The Artist Lives for Christ

"He who does Christ's work, must stay with Christ always."

One of the greatest Christian artists is Giovanni Fiesole, better known to the world as Blessed Fra Angelico, the "Angelic Brother." Fra Angelico is a patron saint for artists. His style of painting beautifully bridges the iconographic and gothic traditions. Giorgio Vasari, author of "Lives of the Artists," referred to Angelico as a "rare and perfect talent."

A Model for A Cultural Center for the New Evangelization

flogoGoing Local for Global Change. How About a Chant Cafe with Real Coffee ..and Real Chant?

There is a British comedienne who in her routine adopted an onstage persona of a lady who couldn't get a boyfriend and was very bitter about it (although in fact as she became a TV personality beyond the comedy routines, she revealed herself as a naturally engaging and warm character who was in fact happily married with a child). Jo Brand is her name and she used to tell a joke in which she said: 'I'm told that a way to a man's heart is through his stomach. I know that's nonsense - guys will take all the food you give them but it doesn't make them love you. In fact I'll tell you the only certain way to man's heart...through the rib cage with a bread knife.'  Well wry humour aside, I think that in fact there is more truth to the old adage than Jo Brand would have acknowledged (on stage at least). Perhaps we can touch people's hearts in the best way through food and drink, and in particular coffee.

There is a coffee shop in Nashua NH where I live called Bonhoeffer's. It is the perfect place for conversation. They have designed it so that people like to sit and hang out - pleasing decor, free wifi, and different sitting arrangements, from pairs of cozy arm chairs to highbacked chairs around tables. The staff are personable and it is roomy enough that they can place clusters of chairs and sofas that are far enough apart so that you don't feel that you are eavesdropping on your neighbors' conversation; and close enough together that you feel part of a general buzz of conversation around you. There is not an extensive food menu but what they have is good and goes nicely with the image it conveys of coffee and relaxed conversation - pastries, a slice of quiche or crepes for example. It  has successfully made itself a meeting place in the town because of this.


This is all very well and good, if not particularly remarkable. But, you wouldn't know unless you recognized the face of the German protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the cafe logo and started to ask questions, or noticed and took the time to read the display close the door as you are on your way out, that it is run by the protestant church next door, Grace Fellowship Church. Furthermore a proportion of turnover goes towards supporting locally based charities around the world - they list as examples projects in the Ukraine, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Haiti and Jamaica on their website. Talks and events linked to their faith are organised and there are pleasant well equipped meeting rooms available for hire. I include the logo and website to illustrate my points, but also in the hope that if Bonhoeffer's see this they might push an occasional free coffee in my direction...come on guys!



Well, it was worth a try. Anyway, back to more serious things...the presentation of their mission does not even dominate the cafe website which talks more about things such as the beans they use in their coffee, prices and opening times and the food menu. The most eye-catching aspect when I was nosing around is the announcement of the new crepes menu! There is one tab that has the heading Hope and Life Kids and when you click it it takes you through to a dedicated website of that name, here , which talks about the charity work that is done.

I went into Bonhoeffer's recently with Dr William Fahey, the President of Thomas More College, just for cup of coffee and a chat, of course, and he remarked to me as we sat down that this is the sort of the thing that protestants seem  to be able to organize; and how we wished he saw more Catholics doing the same thing.

Cafe_SeatI agree. What the people behind this little cafe had done was to create a hub for the local community that has an international reach. It is at once global and personal. I would like to see exactly what they have done replicated by Catholics. But, crucially, good though it is I would add to it, and make it distinctly Catholic so that it attracts even more coffee drinkers and then can become a subtle interface with the Faith, a focus for the New Evangelization in the neighborhood.

I don't know how to run coffee shops, so I would be happy with a first step that copied precisely theirs - the establishment of coffee shop that competes with all others in doing what coffee shops are meant to do, sell coffee.  Then I would offer through this interface talks and classes that transmit the Way of Beauty, many of which are likely to have an appeal to many more than Catholics (especially those with a 'new-age spiritual' bent). There are a number that come to mind that attract non-Christians and can be presented without compromising on truth - icon painting classes; or 'Cosmic Beauty' a course in traditional proportion in harmony based upon the observation of the cosmos; or praying with the cosmos  - a chant class that teaches people to chant the psalms and explains how the traditional pattern of prayer conforms to cosmic beauty.

A yoga class that has the word yoga but is simply a adoption of the physical aspects would attract people who are open to spirituality. Yoga is very successful in turning people with no previous inclination to the spiritual to Eastern spirituality - so why not offer Christian mediation/contemplative prayer and incorporate this into the instruction. I once had discussions with a Dominican about the known prayer postures of St Dominic. He showed me some stick figure diagrams he had drawn to represent them. He thought that these could be the basis for a Christian yoga that engages people spiritually through a focus on the physical. I don't know if he was right, but something on these lines would be good.

Another way of engaging people who are then going to be open to mediation, chant and retreats is to have 12-step fellowship groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous meeting closeby. I am aware of several priests who go to AA and also many converts to Catholicism who were first given a faith in God through such groups. The 12 steps are a systematic application of Christian principles (without reference to the Church). The non-demoninational character of the groups does mean that people can be misdirected towards other faiths in their search, but if we were present to provide an attractive picture of the Faith, it would attract interest I am sure.

dsc_0405Another class that might engage people is a practical philosophy class that directs people towards the metaphysical and emphasizes the need of all people to lead a good life and to worship God in order to be happy and feel fulfilled. This latter part is vital for it is the practice of worship that draws people up from a lived philosophy into a lived theology and ultimately to the Faith. For it is only once experienced that people become convinced and want more. This works. When I was living in London I used to see advertisements in the Tube for a course in practical philosophy. These were offered by a group that had a modern 'universalist' approach to religion in which they saw each great 'spiritual tradition' as different cultural expressions of a single truth that were equally valid. The adverts however, did not mention religion at all but talked about the love and pursuit of universal wisdom that looked like a new agey mix of Eastern mysticism and Plato. The content of the classes, they said, was derived from the common experience of many if not all people and from it one could hope to lead a happy useful life. They had great success in attracting educated un-churched professionals not only to attend the class, but also to go in to attend  more classes and ultimately to commit their lives to their recommended way of living. They were also prepared to donate generously - this is a rich organisation. Their secret was the emphasis on living the life that reason lead you to and not require, initially at least a commitment to formal religion. Most became religious in time, which ultimately lead some to convert to Christianity - although many, because of the flaws in the opening premises and the conclusion this lead to, were lead astray too. It was by meeting some of these converts that I first heard about it. There is room, I think, for a properly worked out Catholic version of this.

wifiAlong a similar line are classes that help people to discern their personal vocation, again using traditional Catholic methods. Once we discover this then we truly flourish. God made us to desire Him and to desire the means by which we find Him. While the means by which we find Him is the same in principle for each of us, we are all meant to travel a unique path that is personal to us. To the degree that we travel this path, the journey of life, as well as its end, is an experience of transformation and joy.

11-sacred-heart-chapelDrawing on people from the local Catholic parishes I would hope to start groups that meet for the singing of an Office - Vespers and or Compline or Choral Evensong and fellowship on a week night; and have talks on the prayer in the home and parish as described by the The Little Oratory. This book was intended as a manual for the spiritual life of the New Evangelization and would ideally be one that supports the transmission of practices that are best communicated by seeing, listening and doing. These weekly 'TLO meetings' would be the ideal foundation for learning and transmitting the practices. They would be very likely a first point of commitment for Catholics who might then be interested in getting involved in other ways. It would enable them also to go back to their families and parishes teach any others there who might be interested to learn.

