Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Third Kind of Martyr

The holy days immediately after Christmas are a curious mix. We start with St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr, the first specifically and explicitly Christian martyr, and whose martyrdom is a sort of template for other martyrdoms. We then move to St. John the Evangelist, who is according to tradition the only apostle who wasn't martyred (he was exiled, not killed). And today we meet the Holy Innocents, who are the martyrs least like anything we expect martyrs to be.

The mix did not escape our predecessors. Aquinas mentions somewhere a sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux arguing that there were three kinds of martyrdom: martyrdom in will but not in physical death, as with St. John; martyrdom in will and in physical death, as with St. Stephen; and martyrdom in physical death but not in will, as with the Holy Innocents.

Genuine martyrdom is an act of witness; but to be the sort of martyrdom celebrated by the Church it must be an act of God. As typically understood, this is by the way of the infused virtue of fortitude, which is to say, inspired fortitude, whose most encompassing act is witness in violent death. In St. Stephen we see this full complete sense of martyrdom: God acts as principal agent of the witness, Stephen through inspired fortitude is the instrumental agent of witness, and the act is able, in context, to be a complete act of witness in violent death. The relation of this to St. John is easy to see: God still acts as principal agent of John's witness, John through inspired fortitude is still instrumental agent of the witness, but as it happens the fortitude is only ever expressed in acts less than full martyrdom.

With the Holy Innocents, on the other hand, we seem to have a somewhat different situation. Nothing absolute prevents an infant from receiving inspired fortitude, but this is in a sense incidental to the question, since an infant is not in a position to be an instrumental agent through such an infused virtue but only, at best, an instrumental patient. Thus God is principal agent of the witness of the Holy Innocents, and the act of witness in violent death is complete, but the Holy Innocents are not agents of witness in the way Stephen and John are. Yet they are no less martyrs and saints. One importance of the Holy Innocents is that they show that the witness of martyrdom, if genuine, must be very much an act of God. (The medieval theology of the Holy Innocents ends up being more complicated than this makes it sound, because, of course, the Holy Innocents were Jewish boys who were circumcised. Circumcision already made them signs of Christ and is the anticipatory sign of baptism into Christ. Thus their witness to Christ is an expression of the covenant between God and Israel that is fulfilled in Christ. Thus they were already going to be saints -- but because of their deaths they participate in the victory of martyrs as well and merit the veneration of the Church. Contrary to what some mis-attribute to medieval theologians, they weren't bothered by the fact that unbaptized children could be saints in heaven, since this was actually easily accommodated, but puzzled by the sense in which they were martyrs. Yet they were also clear that not only are they martyrs, they are an important kind of martyr, as well; all martyrs in some sense die in the place of Christ, for instance, but the Holy Innocents are the only martyrs who literally died in the place of Christ.)

Pusey has a famous sermon, entitled, "God's glories in infants set forth in the Holy Innocents," in which he notes that one of the clear lessons of the feast is the dignity of children: even an infant may be a saint of God, a witness to truth, and a temple of the Holy Spirit; and we are not just called to life everlasting, but born to the call. And this dignity does not depend on their being able to engage in great projects or elaborate choices; it does not depend on their autonomy or their consciousness of their place in this world or their ability to attribute to their own existence some basic value; it does not depend on sophisticated cognitive capabilities or having identifiable interests. Their deaths are not merely of moral interest; their deaths are things to make a man tremble; their deaths show that their lives are infinitely precious. It is in the greatest of human deaths that we see the full greatness of human life; and in Christian terms, the greatest of human deaths is martyrdom, the victory that is most victorious, and infants can have it. Some infant boys who had no idea what was going on were martyred once; and thereby they showed that their lives were capable of being, in witness, the expression of the greatest goods in the world. The Feast of Holy Innocents is a feast that says a lot.

Classical and Popular

Both from Frank Baum's The Patchwork Girl of Oz:

"The only record I have with me," explained the phonograph, "is one the Magician attached just before we had our quarrel. It's a highly classical composition."

"A what?" inquired Scraps.

"It is classical music, and is considered the best and most puzzling ever manufactured. You're supposed to like it, whether you do or not, and if you don't, the proper thing is to look as if you did. Understand?"
(Chapter Seven)

"It's the latest popular song," declared the phonograph, speaking in a sulky tone of voice.

