venerdì, dicembre 12, 2014

Advent: Week 2 Day 7

The Prophecy of Malachi

"And suddenly the Lord Whom you seek shall come to the Temple... But who shall be able to stand when He comes? He shall be like the refiner's fire... He shall sit refining the silver, He will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver..."

Elsewhere we saw (in Jacob's Ladder) Jesus as a civil engineer: the Divine Bridge-Builder. Here we see Jesus as the Divine Metallurgist. In that amazing book from the Middle Ages called The Pirotechnia we can read about how such refining was done, in the days before OSHA and chemistry. It's rather horrifying, even if you have actually seen the real modern technologies for doing metal-working - but it worked. Basically they added a lot of lead to the mix, then boiled off the leadand scraped out the impurities. And they repeated this until the precious metal was pure. That is what the psalms mean about "gold, seven times refined". Remember, the tribe of Levi is the hereditary priesthood of the Israelites. Yes, there are still descendants alive (with names like Lewin, Levandowski, etc) who know their heritage in that family! And we know that Jesus, though of the tribe of Judah (and Son of David) was related somehow to them, for his "cousin" John (the Baptist) was son of Zachariah, who was a priest in the Temple.

But Malachi has far more to say. There is also this mystic vision of the world-wide sacrifice:

"For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts."

Here is the announcement of the round-the-clock offering of Holy Mass. Somewhere in the world, Mass is being offered - all the time, everywhere (except, of course, during the Triduum). It's lots better than the INTERNET - you can tap in, even without a modem or a hub/router/switch! Way cool - and unlimited bandwidth, too.

Why are people not connecting Jesus with technology more? He's not just for theologians and philosphers. Indeed - it is not only the theologian or even the philosopher for whom Jesus is the archetype, the exemplar, the model. He inspires the engineer - of all varieties from civil to metallurgical to electronic, the scientist, the laborer (was he not known as the Son of the Carpenter?) and the artist - as well as the writer and the musician. He shows us not only about God, and about truth and thought, but about learning, about doing things well, about making things beautiful AND useful... and, most importantly, about being a good friend - in fact, He exemplifies each and every aspect of being human.


"So, therefore, we beseech Thee, Oh Heavenly Father, command that our voices be admitted among the number of the armies of heaven, as they sing without end..."


"In every place, there is offered to My Name a clean oblation, for My Name is great among the Gentiles..."

giovedì, dicembre 11, 2014

Advent: Week 2 Day 5

Daniel's Vision

Thrones were set up and the Ancient of Days took His place. ... Then I saw One like a Son of Man, coming on the clouds... He came to the Ancient of Days, and was given authority...

Note: as was explained, late Easter afternoon on the road to Emmaus, beginning with Moses and the prophets... so we are trying to use that same plan, which happens to also be the format of the Bible.

So far, we've seen Moses and the great events of the Pentateuch (though one is deferred, as will be explained in its proper place), and we've met David, at the beginning of the Kingdom of Israel.

Now we look at the various prophets and see as they predicted details about the coming Messiah. Sometimes these were phrased in what might appear to be sheer fantasy, but each added a particular detail. Here, Daniel sees something which may be still in the future, (so similar to St. John's Apocalypse = "Revelation" are some aspects!) and yet links it together with our Lord's own designation for Himself: the "Son of Man". On this term, GKC has a very moving passage:
We often hear of Jesus of Nazareth as a wandering teacher; and there is a vital truth in that view in so far as it emphasises an attitude towards luxury and convention which most respectable people would still regard as that of a vagabond. It is expressed in his own great saying about the holes of the foxes and the nests of the birds, and, like many of his great sayings, it is felt as less powerful than it is, through lack of appreciation of that great paradox by which he spoke of his own humanity as in some way collectively and representatively human; calling himself simply the Son of Man; that is, in effect, calling himself simply Man. It is fitting that the New Man or the Second Adam should repeat in so ringing a voice and with so arresting a gesture the great fact which came first in the original story: that man differs from the brutes by everything, even by deficiency; that he is in a sense less normal and even less native; a stranger upon the earth. It is well to speak of his wanderings in this sense and in the sense that he shared the drifting life of the most homeless and hopeless of the poor. [GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:337]

And speaking of interesting things, did you ever notice that the prophecy says "thrones"??? Ever wonder about that? Who else are they for? James and John wondered about sitting on the right and the left in the kingdom (and they were reserved, as Jesus told them!) but He also promised that the Twelve (who had left everything to follow Him) would "sit on thrones and judge the Tribes of Israel". Daniel, then, saw the stage managers at work, preparing for that coming Day...

