Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Music of the Spheres

A useful article on music as '"metaphysics in sound" by Robert R. Reilly is posted among the useful articles in the left-hand column and can also be read here. A good YouTube video on the same subject is here. Meanwhile Quentin de la Bedoyere's Secondsight blog has an interesting thread on the mysteries of mathematics here. And Colin Gormley has an excellent article on Catholic education here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Our Summer School - 7th to 21st August

Why not join us and students of Thomas More College this summer in a two-week course, based in Oxford and the West country, on the question of Catholic identity and the vocation of the Catholic writer? We also touch on the deeper question of what it means to be human, how a vision of humanity was imperilled by the English Reformation which helped to create the modern world, and how the Literary Revival (from Newman to Tolkien) tried to recover and reclaim it.

The summer school will begin at Downside Abbey, a Benedictine community deep in the heart of the beautiful Somerset countryside, a few hours from Heathrow Airport. There we will immerse ourselves in the history of Christian England, specifically through Benedictine eyes, with a lecture and tour from the Abbot, Dom Aidan Bellenger (author of Medieval Worlds and Medieval Religion). We will then examine the experience of the Reformation and the dissolution of the Abbeys, both historically and through the eyes of writers of the time, notably Shakespeare. Our tutor here will be Lady Clare Asquith, Countess of Oxford and author of Shadowplay, a book which traces the recusant experience through the poems and plays of our greatest national writer. We are also privileged to be allowed to make a private visit to nearby Mells Manor, the Asquith family home, which has associations both with Glastonbury Abbey (whose ruins we will also visit) and with a number of important Catholic figures such as Evelyn Waugh and Monsignor Ronald Knox (the latter worked on his translation of the Bible here). Knox and the convert-poet Siegfried Sassoon are both buried at Mells. We will also be visiting at least one recusant house in the area.

After a week at Downside, where we will have the opportunity to participate in daily Mass and the Divine Office, we will proceed to Oxford, where we will stay at St Benet’s, a Private Hall of the University and also a Benedictine house. There we will learn about the pivotal role of Oxford in the history of British Christianity, from its time as a recusant centre to the revival of Catholic culture in the 19th century with the Oxford Movement, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and 20th century writers such as Chesterton, Greene, and Waugh. We will also look at the influence of the Inklings, particularly C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and visit sites associated with them as well as with Newman. Finally we will visit the capital, paying our respects near the remains of St Thomas More in the Tower of London and visiting Westminster Abbey and the newly reconstructed Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were once performed.

Further details and registration forms on request from Teresa Caldecott (secondspringltd@gmail.com). For prices and schedule, continue reading.

A Question of Humanity
From Reformation to Catholic Literary Revival

Details are subject to alteration; please check final version. Prices are as follows: full course residential £1,750 (or students £1,400). Non-residential rate: £80 per day, £50 for half a day. The residential rates include three meals a day at Downside, but only breakfast and lunch at St Benet’s Hall, as well as all accommodation. Fees cover tuition and excursions (except London, which involves extra costs). Good spoken English a requirement. Deposit: £300 by 8 April, balance by 1 June 2012.

Tues. 7th August: Arrival at Downside Abbey, near Bath
Tour of the Abbey Church with Dom Aidan Bellenger, Abbot, and the monastic Library with Dr Simon P. Johnson.

Wed 8th: A War on Contemplation: Iconoclasm and Dissolution
Dom Aidan Bellenger (author of Medieval Worlds and Medieval Religion)

Thursday 9th: The Age of Elizabeth through Shakespeare’s Eyes
Lady Oxford, the Countess of Oxford and Asquith (author of Shadowplay)
10.00  Introductions. 
10.20  TheReformation takeover. Edward III and The Rape of Lucrece
11.20 Break
11.45  Questions and discussion
2.00  Healing the Rift:  Midsummer Night’s Dream,  Merchant of Venice.
3.00  Questions and discussion

Friday 10th: The Age of James through Shakespeare’s Eyes
Lady Oxford, continued
10.00  The final assault: Lear, Othello
11.00 Break
11.30  Questions and discussion
2.00  Hope of revival: The Winter’s Tale
3.00 Questions and discussion.
For readings on these two days see NOTE below.