"A popular song?"

"Yes. One that the feeble-minded can remember the words of and those ignorant of music can whistle or sing. That makes a popular song popular, and the time is coming when it will take the place of all other songs."
(Chapter Eleven)

And the phonograph would seem to be a sort of expert on the subject.

Dashed Off I

As always, what it says on the tin: dashed off; so take with a grain or two of salt. I'm very behind on these, so this will be a series.

collective vs distributive interpretations of each modality

Treating logic in a purely syntactical way increases rather than reduces interpretive assumptions, because inference and proof are not a kind of syntax.

Rigid & nonrigid designation show that there is a modal component in every term.

If you take seriously Hume's claim that his account of causation covers matter & form, you get something like a process ontology.

You can tell the philosophers whose arguments are most dangerous to Nietzsche's claims: they are the ones with whom his responses become most epigrammatic and scathing, without consideration of details. This is the Nietzschean cunning: to pass lightly over what is dangerous.

the promissory sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, and Orders -- all involve promising God something. Note that these are the three character sacraments plus the quasi-character covenant of Matrimony (all the character sacraments involve the sealing of a covenant, just as Matrimony does; they only differ in the covenantal structure)

Pictures are capable not merely of denoting but of quasi-exemplifying (cp Goodman on metaphorical exemplification).

vagueness as superposition of at least apparent possibilities

Exemplification, as in swatches and paint chips, is quasi-conventional, relative to a classification and conventions of use or regard.

Nothing seems actually to fit Goodman's criteria for a notational system; the closest one gets is practical equivalence for certain functions.

A musical score is a recipe.

The composer's score is an authoritative recommendation, not definitive of works or performances.

The performer plays in the tradition of the composer.

monomane and yugen in the hana of the Christ-like life; the myo of the saints, the rojaku of the ascetics

"A trading country is the habitat of Socinianism." Newman

entropy as a measure of distinguishability

the iconic economy and its relation to the sacramental economy

II Nicaea bases Tradition on the promise of Christ
II Nicaea lists as examples of the lawful traditions: the Book of the Gospels, the image of the Cross, the pictorial icons, the holy relics of martyrs; it specifically and explicitly attributes the same account to the first three

The Church in its Tradition is a seal of the righteousness of faith, in testimony of God's grace towards us, to the confirming of faith and the imprinting of the promises of God on our hearts; it is a testimony of God's love, founded on the promise of Christ, to be with us always.

Scripture as evangelical proclamation, icon of Christ, and sacramental whose office is to prepare one for any and all sacraments (thus being part of the catechetical/doctrinal/magisterial, iconic, and sacramental economies of the Church, and binding them all together)

possible world semantics & the problem of modal overdetermination.

We see the meaningfulness of the universe reflected in human beings around us as the image of God; without the latter, we have no clear sight of the former.

Affability is the virtue of speaking the language of friendship in deed and word.

the passage of time itself as playing a role in cognition

symbolic participation in divine providence

the Sabbath as a day for cultivating affability

curation of ideas

The tendency to act and accomplish is more fundamental than the tendency to self-preservation.

Aristotle's eleven virtues as a template for civilized life

a political community shares
(1) money: liberality, magnificence
(2) honors: ambition, magnanimity
(3) social interaction: truth, eutrapelia, affability
(this leaves courage, mildness, justice, & temperance; c, m, and temp all deal with basic aspects of human passional life: fear, anger, pleasure and pain; justice has a regard for the political structure itself)

modality -> mereotopology -> geometry

Pain is an entire portfolio of responses to the world.

Baptism is the primary and principal means of transmitting the faith; indeed, in a sense the entire Christian life is the sacrament of Baptism, the rippling out in sign and thing of the rite of sign and thing.

plausibility coherence (direct)
....external (including inference to best explanation) analogy (derivative)
(both of these show that plausibility is a consistency with cognitive consequences)

mortal apings of immortality

"Counterpart theory" is applicable whenever we can talk about a topic entirely in terms of similarity, quantification, and mereology. Formally it applies just as much to organizational counterparts in organizations as individuals in worlds.

Aesthetics needs something like a doctrine of the mean that allows us to evaluate beyond the capacities of our language. Clearly there is a sort of mean in art, but it doesn't seem to be stable, in the way that virtues are stable means, i.e., grounded in definite and consistent features of the agetn as such. It seems to be now in this, now in that.