Are we getting ready?

mercoledì, dicembre 10, 2014

Advent: Week 2 Day 4

The Shepherd, King, and Psalmist: David

Moses died just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan and took possession of their Promised Land. Then that country was divided up, each of the 11 tribes got their own portion. (Levi, the priest-tribe, was the Lord's own; they lived throughout Israel.) The tribe of Judah got a rather southern chunk, within which was a mountain city called Jerusalem.

Many years went by. The people demanded a king. The first one was Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin; things didn't go so well for him. There was a war going on with the Philistines (their name lives on in the term Palestine!) and they had some big ogre (orc? droid? battle-mech?) of a warrior named Goliath....

God sent Samuel to a town of Judah, not far to the south of Jerusalem, called Bethlehem, the "House of Bread". (You may have heard the name already in another context. Now yiou will find out why.)

In that town was a man named Jesse. He had some interesting ancestors: on his grandfather's side he descended from Judah; his grandmother was Ruth (one of the books of the Bible!) he had a rather large family: eight boys, if I recall correctly, and Samuel had to meet every one of the seven. Oh, yeah: the youngest was not there just then, as he was out watching the sheep. But Samuel made them get the youngest back home - and sure enough, he was the one God wanted anointed as the king. This young man was named David.

He wrote (or is said to have written) the Psalms, and probably sang them. Certainly the one which makes very many people think of David is the one which starts "the Lord is my Shepherd". I for one think this one clearly demonstrates an awareness of real shepherding, for no authentic shepherd would try to guard a flock without real weapons at his disposal. (Remember: "you are there with your rod and your staff that give me courage") Hey! There are real wolves and other enemies out there! One of the things I learned not very long ago was a remarkable piece of research which studied the various chants used by Jews in some rather divergent and remote places in the Near East: it was discovered that they sang certain psalms with very similar tunes. Other evidence on this (relating to lack of communication among them, etc) leads to the conclusion that these tunes mayactually go back to the tunes used in the Temple! (or perhaps even further back...) the rest of the story is that some of the earliest Christian chants ALSO have melodies like them. Wow, think of it. THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF MUSIC TO THE GLORY OF GOD.

David, as we know, was not exactly the most splendid figure one might want as a king. God told him he would not build the Temple, because he had "bloody hands" - though he did bring peace to Israel. Remember, too, when you hear the genealogy read, that dirty little phrase about "David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. If you don't know that story you need to read it.

Nevertheless: "son of David" was Joseph's "trump card" in his hopeless search for shelter that first Christmas Eve, when he returned to the town of David on Tax Day... And later Jesus would turn quickly, with love, when someone called Him "Son of David!"

Then there is that mysterious symbol, the traditional one from the Jesse Tree, of blue interlocked equilateral triangles, called the "Star of David"... How strange the mathematics of the perfect number six! (But I cannot stop to ponder all that now.) For here, as God promised through the mouth of Nathan, was the next phrase of the great prophesy: From David himself would come forth the ruler whose throne would be established forever. And the symbol reveals the secret: the trinity of earth would be inverted, and combined with the heavenly Trinity, in One who would be David's offspring. Here is GKC, saying it, far better than I can:
If we are not of those who begin by invoking a divine Trinity, we must none the less invoke a human Trinity; and see that triangle repeated everywhere in the pattern of the world. For the highest event in history, to which all history looks forward and leads up, is only something that is at once the reversal and the renewal of that triangle. Or rather it is the one triangle superimposed so as to intersect the other, making a sacred pentacle of which, in a mightier sense than that of the magicians, the fiends are afraid. The old Trinity was of father and mother and child and is called the human family. The new is of child and mother and father and has the name of the Holy Family. It is in no way altered except in being entirely reversed; just as the world which is transformed was not in the least different, except in being turned upside-down.
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:186-187]

PS: it is fun and rather easy to make a Star of David with a compass and a ruler.

Before you start, two notes: don't change the compass size while you work. Also, do all the compass work lightly, so you can erase it. (We call that construction work.) The ruler part is the final part, and you can make that in ink when you are done.