We could perhaps sell art by making it visible on the walls or have a permanent, small gallery space adjacent to the sitting area (provided it was good enough of course  - better nothing at all than mediocre art!). All would available in print form online as well of course, just as talks could be made available much more widely and broadcasted out across the net if there was interest. This is how the local becomes global.

What I am doing here is taking the business model of the cafe and combining it with the business model of the Institute of Catholic Culture which is based in Arlington Diocese in Virginia. I wrote about the great work of Deacon Sabatino and his team at the ICC in Virginia in an article here called An Organisational Model for the New Evangelization - How To Make it At Once Personal and Local, and have International Recognition. His work is focussed on Catholic audiences, and is aimed predominently at forming the evangelists, rather than reaching those who have not faith (although I imagine some will come along to their talks). By having an excellent program and by taking care to ensure that his volunteers feel involved and are appreciated and part of a community (even organising special picnics for them) Deacon Sabatino has managed to get hundreds volunteering regularly.

Another group that does this just well is the Fra Angelico Institute for Sacred Arts in Rhode Island run by Deacon Paul Iacono. I have written about his great work here. The addition of a coffee shop give it a permanent base and interface with non-Catholics and even the non-churched.

imagesI would start in a city neighborhood in an area with a high population and ideally with several Catholic parishes close by that would provide the people interested in attending and be volunteers and donors helping the non-coffee programs. It always strikes me that the Bay Area of San Francisco, especially Berkeley, is made for such a project. There is sufficiently high concentration of Catholics to make it happen, a well established cafe culture; and the population is now so far past 'post-Christian' that there is an powerful but undirected yearning for all things spiritual that directs them to a partial answer in meditation centers, wellness groups, spiritual growth and transformation classes, talks on reaching for your 'higher self' and so on. Many are admittedly hostile to Christianity, but they seek all the things that traditional, orthodox Christianity offers in its fullness although they don't know it. Provided that they can presented with these things in such a way that it doesn't arouse prejudice, they will respond because these things meet the deepest desire of every person.

Here's the additional element that holds it all together. As well as the workshops or classes I have mentioned I would have the Liturgy of the Hours prayed in a small but beautiful chapel adjacent to and accessible from the cafe on a regular basis, ideally with the full Office sung. The idea is for people in the cafe to be aware that this is happening, but not to feel bound to go or guilty for not doing so. I thought perhaps a bell and announcement: 'Lauds will be chanted beginning in five minutes in the chapel for any who are interested.'  Those who wish to could go to the chapel and pray, either listening or chanting with them. The prayer would not be audible in the cafe. So those who were not interested might pause momentarily and then resume their conversations.

From the people who attend the TLO meetings I would recruit a team of volunteers might volunteer to sing in one or more extra Offices during the week if they could. If you have two people together, meeting in the name of Jesus, they can sing an Office for all. The aim is to have the Office sung on the premises give good and worthy praise to God for the benefit of the customers, the neighbourhood, society and the families and groups that each participates in aside from this and for the Church.

When the point is reached that the Office is oversubscribed, we might encourage groups to pray on behalf of others also in different locations by,  for example singing Vespers regularly in local hospitals or nursing homes. I describe the practice of doing this in an appendix in The Little Oratory and in a blog post here: Send Out the L-Team, Making a Sacrifice of Praise for American Veterans.

As this grows, the temptation would be to create a larger and larger organization. This would be a great error I think. The preservation of a local community as a driving force is crucial to giving this its appeal as people walk through the door. There is a limit to how big you can get and still feel like a community. Like Oxford colleges, when it gets to big, you don't grow into a giant single institution, but limit the growth and found a new college. So each neighborhood could have its own chant cafe independently run. There might be, perhaps a central organization that offers franchises in The Way of Beauty Cafes so that the materials and knowledge needed to make it a success in your neighborhood are available to others if they want it.

I have made the point before that eating and drinking are quasi-liturgical activities by which we echo the consuming of Christ Himself in the Eucharist (it is not the other way around - the Eucharist comes first in the hierarchy). So it should be no surprise to us that food and drink offered with loving care and attention open up the possibilities of directing people to the love of God. If the layout and decor are made appropriate to that of a beautiful coffee shop and subtly and incorporating traditional ideas of harmony and proportion, and colour harmony then it will be another aspect of the wider culture that will stimulate the liturgical instincts of those who attend. (I have described how that can be done in the context of a retail outlet in an appendix of The Little Oratory.) We should bare in mind Pope Benedict's words from Sacramentum Caritatis (71):

'Christianity's new worship includes and transfigures every aspect of life: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1Cor 10:13) Here the instrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life begins to take shape. The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transfiguration of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God (cf Rom 8:29ff). There is nothing authentically human - our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds - that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived in the full.'

So Jo Brand, we'll put away the bread knife and offer the bread instead!

Step one seems to be...first get your coffee shop. Anyone who thinks they can help us here please get in touch and we'll make it happen!





How Liturgy, Prayer and Intuition Are Connected - Recognition of Pattern and Order

12410Modern research into how firefighters and nurses respond to a crisis supports the idea that a traditional education in beauty will develop our powers of intuitive decision making. In a great series of recorded lectures entitled The Art of Critical Decision Making, former Harvard business school professor and current Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University, Michael A Roberto discusses the importance of intuition in making decisions; and the factors that influence the reliability of our intuitive faculty. He illustrates his points with some striking real-life stories of people relying upon or ignoring intuition (sometimes with dire consequences); and backs up what he says with modern psychological research.

For example, he tells of a number of occasions when nurses in cardiac intensive care units predict that a patient is going to have a heart  attack. This is despite the fact that the specialist doctors could see no problem and the standard ways of monitoring the patients' condition indicated nothing wrong either. When such nurses are asked why they think the situation is bad, they cannot answer. As a result their predictions were disregarded. As it turned out, very often and sadly for the people involved, the nurses were right. In order to protect patients in future people started to ask questions and do research on why the nurses could tell there was a problem. What was it they were reacting to, even if they couldn't say initially?


The most dramatic tale he related was of a crack team of firefighters who were specialists in dealing with forest and brush fires and would be helicoptered into any location  within a large part of the West to deal with fires when they broke out. The leader of the group was respected firefighter who was a taciturn individual who lead by example. He was not a good natural communicator, but usually this did not matter. One day they responded to a call and went to a remote site in California. When they assessed the situation they discerned the pace of spread of the fire, the direction it was going and so worked out how to deal with it safely. These judgments were important because if they got it wrong the brush fire could move faster than any man could run and they would be in trouble. Initially things went as expected but then suddenly the leader stopped and told everybody to do as he was doing. He threw a match to the ground and burnt an area in the grass of several square yards and then put it out. He then lay down on the burnt patch and waited. When asked why, except to say that he thought they were in danger he was unable to answer - he couldn't articulate clearly the nature of the danger or why this would action help. As a result even though he was respected, his advice was ignored by the team. Suddenly the fire turned and ran straight at them, in the panic the reaction of even these firefighters, was to run. This was the wrong thing to do, as the fire caught them and tragically they died. The only survivor was the leader. He was lying in the already burnt patch that was surrounded by brush fire as it swept through the area, but was itself untouched by the advancing blaze as there was no grass to burn within it. He just waited until the surrounding area burnt itself out and then walked away.