Causes as we usually think of them are able to specify the initial conditions of a system; laws as we usually think of them are not. Causes pertain to being, laws to order.

Dt 30:10-14 & the purpose of Torah

The fear of the Lord is His law in us and in our actions.

The purpose of the parable of the Good Samaritan is to block attempts to justify oneself.

Governments, more than any other institutions, are in danger of becoming parasitic on fears and hopes when they should be reducing the harm of them.

Hell is being unable to get past Good Friday, Purgatory is waiting through Holy Saturday, and Heaven is the Paschal Day of Resurrection.

"every effect is a sigh of the cause, an exemplate of the exemplar, and a path to the end" Bonaventure

effects lead to causes (Bonaventure)
(1) by proper representation (natural similitude)
(2) by prophetic prefiguration (Scriptural type)
(3) by angelic operation (mediated theophanic works)
(4) by superadded institution (sacrament)

"to the Church is entrusted the care of all the sacraments, but in a special way of matrimony, because of the variations which may occur in relation to it, and because of the concomitant disease." Bonaventure

Scripture as four-dimensional: breadth (canon), length (salvation history, creation->judgment), height (theological scope, God-creatures), depth (manifold sense)

Gandalf before Black Rider V.4 // Gandalf before Balrog II.5

the structural principles of Aquinas's account of virtues
(1) acquired vs infused (the Summa discusses infused virtues)
(2) doctrine of the mean
(3) the seven major virtues
(4) the mereology of virtue

accessibility relations as representation relations (possible world semantics as a system of signs)

Every sign is an exemplate effect tending to an end.

Internal structure is not sufficient for distinguishing natural kinds.

laws as identifying exemplar causation: exemplate as that which follows according to intrinsic law

Natural selection is primarily a matter of differential chemical response; everything else follows from this. We should think of it less on the biological level (which over-assimilates it to artificial selection) and think of it more as a statistical feature of chemical interaction with a complex environment.

It is not mere measurement but recorded organizations of measurements that scientific inquiry uses.

Economic transaction is built out of the products of the liberal arts.

Nobody who does not recognize that the natural end of sex is friendship can do justice to the evil of rape; part of what makes rape a perversion is that it is an intimate betrayal.

OT:nature :: NT:character (cp Schelling)

The baptism-chrismation link is the Easter-Pentecost link.

The syllogism is not the structure of discovery but of scientia in the soul.

Reinach's pure law is to natural law as Platonic forms are to Aristotelian forms.

The Church receives Scripture as a gift and imposes it canonically by promulgating it, by continually interpreting it, and in and through preaching, prayer, and practice of it, and also by upholding it in matters of dispute.

money as a form of hypothetical honor

Stein's account of the state shows its weakness in her discussion of international law

The criteria used in historical Jesus studies establish firmness of historicity; none of the standard ones are suitable for determining non-historicity.

Money does not make things commensurable strictly, but it makes them commensurable enough for exchange.

liturgy as combinatorial symbolism

intelligibility, verifiability, provability
value, exchange, market
node, edge, graph
agent, relation, network
grace, sacrament, sacramental economy
combinator, combination, combinatorial set
term, proposition, argument
claim, inference, inferential system
intending, inferring, narrating

"a sign is something knowing which we know something more" Peirce

the consensus gentium of philosophical tradition

When people talk about pragmatics, they really mean modes of practice.

Grice's conversational maxims are maximal propositions or topoi for specific kinds of means-end reasoning, based on four ends of communication. Gricean pragmatics is a teleology.

Vico's languages of gods, of heroes, and of men are in fact the three layers of all human language.

the Sacred Heart as synecdoche of the Word made flesh, and thus metaphor for all that pertains to the Incarnation

"The implicit philosophy of any phenomenology of religion is the renewal of a theory of reminiscence." Ricoeur

Pr 8:7 // Cant 2:3
Ps 19:10 // Cant 4:11

One must beware of attempts to appeal to 'Ockham's Razor' to argue that looking at a thing stupidly is better than looking at it with one's whole mind.