1. Draw an outer circle, as big as you want the star to be. (lightly!)
2. Put the point down anywhere on the circle, and swing the pencil so it crosses the circle, marking the two places where it crosses. (do that lightly!) You can mark your starting place #1 (where you put the point down), and the two crossings #2 and #3.
3. Go to each of the places (#2 and #3) you marked, and repeat step 2. If you are watching carefully, you should TWICE mark off the place you labelled #1 - once from each of the two older marks. You will get two NEW marks, which you label #4 and #5.
4. Again go to the the two new markings (#4 and #5), and swing again. If you were careful, they should mark the exact same point, (label it #6) on the opposite side of the circle from your start. When you swing the compass, you will also mark #2 and #3, but you already have done them.
5. Check it - you should now have six points, in pairs at diameters (check with the ruler!) if you want.
6. Now, join the points according to the shape in the above picture. You're going to join 1, 4, 5 together (that's one triangle) and then 2, 3, 6 (that's the other.)

All done.

martedì, dicembre 09, 2014

Advent: Week 2 Day 3

The Burning Bush

What? Obviously, this picture ought to come BEFORE the Passover/Exodus. I must have gotten them out of order. Well, that's OK, we'll fix it when we put them up put next year.

High up on a mountain, Moses sees something very strange: a bush on fire - but the bush is not consumed by the fire! Then he hears the voice:

"Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. ... I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob."

(And in our gospel-tuned minds, we hear that Carpenter's Son, demolishing the famous "seven brothers" riddle of the Sadducees: "And as for the resurrection, He is NOT the God of the dead, but the God of the living! You are very much mistaken.")

Behold! Here is a great revelation: Not "I was the God..." but "I amthe God..." Sure, there's a pun, as God knows exactly what Moses is about to ask ("When they ask, who sent me, what am I to tell them?") And God is setting up the most amazing joke of all, as he blows away all the silly philosophers (like Hamlet) who dabble in the discussion of non-being. ("Tell them, 'I AM' sent you.") And some three thousand years later, there still are philosophers who don't get the joke. Oh, you're bothered by my bringing up jokes at such a serious moment? Too bad. Here's Chesterton on that:
...we shall never understand the French until we understand that this wit of theirs is not mere wit, as we mean the word. In fact, this can be very simply seen by noticing the connotation of the word for wit in the two languages. What we call wit they callesprit - spirit. When they want to call a man witty, they call himspirituel. They actually use the same word for wit which they use for the Holy Ghost.
[GKC Lunacy and Letters 84]
Ahem! To resume:

We should here recall that some other writer (I forget whom) hints that the bush-that-burns-without-being-consumed is a "type" for Mary, who would conceive and bear a son while remaining a virgin. Of course there are other connections which I am sure will not be lost on those who are following our little Jesse-stations through Advent.

First, the one God Himself hints at: Abraham and Isaac! (Go back and look for that picture.) But here, we see the Sacrifice-Who-Is-Also-The-Priest - for the Bush and the Fire are one, as they will be on Calvary.

There is also the prefiguring of the Pillar of Fire (now we see my mixup has been fortuitous!) which will lead the Israelites through the night away from Egypt: here Moses sees, as it were, the flames of all the centuries of Paschal candles: the Light Eternal Who is God (as John wrote in the first chapter of his Gospel, and as we declare in the Creed: "God from God, light from light, true God from true God") yet also physical light (Yes: E = hn - the first of all created beings - see the first of these images!) It was the light of the bush, after all, which beckoned to Moses, demonstrating light as a fundamental means of communication (Shall we not then add: "Fiber optics and lasers, praise the Lord, give glory and eternal praise to Him.")

But we also see the Tree: the wood of man's defeat shall become the Cross of victory. [See the Preface of the Holy Cross] Do you know that the devils in Hell fear the Cross? It was the sign of their defeat. And look! How strange. There it is, on our computer keyboards! Will someone someday protest as they did about its appearance on the soles of hiking boots? Will they also try to depose the ampersand which holds the same allusion (a fancy script of the Latin et = "and"), and perhaps one day the letter "T" itself? But how strange is the mystery alluded to by these symbols, for the plus-sign which unites in addition is indeed a token of the Cross, which links again heaven to earth - that mightiest of all bridges. It was without doubt an inspired wisdom of Pagan Rome that gave their high priest the name "Pontifex Maximus" - the Greatest Bridge-Builder". (And now this is a title of the Pope.)

Finally, with this talk of the bridge (a burning bridge?) it calls to my mind Jacob's Ladder, but seen, as it were, head-on, so that not the passageway, but its destination, is made visible.

lunedì, dicembre 08, 2014

The Ark of the Covenant

Whoops! We interrupt this Advent for a Solemnity! Intone the Gloria! Ring the bells! Get out the white vestments!