In both cases, the practitioners were experienced people who got it right, but weren't believed by others because people were not inclined to listen to the intuition of others if it couldn't be supported by what they thought was a reasonable explanation.

Dr Roberto describes how research since suggests that it is the level of experience in situ that develops an intuitive sense that is accurate enough to be relied upon. What experience teaches is the ability to spot patterns of events. Through repeated observation they know that when certain events happen, they are usually related to others and in a particular way. Even in quite simple situations the different possible permutations of events would be quite complex to describe numerically and so scientific theorems may have difficulty predicting outcomes based upon them. However, the human mind is good at grasping the underlying pattern of any given situation at an intuitive level, and then can compare with what usually happens by consulting the storehouse of the memory of past events. In these situations described, of the fire and the cardiac unit, all the indicators usually referred to by the text books were within the range of what was considered safe. However, what the experienced nurse and firefighter spotted was a particular unusual combination that pointed to danger. This apprehension of truth was happening at some pre-conscious level and is not deduced step by step, hence their difficulties in articulating the detail of why they felt as they did.

While this ended in disaster at first, lessons were learnt. As a result of this, it was recognized that a good decision making processes ought to take into account at least, the intuition of experienced people. Prof Roberto described how hospitals and firefighters and others learning from them, have incorporated it into their critical decision making processes. This should be done with discernment - intuition is not infallible and the less experienced we are in a particular environment, the less reliable it is so this must be taken into account as well.


It also depends on the person. Some people develop that sense of intuition in particular situations faster than others because the intuitive faculty is more highly developed. This, in my opinion, is where the traditional education in beauty might help. In order to develop our sense of the beautiful, this education teaches us to recognize intuitively the natural patterns and interrelationships that exist in the cosmos. When we do so, we are more highly tuned to its beauty and if we were artists we could incorporate that into our work. For non-artistic pursuits we can still apply this principle of how things ought to be to make our activity beautiful and graceful. Also, we have a greater sense of the cause of lack of beauty, when something is missing and the pattern is incomplete or distorted. In these situations we can see how to rectify the situation. This is the part that would help the firefighter or nurse, I believe. The education I am describing will not replace the specialist experience that gave those nurses the edge, but by deeply impressing upon our souls the overall architecture of the natural order, it will develop the faculty to learn to spot the patterns in particular situations and allow them to develop their on-the-job intuition faster.

The greatest educator in beauty is the worship of God in the liturgy and especially when the liturgy of the hours harmonized with our worship of the Mass with the Eucharist at the center. When we pray well it should engage the whole person, body and soul, in such a way that we conform totally to that cosmic pattern. In our book, The Little Oratory, A Beginner's Guide to Prayer in the Home, I describe both the nature of that pattern and also how in the home we can even reinforce certain aspects of it in the formation of children. In God's plan that intuitive sense is developed to help us in ordering all our daily activities to his plan (which would include potentially firefighting and nursing and indeed most human activity). This development of intuition not only improves decisions made in a crisis, but also makes us more creative. I discuss the connection between intuition and creativity in a past article about creativity in science. Through this at work, in the home or in our worship, we can contribute to a more beautiful culture of living for everyone. This is the hoped for New Evangelization and John Paul II's 'new epiphany of beauty' that draws people to the Faith.






Cardinal Burke on the value of the liturgy in forming and preserving the faith

LISA JOHNSTON |  His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Leo Burke | Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura | Archbishop Emeritus of St. Louis in front of the shrine to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.In a recently published interview on, here, Cardinal Burke made the following statement about the value of the liturgy. The question asked by the writer, Izabella Parowicz: how can our worship of God help us stand up in defence of human life? The Cardinal's reply was: 'According to the ancient wisdom of the Church, the law of worship is essentially connected to the law of belief and the law of practice. Christ comes into our midst through the Sacred Liturgy, especially the Sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and of Penance, to cleanse our hearts of sin and to inflame our hearts with His own love through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Only when we have a strong sense of the reality of the encounter with Christ in the Sacred Liturgy will we understand the truths of the faith and the moral life, and what they mean for our daily living. This sense is fostered by a manner of celebrating the Sacred Liturgy with our eyes fixed on Christ and not on ourselves. It should not surprise us that the period of post-Conciliar experimentation with the Sacred Liturgy, a period which was marked by so many liturgical abuses, was accompanied by a loss of faith and by moral decline. If the Sacred Liturgy is seen as a purely human activity, an invention of man, it will no longer be true communion with God and, therefore, will no longer nourish the faith and its practice in everyday living.'

This simple explication of what is summed up in the ancient phrase lex orandi, lex credendi - rule of prayer, rule of faith. If we accept what he says, it tells us the when the faith is waning, we must look first at liturgical practice for the answer. Furthermore, given that the contemporary culture is an incarnation of the core priorities and beliefs of society, the greatest weapon we have for the evangelization of the culture is the liturgy. This is how we create a culture of life.

As an aside, this is precisely the principle that Leila Lawler and I had in mind when we wrote our book, The Little Oratory - A Beginners Guide to Prayer in the Home. This is promoting the idea of liturgical piety in the home that is derived from and points to the Mass. The Liturgy of the Hours is an overflowing of the Mass into the day and into our daily lives and the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, therefore, is a supernatural key to the ordering of every aspect of our lives in accordance with a liturgical piety. So as well as focussing on the most important matter of the Mass, we should consider also the Liturgy of the Hours. Accordingly all Catholic devotions should support rather than distract from our liturgical practice. When all of this is harmonised the life prayer is one that makes ordinary living easier and not (as one might believe sometimes) a burden - an ever increasing list of things that I ought to be doing, and feel more and more guilty about when I fail to do them all.





The Dynamic of Prayer with Baroque Sacred Art - Why the Style of the Painting Makes You Pray Well

And how it is connected with the rosary. Have you ever had the experience of walking into an art gallery and being struck by a wonderful painting on the far side of the room. You are so captivated by it that you want to get closer. As you approach it, something strange happens. The image goes out of focus and dissolves into a mass of broad brushstrokes and unity of the image is lost. Then, in order to get a unified picture of the whole you have to recede again. The painting is likely to be an Old Master produced in the style of the 17th-century baroque, perhaps a Velazquez, or a Ribera, or perhaps later artists who retained this stylistic effect, such as John Singer Sargent. I recently made a trip to the art museum at Worcester, Massachusetts and there was a portrait by Sargent there that was about 12ft high and forced us back maybe 35ft so that we could view the whole.

This is a deliberately contrived effect of baroque painting. These paintings are created to have optimum impact at a distance.  It is sad that the art gallery is the most likely place for us to find any art, let alone any sacred art that conforms to its principles. The stylistic elements of the baroque relate to its role firstly as a liturgical art form in the Counter-Reformation. The baroque of the 17th century is also the last style historically that Benedict XVI cites as an authentic liturgical tradition - where there is a full integration of theology and form - It should be of no surprise that this has an impact upon prayer.