Real knowledge is always layered.

abduction as recognition of phenomena as an icon of a symbol (a likeness of a general conception) (Peirce EP 2:287)

abduction leading to conclusions in interrogative mood

abduction as concerned with economy of money, time, thought, and energy (Peirce CP 5.600)

abduction : inference through icon :: induction : inference through index :: deduction : inference through symbol

abduction as divine: NEM 3.206; CP 8.212; CP 6.476-477 MS 843.7
(cp Peirce on agapistic evolution)

abduction as guided by the notion of good

Tropes are all ways of keeping to the conversational maxims as much as literal language is; tropical intent is often posited to preserve relevance, informativeness, etc.

the sacraments as objective correlatives

The mimetic theory of art, properly understood, is a theory of art as a generative power of the mind.

We think the mirror inverts only by a sort of mental sympathy with our own image. What we have in a mirror is not inversion, properly speaking, but reflected congruence.

All of Eco's arguments for saying that mirrors do not produce signs are wrong, being based on an equivocation with presence and absence and a false assumption, or at least a dubious one, about the contingency of signification.

remote-view & close-view examinations of philosophical problems

corrective & restorative duties

The periodic table is in essence a combinatorial analysis, although slightly complicated by principles governing electron orbits.

Human remembering is not in itself an ordering process, although we can order events in light of it.

superposition as indicative of real possibility

using the good things that pass to hold fast to the good things that endure forever

relics as indicators of saints-as-icons

Arguments can be coded into other arguments by analogy.

Humean virtue ethics is semiotic: acts as signs of character
Humean virtue ethics already includes everything considered by situationism in its account of artificial virtues and utility; but it diversifies situations rather than considering them as fi they were all the same kind of thing.

Old works in philosophy are often full of eccentric arguments on curious topics; but in working out their underlying rules one often finds treasures.

prayer as the breath of the Church, both inspiration and expiration

Confirmation gives us not just grace within, but an atmosphere or ambience of grace (all anointing sacraments do so in their own way).

the counterparts of Aristotle's eleven virtues for the Republic of Letters

forms of inquiry that require an ambience of reason to survive

judgments about character as necessary to testimonial evidence

Marriage is constituted not by vow but by consent.

closely binding contexts vs loosely binding contexts (the need for positive reason to generalize out of closely binding contexts)

more generalized forms of Gricean maxims as maxims of charitable interpretation

Syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics are all abstracted from original intelligibility; each is that one intelligibility considered in a particular light.

"A verse is never freed from its peshut." Rashi

the Decalogue as a guide to Scriptural interpretation

More obviously than any other virtues, temperance and its secondary virtues must be *grown*.

partial lending & borrowing of virtue (this is most obvious with prudence, through counsel, but temperance and fortitude both require cultural effort and can in some sense be communicated or participated in at remote)

type of existence proof // type of argument for God's existence
necessary rational posit // ontological I
probable rational posit // ontological II
direct empirical presentation // religious experience
indirect empirical presentation by causal inference // cosmological
indirect empirical presentation by implication of confirmed model // teleological
pragmatic requirement // moral

A good liturgy intimates wisdom (tablets of law, lamps), power (rod, altar), goodness (pot of manna, shew-bread).

They are most suitable to being moved by the Spirit through Scripture who strive through reason to know themselves.

"Opposition not only enlarges the soul; but the soul, when full of courage and magnanimity, in a manner seeks opposition." Hume SBN 434

mimesis, catharsis, and rhaumaton as the elements or dimensions of plausibility

Historical scholarship begins with principles of evidence and paradigms thereof, not with skepticism; if it did not, it would never get either to history or to scholarship.

sophological vs eschatological makarisms (both concern kinds of trust)

Prophetic oracle is by its nature a riot of connections, a flood of weighty interrelations.

liturgy as covenant festival memorializing theophany under the supervision of cultic officials

The reasonable question with documentary evidence is not, "Do these agree or disagree?" but "How dot he causal lines resulting these relate to each other?"

The rise of written tradition does not kill off oral tradition, but it does make it possible for it to be assimilated into a tradition of reading.

tradition 1 Cor 11:23ff; 15:1ff

Ascension as accession

Sins of lust are such that even being uncovered is often a natural punishment for them. (This uncovering has to be distinguished from indirect revelation; they can be distinguished by how evidences are handled.)