Today, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, is exactly nine months before September 8, the birthday of Mary. It is a dogma of the Church that Mary was conceived without Original Sin, in view of the sacrifice that her Son made on Calvary.

And so today's Jesse Tree image is of the Ark of the Covenant. (That is, the ark of Moses, which is really the second ark - the first was that of Noah.)

"As the visions during the night continued, I, John, saw God's temple in heaven open, and in it could be seen the Ark of the Covenant."

Moses brought the Law (scribed on two stone tablets) down from Mount Sinai. He also brought the detailed specs on how to build a certain wooden box, to be lined inside and out with gold, and ornamented with cherubim, and how it was to be handled, and so forth.

But what did John see? The wooden box lined with gold, containing the two stone tablets and a sample of the manna, and the rod of Aaron? Or was it something else?

One of the titles of Mary in the amazing list called the "Litany of Loretto" is "Ark of the Covenant". She, too, was planned by God in advance. She, too, was made of what we might call "the material of failure" - made in the same form as the failed human family from which she came (just as the ark of Moses was wood, symbolizing failure) BUT with an important difference: she was all-pure, and "full of grace" as the angel told her (just as the ark of Moses was lined with gold inside and out).
Like the ark of Noah, the ark of Moses was built according to a plan. Despite its much smaller size, the ark of Moses had a rather more detailed plan. And the new, one-celled Ark, hidden in the womb of Anna, was far smaller, and far more complex - and far more holy. For the ark of Moses contained only the Law of God, and a sample of the bread of God. But Mary the New Ark was readied to contain the God Who gave that law, and He Who would one day give His very own flesh as bread for the life of the world. (Note that last word is kosmosin Greek!)

It's funny how even some Catholics get the details of this date confused, forgetting that nine months before Christmas is the Great Solemnity of the Annunciation, which was once New Year's (Even, as Tolkien told us, in the Kingdom of Gondor, the day that the Ring went into the fire!) Interestingly, that feast often interrupts Lent, just as this feast interrupts Advent. (Every so often, however, due to a special case which is the height of good system design, the celebration of the Annunciation is displaced until after Divine Mercy Sunday; my mother used to say those years Jesus was a preemie, hee hee.) But it is funny when I hear someone confusing "Immaculate Conception" as if it applied to Jesus - I wonder, for it's almost as if they don't know about the human gestation period (nominally 278 days)...

This feast of the Immaculate Conception, held up as a sign against those who deny the personhood of prenatal humanity; its splendor is still being explored and revealed. In doing so, not only will be drawn more to the praise of these wonders of God, and to love for Him, but we will have a greater love and respect for our neighbors who share in the same humanity... For as often as we do it to one of our least brothers, it is as if we did it to Him.

domenica, dicembre 07, 2014

Advent: Week 2 Day 1

Moses: The Passover and the Crossing of the Red Sea

The Passover
(The usual Jesse Tree symbol is the lamb.)

"You shall eat it on the fourteenth day of the moon; slaughter the lamb in the evening twilight; you shall splash the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintels of your doors. You shall eat it with unleavened bread. You shall eat it standing, ready as if for a journey... This is the Passover of the Lord, for I shall go forth, executing judgement on the gods of the Egyptians; all their first-born shall die. You shall keep this feast as a perpetual remembrance, for on this night I shall lead you out of Egypt."

Who can comment on this properly? Where is the great song, the epic, which expresses it better than its original words? Behold! the great rescue of an entire people, its memory bound into and perpetuated by a ritual sacrificial meal, which in its inception was an anticipation, occurring before the dramatic event itself. Detail after detail, restriction and rule and formula and command: in gigantic letters something was being written, but the Israelites could not read it then. They stood there, eating nervously, while outside the first moon of spring was full, and a strange something began to work; yet while the screams of the doomed began, they took courage behind their blood-spattered doors.

And in the morning, they rose to a new freedom.

The Crossing of the Red Sea
(The usual Jesse Tree symbol is the pillar of fire.)

"And God said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand over the water.' And God swept the sea with a strong east wind. Meanwhile the column of fire, which had led the Israelites, now went to their rear, and blocked the way between them and the Egyptians in pursuit.... And the Israelites went through the sea, with the water like a WALL TO THEIR RIGHT AND TO THEIR LEFT. ... God said to Moses, 'stretch out your hand again.' And the water flowed back to its previous depths. And the Israelites saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And they sang a canticle of triumph to God!"