The best analysis of the stylistic features of the baroque of the 17th century that I have seen is in a book about Velazquez, published in 1906 and written by RAM Stevenson (the brother of Robert Louis). RAM Stevenson trained as a painter in the same studio in Paris as John Singer Sargent. This studio, run by a man called Carolos Duran was unusual in the 19th century in that it did not conform to the sentimental academic art of the time (such as we might have seen in Bougeureau, whose painting is shown above), but sought to mimic the style the great artists of the 17th century, such as Velazquez. In this he says: “A canvas should express a human outlook on the world and so it should represent an area possible to the attention; that is, it should subtend an angle of vision confined to certain natural limits of expansion.[1]  ”  In other words we need to stand far enough away from the painting so that the eye can take it in as a single impression. Traditionally (following on from Leonardo) this is taken to be a point three times longer than the greatest dimension of the painting. This ratio of 3:1 is in fact an angle of 18°, slightly larger than the natural angle of focused vision of the eye, which is about 15°. When you stand this distance away, the whole painting can be taken in comfortably, without forcing the eye to move backwards and forwards over it to any extent that is uncomfortable.

If the intention is to appear sharp and in focus at a distance of three times the length of the canvas, it must be much painted as much softer and blurred on the canvas itself. In practice this means that when one approaches a canvas, the brush stroke is often broader than one first expected. So that if we do examine a painting close too, it is often hard to discern anything, it almost looks like a collection of random brush strokes. The whole thing only comes together and knits into an image once we retreat again far enough to be able to see it as a unified image. This property makes baroque art particularly suitable for paintings that are intended to have an impact at a distance. The scene jumps out at us.

There is an additional optical device that contributes to this. The composition of the painting is such that the figures are painted in the foreground. Two things: the placement of the horizon; and the relationship between the angle of vision of the perimeter of the canvas and that angle which spans each figure within, affect the sense of whether the image is in the foreground, middle ground or background in relation to the observer. Baroque art tends to portray the key figures in the foreground. When these two effects are combined the effect is powerful.

If we look consider the very famous painting of Christ on the cross by Velazquez, for example. Its appearance at a distance is of a perfectly modeled figure. As we approach we see that much of the detail is painted with a very loose, broad brush. I have picked out the loin cloth and face as detail examples. The artist achieves this effect is achieved by retreating from the canvas, viewing the subject at a distance and then walking forward to paint the canvas from memory. Then after making the brushstroke the artist returns to review the work from the position from which he intends the viewer to see it several feet back. I learnt this technique when I studied portrait painting in Florence. I was on my feet, walking backwards and forwards for two three-hour sessions a day (punctuated by cappuccino breaks, of course). Over the course of an academic year I lost several pounds! I was told, though I haven’t been able to confirm the truth of it, that Velazquez did not feel inclined to do all that walking, so had a set of brushes made that had 10ft handles.

This dynamic between the viewer and the painting is consistent with the idea of baroque art which is to make God and his saints present to us here, in this fallen world. There may be evil and suffering, but God is here for us. Hope in Christ transcends all human suffering. The image says, so to speak, ‘you stay where you are – I am coming to you. I am with you, supporting you in your suffering, here and now’. The stylistic language of light and dark in baroque painting supports this also. The deep cast shadow represents evil and suffering, but it is always contrasted with strong light, representing the Light that ‘overcomes the darkness’.

This is different to the effect of the two other Catholic liturgical traditions as described by Pope Benedict XVI, the gothic and the iconographic. These place the figures compositionally always in the middle ground or distance, and so they always pull you in towards them. As you approach them they reveal more detail. (See a previous article on written for the New Liturgical Movement on the form of icons for more the reasons for this).

In this respect these traditions are complementary, rather than in opposition to each other. It has since struck me that the mysteries of the rosary describe this complementary dynamic also. They seem to describe an oscillating passage from earth to heaven and back again that helps us understand that God is simultaneously his calling us from Heaven to join him, but He is also with us here and helping to carry us up there, so to speak. If we consider the glorious mysteries, for example: first Christ is resurrected from the dead and then he ascends to heaven. Then He sends the Holy Spirit from heaven to be with us. Then we consider how Our Lady followed him, in her Assumption, and she and all the saints are in glory praying for us to join them. Both dynamics take place at the Mass itself. Christ comes down to us and is really present in Blessed Sacrament. As we participate in the Eucharist, we are raised up to Him supernaturally and then through Him and in the Spirit to the Father.


[1] RAM Stevenson, The Art of Velazquez, p30.


A Simple Recipe for Artistic Success

In my opinion there are two simple goals for an artist who wants to make a living: first is that he creates good works of art; and second he knows how to sell it. This might seem like a statement of the obvious, but I didn't always see it that way, and when I talk to unsuccessful artists I hear many who still don't. I regularly used to complain that the culture doesn't support art, or most people have plebeian tastes and don't appreciate good art (people today get all their information from the internet and blogs for heaven's sake); or that the Church doesn't train its priests to be good patrons. All of this may be true some degree and even relevant to some degree; but complaining about it never got me anywhere. Rather than expecting society to change until it demands what I am already producing, I was forced to conclude that my success depends more on creating forms that appeal to people. Furthermore, I had to work out how to do it without comprimising on the principles of tradition. The main barrier to my accepting this is my pride: if my work is not selling at high enough prices then I must accept - in this age of the internet when marketing has never been easier - that the most likely reason is that what I produce just isn't good enough. This presented me with a choice: keep complaining or strive to improve. I have chosen to follow the second option (and have much progress to make).

In fact an artist can do both: improve his work and transform the society to which he aims to sell it, thereby creating a demand. The means by which he will do so is the same in each case, through the creation of works of beauty. It is beauty that will change the world. So I need first to create it, and then strive to get people to see it. If people value what I produce sufficiently, then they will pay me for it. The truly beautiful will transform those who see it, and people will want it. If this is not happening, I must work harder to create something that they will value more - I must become a better artist, or a better salesman, or both. This is the principle of noble accessibility coming into consideration again. We have to create forms that are so powerfully beautiful that they connect with people today. The nature of beauty is that tends to creates the desire for it once seen. As John Paul II put it in his Letter to Artists in the context of art, beauty is the 'good made visible'.

In that same letter, John Paul II was so confident in the supernatural power of beauty to do this that he called for a new epiphany of beauty. He did not appeal to society as a whole, or even the Catholic community to change itself and become more tasteful; nor did he even appeal to educators to change society so that it would appreciate good art (not that either is undesirable); but rather he addressed his call to artists. The clue, its seems to me is in the title of the document. It is the artist who will effect this epiphany through the creation of beautiful works of art.

Pope Benedict after him chose to address artists for the same reason, as did Paul VI before him. Each is echoing what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council articulated. In his letter, he talks about art both inside and outside the church and points out that the beating heart of the tradition is sacred art. He writes: 'At the end of the Council, the Fathers addressed a greeting and an appeal to artists "This world - they said - in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. In this profound respect for beauty, the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Consilium recalled the historic friendliness of the Church towards art and, referring more specifically to sacred art, the ''summit'' of religious art, did not hesitate to consider artists as having a ''noble ministry'' when their works reflect in some way the infinite beauty of God and raise people's minds to him. Thanks to the help of artists ''the knowledge of God can be better revealed and the preaching of the Gospel can become clearer to the human mind''.

(In this he distinguishes 'sacred' art from 'religious' art. I am assuming here that he considers 'sacred art' to be that worthy of veneration and appropriate for the liturgy - in accordance with the criteria laid down by Theodore the Studite- and to be distinguished from the more general criterion of protraying religious subjects.