Shame is an imagination of disgrace.

chastity as an 'integrity of the powers of love and life'

It is straightforward nonsense to expect people to maximize communicative efficiency.

Gricean pragmatics is really concerned with deriving principles of communication from more general principles of cooperative activity.

Grice's maxim of manner is defective: it should be 'be appropriate', thus subsuming Gricean manner, style, and Leech's principle of politeness.
(1) be truthful
(2) be helpful/just
(3) be relevant
(4) be appropriate
(3):(4)::end:means; i.e., have the appropriate subordinate subordinate ends, have the appropriate means to all the ends.
->public vs private ends of communication
->justice generically structures cooperation, truthfulness specifically structures rational communication

Divine knowledge exceeds any enunciable specification.

distortions of finite time limits for moral reasoning

To consider: The diffusion of innovations is related to teh structure of the innovations themselves.

Julian of Norwich: the privation theory of evil implies that evil cannot be recognized "except by the pain caused by it" (13.27.406)

4th Lateran Council on privation theory of evil

Depravity springs from deprivation.

In Julian's account, divine immutability is absolutely central to atonement.

the paradox of tragedy and the problem of evil

The extent to which religions have converged historically is quite remarkable given the sheer diversity of them. Part of this is moral, since moral principles are grounded in reason; part of it is aesthetic, since symbolisms expand and human beings pursue beauty; part of it is dialectical, since the arguments of others cannot always simply be ignored; and part of it is metaphysics, since reality constrains the mind in all things, however roomy the space for mental freedom may be.

Cryogenic freezing would freeze one's interests in an unfrozen world.

A great deal of consensus in any fast-moving inquiry or discipline is negotiated as a way of sustaining research interests -- the beginning, so to speak, and not the result, of inquiry.

Consequentialism is either circular or based on self-evident moral principles of reason.

problem mitosis

Human experience again and again shows that despair is a greater evil than pain.

Civilizations degrade by trying to compensate for sin with sin.

pain "purifies, and makes us to know ourselves and to ask mercy" (Julian 11.27)

prophetic discourse as discourse in direct address contending against the spirit of the age, particularly as found in structures of power, in light of God's ends (cp Westphal)

'Health' is necessarily a moral term, grounding obligations to others as well as moral excellences.

Depending on the method of analysis, a change can be analyzed into objects, actions, capabilities, relations, parts and boundaries, and any number of other things; this does not mean, of itself, that change is any of these things.

Hume's causal relation has to be temporal because temporal contiguity is the only directional kind of association in his account (resemblance and spatial contiguity are both symmetric)

similitude and order terms in a broader mereology

the metaphysical foundations of the preconditions for explanation

politics as the personation of diagnoses and treatments

Hobbes's Trinitarian personations as symbolic appropriations based on mission

Coming-to-know may be a cultural artifact without what is known being so.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Circumfultus Undique

In This Vale of Wretchedness
(a traditional St. Stephen's Day carol)

Pray for us that we saved be,
Protomartyr Stephane

In this vale of wretchedness,
Yprovëd was thy meekness,
Where thou art in joy and bliss,
Circumfultus undique.

With faith all armed in field to fight,
Sad thou stoodest as God's (own) knight,
Teaching the people, of God His might,
O facies plena gracie!

Before the tyrant thou were brought,
Strokes of pain thou dreadedst nought,
God was with thee in all thy thought,
Spes eterne glorie.

With sinful wretches thou were take,
Thy faith thou wouldest not forsake,
But rather to die to Godes sake,
Circumfuso sanguine.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Charter

A Christmas Song for Three Guilds
by G. K. Chesterton



St. Joseph to the Carpenters said on a Christmas Day:
"The master shall have patience and the prentice shall obey;
And your word unto your women shall be nowise hard or wild:
For the sake of me, your master, who have worshipped Wife and Child.
But softly you shall frame the fence, and softly carve the door,
And softly plane the table—as to spread it for the poor,
And all your thoughts be soft and white as the wood of the white tree.
But if they tear the Charter, Jet the tocsin speak for me!
Let the wooden sign above your shop be prouder to be scarred
Than the lion-shield of Lancelot that hung at Joyous Garde."