Saturday 11th: A Church Suppressed: Penal Times and the Recusant Experience
Gerard Kilroy (author of Edmund Campion: Memory and Transcription)

Sunday 12th: Thomas More and the Politics of Christian Humanism
Andre P. Gushurst-Moore (author of The Common Mind)

Monday 13th: Visit to Glastonbury, then Mells Manor as guests of Lady Oxford

Tuesday 14th: Move to St Benet’s Hall, Oxford.
Visit recusant houses of Mapledurham or Lyford Grange on the way.

Wednesday 15th: Visit to the Kilns, then Littlemore, with a seminar on the Marian thread in modern Catholic literature after Newman.

Thursday 16th: The Second Spring Sermon and its context
Historical tour of Oxford with John Whitehead. Lecture by Ian Ker.

Friday 17th: The “Man with the Golden Key” – G.K. Chesterton
Stratford Caldecott, with visit to Chesterton Library

Saturday 18th: Tolkien, Humanity, and Imagination
Stratford Caldecott, with visit to Magdalen and/or Exeter College

Sunday 19th: Optional High Mass at Oratory at 11 am
Talk on C.S. Lewis after lunch at the Eagle and Child

Monday 20th: Excursion to London, visit to Tower (St Thomas More) etc.

Tuesday 21st: Departures

NOTE. Readings for 9th and 10th August:
Shakespeare, Edward III (Acts I and II); The Rape of Lucrece; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Merchant of Venice; King Lear; Othello; The Winter’s Tale.
John Dryden, The Hind and the Panther: First Part.
John Donne, Satires
Velma Richmond, Shakespeare, Catholicism and Romance (Continuum)
Alison Shell, Catholicism, Controversy and the English Literary Imagination (Cambridge)
Thomas More, to the bishops who urged his presence at Anne Boleyn’s coronation in 1533:
‘Your Lordships have in the matter of matrimony hitherto kept yourselves pure virgins, yet take good heed my lords that you keep your virginity still. For some there be, that by procuring your lordships first at the coronation to be present, and next to preach for the setting forth of it, and finally to write books to all the world in defence thereof, are desirous to deflower you, and when they have deflowered you, then will they not fail soon after to devour you. Now my lords, it lieth not in my power but that they may devour me; but God being my good lord, I will provide that they shall never deflower me.’ (Yale edition of the Complete Works of Thomas More [1963-97], p. 59, quoted ODNB.)
Please note: these classes are for our registered residential students only.

Friday, February 10, 2012

More on the elements

But what are the four (or five) elements that Eliot was so interested in (see previous post)? The idea that the world is composed of just a handful of basic elements is common to all the great civilizations, and in the Egyptian, Greek and Indian traditions these elements are given the names Earth, Air, Fire, and Water – with the addition of a fifth "subtle" element or "quintessence" sometimes called Aether, the first element in creation. This latter is identified with "space" and may be taken as the substratum of all vibration (or "sound" in the broadest metaphysical sense, thus including what we now call electromagnetic radiation or light).

Plato posited an even more basic level of composition to the universe; particulate or geometrical in nature, rooted in the triangle. A footnote in my book All Things Made New reads as follows: "In the Timaeus, Plato
hypothesizes that the elements themselves are made of particles built up from triangles into the forms of the five regular solids. Since the pyramid is the figure with the fewest faces, it must be the most mobile, the sharpest, most penetrating, and lightest. He therefore identifies it as the basic constituent of Fire. Air is composed of octahedrons, Water of icosahedrons. The fifth Platonic solid, the dodecahedron, being the closest in form to the sphere, was associated with the fifth element Aether, the Hindu Akasha, or Space. Though the existence of a too crudely imagined ‘Ether’ as the bearer of electromagnetic waves seemed to have been disproved by Michelson and Morley in 1887, the ancient concept reappeared as Einstein’s notion of a unified space-time continuum. The Platonic elements are basic to our experience of the world. The same can hardly be said of two further ‘states of matter’ recently created in the laboratory by super-refrigeration close to absolute zero, namely Bose-Einstein and fermionic condensates. Symbolically, therefore, the ancient scheme remains intact."