This, by the way directs our focus in education today. The greatest need in all the arts is for people who create beautiful work. Therefore education should be directed as much to the stimulation of creativity, as to cultivating an appreciation of what is good. Patrons have a huge part to play in the creative process and education of future patrons, lay and religious, is certainly part of this. John Paul II called also for a dialogue between artists and the Church, in accord with the 7th Ecumenical Council, which stated that artists are merely executors of ideas and the ideas originate with the Fathers. Ideally, this dialogue would be a real one between the artist and living breathing Fathers. However, when an artist chooses to conform to principles of tradition, he is in connection with the Fathers of the past who directed those artists who formed the tradition. The reason that the Popes addressed the artists, I believe, is that it is the artists' responsibility to initiate this dialogue today by demonstrating that he can produce works that possess this transforming beauty. This will then draw the other parties into the dialogue.

The successful Christian artists that I know who are working in traditional forms have certain things in common. Each produces work of high quality and they assume that this is the basis upon which people want to buy it. Each knows how to sell his work and each manages to support their families comfortably through their artistry.

I have never heard either complain that the culture or the Church doesn't appreciate what they do. The majority of these artists have not been through any formal long term training and are mostly self taught. Regardless of how they were trained originally, the successful artists are constantly looking at new methods and materials that will help them to improve, largely teaching themselves now. And all are great students of their traditions: if there appears to be a need for innovation and there is any doubt as to its validity, they always seek advice from those who are aware of the great body of Church teaching, the theologians, philosophers and liturgists.

None has a precious attitude to the craftsmanship. Making money from what they do is as important as being able to do it. This is good, I feel, for if they cannot pay the bills by doing it, then they cannot keep on doing it; but also because the market is the most efficient mechanism for the distribution of goods that we have today. Postscript Incidentally, this is something that all manufacturers might take note of. This says that if what they make is beautiful then people will be attracted to it and will pay a premium for it. The success of Apple computers is based upon this premise. Mass production doesn't need to detract from this. In fact, if an object is beautiful, then mass production means more beauty than if only a limited number are produced. I have not seen any evidence to suggest that ugliness is intrinsic to the manufacturing process. The cost of making something beautiful is not necessarily greater than the cost of making something ugly and even if it is, it is as likely to be an investment that pays off, as in the case of Apple where people will pay more for a more appealing design. The reason, I believe, that we associate mass production with ugliness is that since the rejection of tradition values in art and design, most designers simply don't know how to make something that participates in the timeless qualities of beauty. The quality of the article that is mass produced is dependent upon the quality of the original design. If the design is bad, then we have ugliness in great quantity; and if good, then it produces beauty in great quantity. And that is a desirable thing...isn't it?


Hypothesis or Theorem? Evolution, Global Warming and Multiple Universes

How understanding the difference between hypothesis and theorem can often enable us to assess the validity of these proposals. There is a video produced by Illustra Media called Darwin’s Dilemma that discusses how recently observed scientific data raises doubts about the validity of Charles Darwin’s hypothesis concerning the origin of different species of animals – ‘evolution’. In order to be able to make a judgment as to whether or not Darwin’s proposal about the origin of species is scientifically proven or not, one must understand clearly the distinction between hypothesis and theorem. This is because hypothesis does not constitute scientific proof; theorem does. This video is good because it clearly explains the difference between the two cases. The scientific method involves the observation of natural phenomena and then a presentation by the scientist of a possible explanation of these observations in the form of the physical laws that govern the processes. This first explanation he produces is a hypothesis. Darwin’s ‘theory’ of evolution as most people refer to it was in fact presented not as a theory, in the strict scientific sense, but as a hypothesis. And here is the important point to understand: even if we assume that research and logic behind the hypothesis is sound, if all we have is a hypothesis, it does not yet constitute scientific proof. We might characterise it at this stage it as only considered possibly true. In order to make that transition from possibly true (hypothesis) to probably true (theorem) the hypothesis has to be tested. Most commonly, the scientist tests the hypothesis by looking for new phenomena that are predicted by the hypothesis and which could not have been predicted otherwise. If these data are subsequently observed repeatedly, then the hypothesis is confirmed and it is now considered a theorem; and probably true.

Darwin’s hypothesis predicted the existence of fossils of intermediary species that indicated that all known species of animals were descended from a common ancestor. The dilemma referred to in the title is that the fossil evidence has not yet supported the hypothesis. This does not in itself disprove the hypothesis. It is still possibly true and in the past many argued that we still might find the fossils in the future because the fossil record is incomplete. The point that the video makes is that after more than 100 years of scientists looking for such fossils, they still have still not been found. Furthermore, advances in science coupled with the recent discovery of many new fossil records seem to indicate that a strong argument could made that the fossil record is close to being complete. This being the case it is most likely that we will never find fossils of those intermediary species. Therefore, it argues, it might be time for even the hypothesis to be discarded as probably not true; at the very least we should start looking for an alternative explanation for the origin of species.

In reaction to this the following points are probably worth making also: first, invalidating one hypothesis doesn’t automatically make another true. Each should be considered on its own merits. For example, intelligent design or creationism should not be considered true simply because we consider that we failed to demonstrate that evolution constitutes a theory. These hypotheses should be considered on their own merits.

Second, it is important to be aware of whether or not a proposal is hypothesis or theorem before we can decide whether or not to take action in response to it. Just as one can be too quick to accept a hypothesis as truth, one can in the other extreme be overly skeptical and reject proven theorems. Scientific proof is not a formal proof of truth according to deductive logic (for reasons too long to go into here). This means that even when a proposal makes the transition from hypothesis to theorem it does not go from being categorized as ‘possible’ to being categorized as ‘certain’; but rather from ‘possible’ to ‘probable’. We cannot be absolutely certain of our theorem because unless we have data in regard to our proposal as it applies to the whole universe over all time (which we never do) it is always possible that in the future new data will emerge which will undermine it. All theorems are in this sense merely provisional. However, although we say that an element of doubt remains, we say also that once a theorem has been established that we consider it to be sufficiently close to certainty that we behave as though it is true. So we go ahead and build the bridge, construct the building, or manufacture the drug and entrust our safety to them all. Some who are overly skeptical of science as a discipline reject even proven theorems on the grounds that some doubt remains, or that past theorems subsequently proved false and had to be revised. This is not, in my opinion, a reasonable course of action. At some point you have to act with the balance of probability and behave as though it is true, and the transition from hypothesis to theorem is that point. The steady progress of our scientific knowledge since the scientific method was developed in the middle ages points to the general (if not perfect) reliability of acting on the assumption that a scientific theorem is true.

To summarize: to the degree that we must act on a proposal, we treat a hypothesis as not true, and a theorem as true. Certainly, sometimes this will end in disaster - bridges do fall down from time to time, and medical cures sometimes prove to have previously unforeseen side effects. However, in order to lead a life at all, we have to do the best we can with the best information available and this is why we do it.

In regard to Darwin’s proposal concerning the origin of species: some protestant Christian denominations especially seem anxious to establish that evolution could never become proven theorem, because they fear that it undermines the truth of the Bible rather than a desire to find out what is true. As a Catholic I have no such worries and can look at how the science plays out with a detached interest.