St. Crispin to the shoemakers said on a Christmastide:
"Who fashions at another's feet will get no good of pride.
They were bleeding on the Mountain, the feet that brought good news,
The latchet of whose shoes we were not worthy to unloose.
See that your feet offend not, nor lightly lift your head,
Tread softly on the sunlit roads the bright dust of the dead.
Let your own feet be shod with peace; be lowly all your lives.
But if they touch the Charter, ye shall nail it with your knives.
And the bill-blades of the commons drive in all as dense array
As once a crash of arrows came, upon St. Crispin's Day."


St. Luke unto the painters on Christmas Day he said:
"See that the robes are white you dare to dip in gold and red;
For only gold the kings can give, and only blood the saints;
And his high task grows perilous that mixes them in paints.
Keep you the ancient order; follow the men that knew
The labyrinth of black and whits, the maze of green and blue;
Paint mighty things, paint paltry things, paint silly things or sweet.
But if men break the Charter, you may slay them in the street.
And if you paint one post for them, then ... but you know it well,
You paint a harlot's face to drag all heroes down to hell."


Almighty God to all mankind on Christmas Day said He:
"I rent you from the old red hills and, rending, made you free.
There was charter, there was challenge; in a blast of breath I gave;
You can be all things other; you cannot be a slave.
You shall be tired and tolerant of fancies as they fade,
But if men doubt the Charter, ye shall call on the Crusade—
Trumpet and torch and catapult, cannon and bow and blade,
Because it was My challenge to all the things I made."

Merry Christmas to you all, and remember that today is the day in the calendar that proclaims that all human beings are so to be loved that it would be fitting for even God to live and die to save them, if that be the price.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Men Seem Men so Suddenly

The Truce of Christmas
by G. K. Chesterton

Passionate peace is in the sky—
And in the snow in silver sealed
The beasts are perfect in the field,
And men seem men so suddenly—
(But take ten swords and ten times ten
And blow the bugle in praising men;
For we are for all men under the sun,
And they are against us every one;
And misers haggle and madmen clutch,
And there is peril in praising much.
And we have the terrible tongues uncurled
That praise the world to the sons of the world.)

The idle humble hill and wood
Are bowed upon the sacred birth,
And for one little hour the earth
Is lazy with the love of good—
(But ready are you, and ready am I,
If the battle blow and the guns go by;
For we are for all men under the sun,
And they are against us every one;
And the men that hate herd all together,
To pride and gold, and the great white feather
And the thing is graven in star and stone
That the men who love are all alone.)

Hunger is hard and time is tough,
But bless the beggars and kiss the kings,
For hope has broken the heart of things,
And nothing was ever praised enough.
(But bold the shield for a sudden swing
And point the sword when you praise a thing,
For we are for all men under the sun,
And they are against us every one;
And mime and merchant, thane and thrall
Hate us because we love them all;
Only till Christmastide go by
Passionate peace is in the sky.)

A Poem Draft

Snow on Pine

Outside the window, snow on pine
is swiftly falling, forming line
along each bough in purest white;
the day is dim, the tree is bright.
The day is dim, the tree with light
on every limb leaps out to sight
as flakes that fall will glint and shine
outside the window: snow on pine.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Nativity in Paintings IV (Re-post)

Conrad von Soest 004

This is a painting by Conrad von Soest, from about the early fifteenth century; it is a small panel on the Niederwildungen Altarpiece, which, thanks to the joy that is Flickr, you can see in full here. This altarpiece is in a Protestant church in Bad Wildungen in Germany.

One of the big issues in any painting of the Nativity is what to do with St. Joseph. He doesn't have a big role to play; obviously all eyes are on Virgin and Child. And the Gospels don't actually tell us much about him. We know he was a carpenter (actually a tekton, which is a skilled artisan, but taking it as indicating a woodworker goes back at least to the second century). We know some of his dreams (which should have more paintings devoted to them than they do, although Rembrandt has a very lovely one and Daniele Crespi another). He never speaks -- not one word is attributed to him. What we do know is that he travels like crazy; every time we see him he is either in the middle of a journey, or about to start one, or has just finished one. He travels from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Bethlehem to Jerusalem, down to Egypt, up to Nazareth, and the last we hear of him directly, he and Mary are taking yearly trips to Jerusalem for Passover. That's a lot of moving. But the Bible doesn't give much to paint when it comes to Joseph and the Nativity; and unlike most of the other details that are left open, you can't really do anything you want with him, although painters sometimes do get creative.

