2) getting sucked into the linear approach to history that makes every new development better than what went before. Plowing through the writings and treatises of early 20th-century composers, I began thinking that this new ideological approach to music was more about materialism and determinism than art. Many of the literary texts I had used in the past were too much like history books — that is, written in the third person, as opposed to the more literature-oriented first person. So this time I chose That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis in an attempt to get the students to think laterally about what music is and has been, rather than having them memorize all the factoids about people essentially trying to re-invent the wheel. It seemed to me that the characters in Lewis’s novel are attempting to replace our world with one of sterilized rationality, devoid of feeling, passion, and charity. Problem was, only three out of 22 students were interested in reading a novel like this and relating it to how some people talk about music.
Martin ably documents the difficulty of teaching in this post-literate epoch. The great task today is simply to try to reach the student and get him to start developing the capacity to learn, so that we can at some point get to the learning itself. I appreciate the way Martin addresses this problem in that kindly yet combative way. I taught a freshman seminar in political philosophy for a few years, and I would always get a few very good students and a whole lot who had never read much of anything and were completely caught up in the modern liberal mindset that people are plastic, easily malleable, and can be made into perfect creatures through perfect laws (this is compounded by that other modern disorder of imagining that all lifestyles and cultures are equally good) — as if you could create an Ella Fitzgerald or Andres Segovia with music lessons.
Literature teaches us that there is so much more to a story or a piece of music than what is on the surface. Yet “the mind that prefers the screen” only wants the surface. You can find all sorts of books that teach every technical aspect of any subject, but you will never find one that can teach you how to do it with love. Literature is there to remind us that people are products of their choices, good and bad, and that when leavened with love, we are more apt to make better choices. Thomas S. Martin has illustrated the importance of the novel and what can be gained from deeper study.
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