Note: in the old version of the Easter Vigil,there was a very artisticsubito implied at the very end of this reading from Exodus, which wasimmediately followed by the Canticle which they sang (also in Exodus). (In the Latin the reading ends with a colon!) That is art done right.

Here the boldest water-theme since the creation and the Flood, both rescuing and destroying. Fire and water. Again, like the feast of unleavened bread, something large, something significant: but something mysterious, and demanding a larger explanation. Something was written there, but no one could read it.

Again, how can one not think about Easter at this time of year? The great candle, the fire, the water - again the water divides, as in the Second Day of Creation.

Then there is the Lamb... "Father where is the Lamb for the Sacrifice?" "God will provide." Perhaps some four hundred or more years afterwards, the descendants of Abraham begin offering the spotless lamb on 14 Nisan, the full moon of spring...

The lamb, unleavened bread, fire and water, and a great escape...

"Let us sing to the Lord, for He is covered in glory..."

sabato, dicembre 06, 2014

Advent: Week 1 Day 7

Another duplex: the rest of Joseph's story and Jacob blesses Judah

Upper left: Joseph feeds his family

Here we see the prophecy of Joseph's dream fulfilled: his brothers come and bow down before him! (See yesterday for more about this.) In the background, the workers come with the food supplies Joseph gives to his family. It is a very touching scene, for Joseph, instead of gloating and rejecting them, weeps bitterly. "I am your brother, Joseph! Is my father still alive?"
My aunt told me an of an old Italian proverb, which translates as "the blood calls". This time, we see Joseph (son of Jacob) not as Joseph-the-Carpenter, but as Jesus, rejected by His "brothers" (all mankind!) yet sent to rescue His family from starvation! He indeed feeds us from His bounty, and weeps when He sees us, coming pitifully and fearfully, to bow before Him. "I am your Brother!" He tells us. "Come forward, and I will give you what you need."

We should here note that eventually Jacob and the whole clan move to Egypt; it ought to be recalled that Jacob had another name, Israel - so his children are called the Israelites.

Lower right: Jacob, about to die, blesses Judah.

Some time later, Jacob and all his descendants now live in Egypt. Jacob pronounces his farewell (a verbal last will) to each of his sons... Judah, though not the oldest, and not even the hero of the rescue, receives a dramatic blessing, which I will quote in full, as it reveals the next step on the ladder coming down from heaven (see yesterday's entry!):

"Juda is a lion's whelp: to the prey, my son, thou art gone up: resting thou hast couched as a lion, and as a lioness, who shall rouse him? The sceptre shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till he come that is to be sent, and he shall be the expectation of nations. Tying his foal to the vineyard, and his ass, O my son, to the vine. He shall wash his robe in wine, and his garment in the blood of the grape. His eyes are more beautiful than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk." [Genesis 49:9-12, emphasis added]

Here is the next phrase of the great prophecy: The one who is to come, the ruler, will come from the tribe of Judah! (A friend tells me that this is the origin to which "Aslan" of the Narnia tales of C. S. Lewis may be traced.)

On the back of my old beat-up paperback edition of Chesterton's The Everlasting Man it says: "More thrilling than any detective story." And it is - but so is the Bible. (This is to be expected, the Bible is merely the story of the Everlasting Man, Jesus Christ.) Here, with these words from Jacob to Judah, we have the next clue in the Great Story - which, as Chesterton remarks, happens to be a true story (one that actually happened!) Whenever I hear that verse from "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" that says "The hopes and fears of all the years" I think of this strange, slow working out of clues and details down through millennia. We look at the Hebrew people and see this as referring to them. But wasn't Egypt an important part, too? Sure it was - that strange long strip of green along the Nile, with strange grandiose architecture and some 5,000 years of recorded history. And so were other races and peoples, in varying degrees, which we do not have time to explore at present. (My use of the word "tribe", however, is a clue to one other race whom we shall hear more about, and which like Egypt played a major role in this story, perhaps even a greater one than Egypt!) But with Joseph and the transfer of the Israelites to Egypt, the scene was set for one of the singularly great events in history, which we see tomorrow, and which has been remembered with high ritual for over three thousand years.

venerdì, dicembre 05, 2014

Advent: Week 1 Day 6

Isaiah's Petition

"Oh, that You would tear the heavens open and come down... to make known Your Name, to work such miracles as no one has ever heard of before."