Usually we find Joseph holding a candle, and sometimes sleeping. This is one of those Bridgettine details; in Birgitta's vision, Joseph is holding a candle, whose light is obliterated, swallowed up, in the light from the Christ Child. It's a feature often found even in paintings that are otherwise not all that Bridgettine; the candle was in the Flémalle painting. Joseph is cut out of the Nativity at Night painting; but the painting on which it is based certainly had him, and almost certainly had him holding a candle. There are other things he can do. In the Hohenfurth painting he is pouring water. von Soest's painting, however, is the only painting I have ever seen in which Joseph is cooking a meal. Somehow I like that very much -- it shows Joseph as a practical man of action. With so much travel he must have been an excellent organizer.

Because we are never told Joseph's age in the Bible, there are two different traditions in painting: the Old Man tradition and the Young Man tradition. The Old Man tradition has going for it the fact that Joseph disappears from the scene relatively early; he was certainly alive when Jesus was twelve, but beyond that we are told very little. Third- and fourth-century legends, most notably the Protevangelium of James, always portray him as old, though. The Panarion of St. Epiphanius of Salamis, which is perhaps the first to give an age, goes so far as to claim he was about eighty (with four sons and two daughters) when he was betrothed to Mary. And overwhelmingly this is what we overwhelmingly get until about the seventeenth century, although most painters paint him as rather younger than eighty. But here and there in very, very early representations he is portrayed as a much younger man, and this has become more common in the modern era.

To the Place Where God Was Homeless

The House of Christmas
by G. K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Nativity in Paintings III (Re-post)

Robert Campin - Anbetung der Hirten - ca1420

This is an early fifteenth-century painting by the Master of Flémalle, who has come to be identified with Robert Campin. Campin was something of a pioneer; he took realism in painting farther than most of his contemporaries (although, as you can see in the painting above, he also is considerably influenced by the conventions of manuscript illumination), and was one of the first to experiment with the switch from egg-based tempera to oil.

In paintings we find two major traditions for the location of the scene: the Cave or the Shed. Both are usually highly stylized, with the animal shed, for instance, often being little more than a canopy. The Nativity at Night appears to be in the Cave tradition, while the Hohenfurth painting is very definitely in the Shed tradition. Here we have a remarkably realistic, and very rickety, old animal shed; the fact that the shed is virtually falling apart does multiple duty here by creating a contrast with both the Christ Child in the foreground and the castle representing the centers of power in the background, and also by opening up more space for painting, thus allowing us to get the ox and (behind the ox) the ass.

The Cave vs. Shed option is an interesting one. Of course, when we talk about Christ in the stable, in our sense of the word, we are appealing to the Shed tradition. In fact, neither Matthew nor Luke give us any indication beyond Luke saying that there was a manger available. It could very well have been simply an adjoining room of the house dug in a little lower than the main room to keep the animals out of the latter; or, if the house was near a cave, a cave is certainly a possibility; it's unlikely to have been an out and out shed, but a sort of crude approximation to one adjoined to a house can't be wholly ruled out, either, since the word for 'manger' can also sometimes indicate an animal pen or stall.

The Cave tradition, however, seems to have the longest history; Justin Martyr in the second century states unequivocally in the Dialogue with Trypho (chapter 78) that Jesus was born in a cave just outside of Bethlehem:

Joseph took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him.

And Origen writing a little bit later also states it. The Church of the Nativity itself is in this tradition: the Basilica of the Nativity (the Orthodox portion of the Church of the Nativity) is built over the Grotto of the Nativity, an underground cave that by long tradition is the place where Jesus was born, and, even if not, has for over a millenium and a half done as a proxy for it.

As far as painting goes, of course, artists will paint according to customs and times; and paintings will tend to paint Jesus as where the animals are in the culture in which the painter lives. The rise of the standalone Nativity creche has probably also given a boost to the Shed tradition since the thirteenth century, since it is easier to have a standalone stable than a standalone cave. In painting, the Shed tradition allows one to have a richer background than the Cave tradition; as with the painting above, the Shed tradition allows one to paint the Christ Child as situated within a much more vast world, while the Cave tradition instead puts greater emphasis on the foregrounded figures.