To understand the distinction between hypothesis and theorem often allows non-scientists to assess the validity of most discussions about science without ever needing to see the raw data or understand deeply the scientific analysis of it. A huge proportion of the articles written about hot scientific topics, such as anthropomorphic global warming, make arguments (pro- and con-) that claim to be based in scientific fact, but are in fact presenting hypothesis and not theorem. Often they do not use scientific arguments at all. They might for example give anecdotal stories based upon personal memories about how hot or cold it was in the past compared to now, especially if we are now going through a cold snap or a heat wave. Notwithstanding the unreliability of memory in gauging temperature, this ignores the fact that extreme conditions do not indicate general trends. Sometimes we are told that something must be true because ‘2,000 scientists say so’ (when democracy is not a principle for determining truth in science - it has to be tested using objective standards); or tell us we have to act now because the penalties of not doing so are too great to contemplate (without regard to the actual likelihood of it being true, which is absurd). None of these types of argument should be taken seriously when considering whether or not something is true and demanding greater clarity from our journalists might actually force them to be more responsible and rigorous in reporting on such things (although I’m not holding my breath).

Incidentally, this lack of rigour in reporting science is not new. The dispute between members of the hierarchy of the Church and Galileo was about many different things, but in regard to science it was about whether his proposal could be considered a hypothesis or a theorem. Galileo was told, you can teach this, but only as a hypothesis. Galileo insisted on describing it as proven theorem however. In this regard Galileo was wrong and St Robert Bellarmine was right. The necessary data that confirmed the proposal as a theorem was not observed until the 19th century.


Liturgy and Anthropology: Body, Soul, Spirit

Understanding that man is body, soul and spirit might be step towards establishing a culture of beauty. I have written before, here of the idea that liturgy and culture are linked. Each forms and reflects the other. If this is the case, then the answer to the question of how to reform a culture of ugliness, even a culture of death in any lasting way has its roots in, or at least must include firmly at its heart, liturgical reform.
A true Catholic culture is one that not only reflects the liturgy, but through its compelling beauty, is so powerful that it overcomes other cultures and dominates the profane (ie the wider culture outside the domain of religious practice). This is the case with the gothic and the baroque. All art, architecture and music during these periods, for example, seemed to be drawing on the forms that were set in the liturgy. In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI says the following: 'The Englightenment pushed the Faith into a kind of intellectual and even social ghetto. Contemporary culture turned away from the Faith and trod another path, so that faith took flight in historicism, the copying of the past, or else attempted to comprimise, or lost itself resignation and cultural abstinence.'
In other words, by the 19th century and as a result of the Enlightenment, the culture of faith was separated from the wider culture. Catholic culture, as it was manifested at this time, was not a genuine Catholic culture of beauty, but rather an emasculated, paler version. In the area that I know well, art, we see this very clearly. There are some exceptions, but in general the academic art of the 19th century is only a poorly defined shadow of the 17th century baroque from which it is descended. For those who are interested to know more, you might read for example articles here and here or for a fuller account read the book Baroqueby John Rupert Martin.
If we accept the premise and this assessment of the culture, then it indicates that in the 19th century there were problems with the liturgy as well as the culture. This would explain why the response to the Enlightenment in this period was not only intellectual, but also liturgical, with the beginnings of a liturgical reform movement. This being so, the question remains as to what it is about the Enlightenment that affected the liturgy?I read recently Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: the Proceedings of the July 2001 Fontgombault Liturgical Conference, edited by Alcuin Reid. One of the presentations was by Stratford Caldecott, who runs the Thomas More College Centre for Faith and Culture in Oxford. Mr Caldecott argues that the problems lay in the fact that the anthropology - the understanding of the nature of man - had strayed from a full recognition of the spirit as part of the anthropology described by scripture. St Paul for example, talks of body, soul and spirit. There had been tendency argues Caldecott, to equate, or at least insufficiently differentiate between (in our understanding), soul and spirit. (His presentation is online, at the Second Spring website, here. Go to the section on the left that says 'online reading' and then click the title of the article: Liturgy and Trinity; Towards a Liturgical Anthropology.)
His description of the 'spirit' is most interesting. Equating it with the intellectus of the Western medievals or the nous of the Eastern Church in the tradition of Church Fathers, the spirit is the spiritual receptive knowing power of the human mind. This is the aspect that 'sees', so to speak, God and is receptive to grace. The use of the termininology can vary from person to person and this can be confusing sometimes, for me at least, when trying to understand these things. One thing that the Catechism is clear on as that talk of the spirit, which is non-material and spiritual in nature, does not introduce a duality into the soul. So man is a profound unity of body and soul and this describes the human person. The spirit is the higher part of the soul or as I once heard it described, the 'soul of the soul'. It that part that is closest to God, the portal for grace which pours out from God, transforming us (transfiguring) into the image and likeness of Him. While the fathers do therefore sometimes use the word soul interchangebly with a description of the full spiritual dimension of man that includes the spirit, the distinction of the two in the minds of the medievals, it seems, is not lost either. Occasionally in icons the artist paints a 'bump' in the forehead. I was told that this shape drawn in the forehead, between the eyes, is sometimes considered a physical manifestation of the spiritual eye, the nous. (See the icons displayed here.)
A quote from Joseph Pieper's Leisure the Basis of Culture (p11-12) was helpful to me here: 'The medievals distinguished between the intellect as ratio and the intellect as intellectus. Ratio is the power of discursive thought, or searching and re-searching refining and concluding, whereas the intellectus refers to the ability of 'simply looking' (simplex instuitus) to which the truth presents itself as a landscape presents itself to the eye. The spiritual knowing power of the human mind, as the ancients understood it, is really two things in one: ratio and intellectus: all knowing involved both. The path of discursive reasoning is accompanied and penetrated by the intellectus' untiring vision, which is not active but passive, or better, receptive - a receptively operating power of the intellect.' It seems that the intellectus here could be identified with the nous or spirit.
Without a full acknowledgement of this tripartite anthropology, suggests Caldecott, a flawed dualism consisting only of body and soul is created and an instability in which one of the aspects tends to dominate the other to the exclusion of God (just as Cartesian dualism was inherently unstable and led in two very different directions: materialism and idealism). According to trinitarian anthropology, the human person is by its very nature other-centred. We love God, and this opens us to the life of the other; we love our neighbour, and this opens us to the love of God. Without fully appreciating the spiritual faculty of the soul we cannot properly understand either marriage (based on the self-giving love of man and woman) or the Mass (the marriage of heaven and earth). Thus the crisis over Humanae Vitae in the 1960s was paralleled by the crisis over reforms in the liturgy because both had the same root -- an earlier loss of the sense of the spirit uniting husband and wife in openness to new life on the one hand, and of the spirit uniting priest and laity in one single work of sacrifice on the other. To those who had acquired this mentality, it seemed that the Mass had become an exercise in which the priest did his thing at the altar and the laity waited and watched or prayed their rosary in the pews. This is why why they went to the other extreme of over-stressing "activity" in the Mass, along with human fellowship and social justice, as though these were the only things that were important. Many religious orders went into steep decline as the communitarian aspect of their mission took precedence over the liturgical, the love of neighbour over the love of God. It is the spirit in man that opens us to the "vertical" dimension of grace: without it, both marriage and the liturgy are reduced to activities performed on the horizontal plane, with little or no relationship to heaven.

It strikes me that such a neglect as a result of the Enlightenment should result in a cultural decline as well as a liturgical decline is made all the more understandible when one considers the role of the intellectus, or spirit, in the apprehension of beauty. In the first part of her little essay Beauty, Contemplation and the Virgin Mary, Sister Thomas Mary McBride, OP describes succinctly in just a few paragraphs, the traditional understanding of beauty and how man apprehends it (and as such I would recommend this piece for anyone seeking an introduction to this subject). She draws on the Latin medievals and states that beauty illuminates the intellectus, describing the apprehension of beauty as the 'gifted perfection of seeing'. Then echoing Caldecott in the connection between intellectus and spirit says: 'In the light of the above, this writer would suggest that the proper place of beauty is in the spirit.'