There are four basic states of matter – solid, liquid, gas, and plasma – and four fundamental forces known to physics – termed weak, strong, electromagnetism, and gravity. Neither of these patterns of four seems to capture the full resonance of the ancient elements. Even so, the four-by-four symmetry of the Standard Model of particle physics is intriguing (the gauge bosons in the pink column are the particles that carry the four fundamental forces), with the Higgs field/ boson playing the role of the mysterious "fifth element". The comparison is no doubt superficial, and the Standard Model itself may well fail in years to come, but physics remains Platonist in inspiration so long as it seeks to determine the fundamental elements making up the natural world in the simplest and most elegant combination.

The next issue of Second Spring (due out this summer) will be on the theme of faith and science.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Elements in Eliot

An important book by Benjamin G. Lockerd Jr, Aethereal Rumours: T.S. Eliot's Physics and Poetics, does for The Waste Land and the Four Quartets something of what Michael Ward does for the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis in Planet Narnia. In his book, Michael Ward shows that each of the seven tales of Narnia was intended by Lewis to correspond with one of the seven astrological planets – taking these as spiritual symbols of perennial value (as he does in his academic works on Medieval and Renaissance literature, and in the Space Trilogy). Similarly, Lockerd shows that Eliot was always concerned with reconciling poetry with science, and unlike other modern poets "increasingly placed his poetry quite consciously and deliberately within
the cosmos described by the ancient philosophical physics" of Heraclitus and Aristotle. He was an admirer of modern science, but not of scientism, meaning the cult of a science deemed purely "objective" in contrast to the "subjective" arts. He sought to overcome this false dualism in his own work, and so was drawn to a "science of essences" that he did not believe had been superseded by modern chemistry or physics. The Waste Land has five sections which correspond symbolically and thematically to the five elements (including the fifth, aether, which Plato in Timaeus 55c associated with the fifth regular solid, the dodecahedron, on which the Demiurge embroidered the constellations). Each of the Four Quartets corresponds to one of the four earthly elements with the fifth present throughout; especially, I would speculate, in the fifth section of each poem. Lockerd's book was encouraged by Russell Kirk and partly written at Piety Hill. It is a valuable contribution to the literature connecting ancient and modern science, as well as science and poetry.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Catholic English teacher

Allow me to draw your attention anyway to The Catholic English Teacher by Roy Peachey, as well as this article by him on great Catholic writers outside the Western canon.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ruralist art

An important part of education is learning to look at the world around us, and artists teach us to do this. I have posted several times on landscape artists in particular. Whether it is the Group of Seven venturing out into the Canadian wilderness, or the Impressionists following in Turner's footsteps as they try to capture the flickering moods of light and atmosphere (perhaps even travelling "inside light" the way Tolkien travelled "inside language"), or Samuel Palmer crafting natural landscapes into symbolic idylls intense with yearning, or Nicholas Roerich doing the same with the mountains of Tibet, the landscape artist allows us to see the "scenery" of our lives through new eyes. Recently David Hockney has startled many of his admirers by turning
to landscape, and a recent exhibition of his paintings of Yorkshire called "A Bigger Picture" has perhaps opened a new chapter in modern British art. Some have called his landscapes regressive. And yet every new departure in art looks backwards as well as forwards. With his new exhibition Hockney seems to have joined the Brotherhood of Ruralists. What underlies these paintings is an interest in what the camera cannot capture. What is revealed is not just what the scene looks like at a given moment and from a given angle, but what it looks like to this particular person, viewed through his unique imagination. Art always depends on the love of the artist for his subject. Even if the subject is "ugly", the artist would hardly lavish time and attention on it if not motivated to do so. And the love of Hockney for these particular landscapes is evident in every line. It doesn't seem to be the atmosphere, or the play of light, that particularly interests him, but the forms and shapes that reveal themselves to someone who, at least briefly, inhabits the landscape – shapes often made of colour. People who visit the places he painted report that they are often strewn with rubbish thrown from passing cars. Is it "untruthful" to leave out the rubbish when painting the scene? Isn't it more important to rekindle our love for the places around us, through which we walk and drive with so little attention?

Illustration: Samuel Palmer, "Garden in Shoreham", c. 1830