An appropriate active participation in the liturgy is one that engages the full person in order to encourage within us the right interior disposition. Any participation in the liturgy that does not engage body, soul and spirit therefore does not engage the full person. Our participation in the liturgy is the primary educator in the Faith at all levels. A true conformity of body, soul and spirit is what is desired. One can see that any participation in which consideration of the spirit is neglected (through a balanced active participation of soul and body) will result in therefore necessarily result in a deficiency in our ability to apprehend beauty, which resides in the spirit. This explains this link between culture and liturgy and how important liturgical reform is in our efforts to create a culture of beauty today.


St Ephrem the Syrian who lived in the 4th century AD in modern-day Turkey is a Doctor of the Church and one of the Church Fathers referred to by Pope Benedicti XVI in one of his weekly addresses and whom he encouraged us to read. St Ephrem wrote the following in the 9th of his Hymns to Paradise:


Far more glorious than the body is the soul, and more glorious still than the soul is the spirit, but more hidden that the spirit is the Godhead.


At the end, the body will put on the beauty of the soul, the soul will put on that of the spirit, while the spirit shall put on the very likeness of God's majesty.


For bodies shall be raised to the level of souls, and the soul to that of the spirit, while the spirit shall be raised to height of God's majesty;

The Privileged Person - Modern Astrophysics and Ancient Cosmology Point to the Fact that the Cosmos is Made to be Discovered by Man Because Man is Made for the Liturgy

Modern Astrophysics and Ancient Cosmology Both Support the Idea that the Heavens Proclaim the Glory of the Church Many people that I have come across say that they believe in God, and might even acknowledge the need to conform to a moral code (quite how they discern it is another matter) but see no reason for ‘organised religion’, which they see as arbitrary creation of mankind. I think that the beauty of the cosmos provides an answer to this question and here’s why. There is a book (and a film made from book) called the Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. I show the film regularly to my students. It was published in 2004 by the Discovery Institute and was written by Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez, it describes how recent developments in astrophysics impact our sense of the place of the earth in the universe and the chances of life occurring within. It runs through all the conditions necessary for mankind to exist. (For example, we have an atmosphere that both shields us from the harmful part of the solar spectrum and is transparent to the life sustaining part of the same spectrum.) Then it details the chances of all these conditions (and there are dozens) occurring in the same place through the random processes that govern the laws of physics and chemistry in the universe. When all these probabilities are taken into account, the mathematics says that the chance of a place existing that can support us is negligible - so low that it is almost certain that there is no other life in the universe at all. The earth is probably the only planet in existence in the universe that can sustain intelligent life. Furthermore, it is surprising given the probable age of the universe that these conditions occurred even once, here on earth.

Then it goes further. The fact that scientists are able to study such things at all depends on the fact that man is able to observe the universe from here on earth to obtain data about the rest of  the universe which he can then analyse and draw conclusions. Surprisingly, it is not a given that he would be able to do this. In order for us to be living within the universe and able to observe the rest of it, another string of specific conditions have to be met (for example a transparent atmosphere through which we can see the stars). It turns out that these conditions coincide with those necessary for the existence of life. That is, the conditions that allow a particular form of intelligent life to exist at all are the same conditions that allow the same form of intelligent life to observe the rest of the universe. The odds of this happening are lower than negligible such that it is even hard to accept that it could ever happen. Yet it has. One conclusion that one could draw from this is that there a forces other than the laws of physics and chemistry in operation here. The case presented doesn't prove God as Creator exists, but it certainly it supports the idea very strongly.

Furthermore it supports the idea that the universe is made for man. Read the following from a sermon by the 5th century Doctor of the Church, St Peter Chrysologus: “Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God? Why render yourself such dishonour when you are honoured by him? Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made? Was not this entire visible universe made for your dwelling? It was for you that the light dispelled the overshadowing gloom; for your sake was the night regulated and the day measured, and for you were the heavens embellished with the varying brilliance of the sun, the moon and the stars. The earth was adorned with flowers, groves and fruit; and the constant marvellous variety of lovely living things was created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest sad solitude destroy the joy of God’s new creation. And the Creator still works to devise things that can add to your glory. He has made you in his image that you might in your person make the invisible Creator present on earth; he has made you his legate, so that the vast empire of the world might have the Lord’s representative. Then in his mercy God assumed what he made in you; he wanted now to be truly manifest in man, just as he had wished to be revealed in man as in an image. Now he would be in reality what he had submitted to be in symbol.” (Sermon 148, taken from the Office of Readings on his feast day, July 30th)

This passage leads us more deeply into the question as to man’s place in this universe. If God made the universe for us to observe, then one can assume that he wanted man to go ahead and observe it. But why? This is not discussed in the Privileged Planet (I think it leaves a place for a sequel video and this is my pitch for it!). If God went to such lengths to make man so that he could see and respond to the cosmos then it suggest that there are profound reasons for his doing so. I put the forward the following reasons speculatively:

1. The beauty and order of the cosmos point us to its Creator. We are hardwired to see the divine order that permeates all that is, seen, and through this we gain insights into the order that permeates all that is, unseen. The cosmos bears the thumbprint of the One who made it and when we see its beauty we are moved to love Him and to praise Him.

2. The beauty and order of the cosmos are models that show us how to direct that praise. The rhythms and patterns of the cosmos and the numerical description of its beauty (for example, the movements of the sun, the moon) are those upon which the patterns of our worship are based. The seasons of the liturgical year, the patterns of worship in the each week and each day are based upon this. This is the organizing principle behind ‘organised’ religion, which is so detested by modern man. If we all worship in harmony with the cosmos, then we worship also in harmony with each other. That is why when we go to church there are others there too. They are following the same principle. God gave us this cosmic sign to order our worship. When we worship in harmony with the cosmos, we are in harmony with all the saints and angels in the heavenly liturgy. This is what makes the liturgy the most ‘effective and powerful’ prayer there is (as the Catechism says). Our action of love for God is sychronised perfectly with his gift of himself for us and his grace. This is our route, therefore, to greatest joy in this life.

3. The beauty and order of the cosmos are the models upon which all other human activity, beyond the church, can be ordered. The culture in the broadest sense of the word can be infused with these values. To the degree that man can order time and space he can do so in harmony with the cosmos, and therefore with the liturgy. All that he creates and does can be graceful and beautiful. When the culture reflects the cosmic order in this way, then just as with the cosmos itself, it can raise hearts and minds to God and to praise of Him in the liturgy. Everything stems from and points back to the liturgy. God is still the ultimate author of its beauty, but is now working through man and inspiring each person in his work. Historically, all Christian culture was founded on this principle and it is an important part of what makes the liturgy the basis of culture. It can be illustrated in so many ways and is the basis of my course The Way of Beauty taught at Thomas More College.

The worship of God in the liturgy is the basis of the deepest personal relationship that it is possible to have; it is an earthly but supernatural participation in the heavenly state for which we are made: a perfect and dynamic exchange of love with God the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, partaking of the divine nature. Therefore, the consideration of man as a human person is founded first on this relationship. Both modern astrophysics and ancient cosmology point to the same idea: that the ‘heavens proclaim the glory of the Lord’ and that it is intrinsic to man’s nature to see this and to respond with praise and worship God. Therefore any anthropology must be founded on the liturgical nature of the human person. It is incomplete if it does not. Similarly all considerations of man and society that rely on anthropology for their basis (such as economics) will also be incomplete if they do not take this into account.

And to come back to the original question posed at the beginning of this article: the beauty of the cosmos is an argument not only for the existence of a Creator but for the liturgy.  It sings the song that calls us to church, and to pray the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours. As was said to me recently, the Mass is a jewel in its setting, which is the Liturgy of the Hours; and the Liturgy is a jewel in its setting which is the cosmos. The heavens, therefore point to Heaven, and we participate in the Heavenly dynamic through the liturgy, which is modelled on the heavens…and so the cycle is completed, forever reinforcing and adding to itself. All of this is for man. He is indeed a privileged person.


When I posted this article some readers contacted me to point out that there have been announcements of the discovery of planets that could support intelligent life and that we may not be alone. Does this undermine any of the arguments.? I don't think so because it does not change the statistical argument in any way. The authors of the book upon which the film was based simply presented the statistical arguments for such an event occurring. The chances, while negligible, were not zero. This means that for it to happen once is amazing. For it to happen twice is even more amazing since the chances are even less, but still possible. Furthermore, before we accept that such planets other than our own exist, we should try to find out how certain the information is. If it is merely hypothesis, then it is not yet scientifically proven. And many newspaper articles mistakenly present scientific hypotheses in tones that portray the information as certain.

As Jay Richards one of the authors put it to me: 'We have discovered many hundreds of extra-solar planets, but none that come anywhere near fulfilling the basic conditions for habitability. Often when an extra-solar planet is discovered, though NASA puts out a press release claiming we've discovered an earthlike planet. The most earthlike planet we know of is...Mars.

'That said, nothing in our argument requires that Earth be unique. Our argument simply entails that however many habitable planets there are, they will be extremely earthlike, and they will be better platforms for scientific discovery than the alternatives.'

What about the idea that it points to the existence of a Creator? This is to my mind not undermined either, but represents even more circumstantial evidence; provided that the probablitility of such an event has not been challenged. And to my knowledge it has not.

The fact that there turn out to be more such privileged planets does, one might argue, lessen our privilege in a relative sense (there is another part of the universe that is equally privileged so we are not so privilege relative to the rest of the universe although the reduction is tiny). however, it does not lessen the privilege in an absolute sense (the a priori chances of any one planet in the universe possessing such a privilege, remain unchanged . The material evidence of God's love and generosity that has increased ).

What if at some stage we find such a planet and then can get close enough to find life there? This is an interesting point that is purely hypothetical at this stage. It might be that we would discover that such life had a common salvation history and an immortal soul like man; or could have an immortal soul but unlike man on earth, never experienced a Fall, so have a distinct salvation history; or could be intelligent but possess no immortal soul and so would be a sort of hyper intelligent monkey. All of these life forms would be privileged too.




How Do We Revive the Gothic?

When I was given the courage to follow my dream of being an artist (by some inspired vocational guidance 20 years ago) I wanted to paint like the Italian gothic artist Duccio. My reasons were based upon personal preference rather than a deep knowledge of Catholic liturgical art. It was just that I loved what I saw when I went to the National Gallery in London: it had enough naturalism to make it accessible, and enough idealism that gave it a sense of the sacred. It was later that I read The Spirit of the Liturgy in which the then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote of the gothic an authentic liturgical tradition. Once I had decided I wanted to paint like him, it raised the problem of how to learn to do so. I didn't want to create pastiche, but to learn in such a way that it might become my natural way of painting and so if required, I could paint new works of art in this style. The problem was that as far as I was aware, this was not a living tradition and there wasn’t any practising artist who could teach me.

I had a sense that historically, the gothic was a transitionary phase between the iconographic and the classical naturalism of the High Renaissance/Baroque (transmitted through the ‘academic method’ of the academies and ateliers). The methods of both of these traditions were still just about alive, I knew, if not always applied in the full glory of the past. So I decided to seek a training in both traditions and hoped that through this, somehow, I would be able to take elements from both and patch together my own gothic style.

This twin training was extremely valuable to me to this end, but not in the way I had imagined. Rather than learning stylistic elements from two traditions that I could combine to create a hybrid, I learnt how a tradition preserves and passes on its core principles and so was able to see how the gothic could be reestablished as a tradition in its own right, without reference to the other two if necessary.

Both the academic and iconographic methods emphasized the importance of two aspects in the training: first the observation from nature and second the copying, with understanding, of masters in that tradition. The balance of these two aspects was different in each tradition (with the emphasis on observation from nature much stronger, as one would expect, in the naturalistic tradition).

This aspect of understanding when copying is important. Aidan Hart, my teacher, always stressed this strongly. When we studied an icon, he would relate the form of the painting to both the natural form and the theology. Take the example of the eyes: he pointed out that the eyes in an icon have no glint. This is because a glint is reflected light, and this is absent in the icon because it portrays eschatological man who shines with uncreated light which is stronger than the reflected light.

Sometimes he would point out features that might seem at first glance to be an arbitrary stylization but were in fact related to natural form. For example, the dark line above the eye is the deepest point. Below it, the eyeball is curving forward out of the orbit and above it the skull coming out from the orbit towards the brow. (This line only appears in nature if we have deep set eyes.) To accentuate this as a shadow line it is often painted as a red or red-brown shadow line. A warm, reddish shadow is often used in the deepest shadow of flesh even when painting naturalistically (this is what I was taught to do when I was studying in portrait painting in Florence).

So from this lesson I learnt that if I want to learn any tradition, I must learn to draw skillfully from nature as well as copy masters. If I want to paint figures in the style of musclebound superheroes, I would sign up for life drawing classes and copy lots of pictures of Spiderman and Superman. Similarly, if I want to paint like Duccio I can copy his work, while considering how the style relates to the theology; and (as we know the gothic masons did from their surviving manuscripts) draw from nature.

The study of iconography taught me that a tradition can be reestablished as living tradition successfully, even if the line of tradition has been broken. The Enlightenment affected the culture in both East and West and this caused a break in the iconographic tradition. The iconography which we see today is a living tradition that was reestablished in the 20th century through the devoted work of Greek and Russian iconographers and scholars. These pioneers analysed the tradition for its essential elements, and then sought to account for these by relating them to theology of eschatological man. (The work has not been done yet. It has been developing and changing even in the time that I have been exposed to icons over the last 20 years.)

A similar process is now going on in in the West, both in regard to re-establishing the Baroque and gothic traditions; and in taking a discerning look at the Orthodox interpretation of the iconographic tradition, which is at times limited by its focus on the Greek and Russian traditions to the exclusion of other iconographic forms, for example the Romanesque or the Celtic forms of iconography.

I am confident therefore of a flowering of Catholic culture, especially when one sees how it is underpinned by the liturgical renewal that is taking place under the guiding hand of the Holy Father.

Images from top: Madonna and Child, Duccio; detail of Christ Pantocrator, 6th century; detail from triple portrait of Charles I, Sir Anthony van Dyck, 17th century.

Below: first, a portrait by yours truly in which the eyes are not deep set and so the line above the lids is not visible. Nevertheless, I used a deep red-brown, as instructed, to give the shadow tone in this naturalistic style. Below those we have large scale, full images of those above.