Isaiah is one of the longest books of the Bible - so long that it has been explained as having been written by two (or three) different Isaiahs. Every time I hear this witless little gem from some dusty doctorate, I think of that show with Bob Newhart: "Hello. I'm Larry and this is my brother Darryl and my my other brother Darryl." But the wonder of this book is the large collection of amazing and wonderful details about Jesus - so many, and so linked to the Gospels that this book is sometimes called the Gospel of the Old Testament. 

It is the book of Advent: "a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel (the name means God with us)."

It is the book of Christmas: "the people who walked in darkness have see a great light; a child is born for us, a son is given us, on him dominion rests." It opens with the ox and the ass, it talks of those who will come from the East bearing gold and frankincense. "For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising.

It is the book of the Passion: "like a lamb he was led to the slaughter, and he opened not his mouth." It has that horrifying painting of Jesus on Calvary which is read on Good Friday: "Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted."

It is the book of Holy Saturday and Easter: "Go, my people, enter into thy chambers, shut thy doors upon thee, hide thyself a little for a moment, until the indignation pass away. For behold the Lord will come out of his place, to visit the iniquity of the inhabitant of the earth against him: and the earth shall disclose her blood, and shall cover her slain no more. ... In that day there shall be singing to the vineyard of pure wine."

It is the book of the Holy Spirit: "And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord..."

Indeed! sometimes sounds so much like Jesus: "All you that thirst, come to the waters: and you that have no money make haste, buy, and eat: come ye, buy wine and milk without money, and without any price."

If there is one book of the Bible that really should be read during Advent, it is Isaiah. Try it. You will be impressed - you don't need to know how to conjugate semitic verbs or anything - you can see for yourself this treasure-house of expectation and longing... 

Yes: Isaiah - just like a kid, waiting for Christmas.

giovedì, dicembre 04, 2014

Advent: Week 1 Day 5

Two dreams: Jacob's and Joseph's...

Upper left: Jacob's Ladder (or staircase?)

Jacob (grandson of Abraham) has a dream - somehow I recall it as happening at a point where he was to make (or had just made) a critical decision in his life... And now he sees the Great Passageway, where even angels fear to tread! Why do I say this? Hey, any angel in Heaven has GOT to have a bit of trepidation thinking about going DOWN, whew! (Yeah, I know, angels don't get scared, though GKC had a very interesting speculation about angels and fear; I will post it below.) As a computer scientist, I find this vision particularly significant, for here we see that the communications channel is bi-directional: messages may travel in both directions. (The word angelis just the English version of the Greek word for "messenger"!) Jacob doesn't realize it at the time, but he himself will form part of an even greater staircase, by which not angels, but GOD HIMSELF will one day come down to earth.

Lower right: Joseph's Dream

Jacob had a big family. Joseph was number 11 among 12 boys (yeah they had sisters too; I forget the names - hey, talk about trivia, try to list the brothers!) Jacob liked Joseph and got him a coat of many colours (which gets translated differently in some versions), and the favoritism bothered the other brothers, especially when Joseph had a dream about how the sun and moon and eleven stars knelt before him - and then went and told his brothers about it! It was really a prophecy, and you remember what happened afterwards... Joseph became Number Two reporting to the Pharaoh, and by his Divinely inspired foresight, was able to save a whole nation from starvation. Not only that, Joseph saved his family, too, and they DID come and bow before him! The Lord made him ruler of his house ("Pharaoh" is ancient Egyptian for "great house", an honorific title of their ruler) and gave him charge over all His possessions... And thus Joseph foreshadowed another Joseph, a distant nephew, who would have charge over the Everlasting Bread: the Bread given into his charge in Bethlehem, the House-of-Bread. (We'll see more on this later on.)

Please note: all my other blogging is suspended, in order that I may focus on each image, and you may also. Do you not love the word "focus"? You should. It is the Latin word meaning "hearth"... and this season ought to remind us of the Family. GKC explains: "The truth is that only men to whom the family is sacred will ever have a standard or a status by which to criticise the state. They alone can appeal to something more holy than the gods of the city; the gods of the hearth." [GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:275] This quote is a strong indication of the influence on GKC of Pope Leo XIII's document Rerum Novarum, which I mentioned elsewhere in this blogg (in the post on Subsidiarity).

And that reminds me, I said I would tell you about GKC and the angels who were fearful. Oddly enough, it was the GOOD angels, back when they were getting ready for the heavenly battle (or are they still?) Here's the quote:

"...what, for instance, can be the basis of objecting to peacocks' feathers?"
Crundle was replying with a joyful roar that it was some infernal rubbish or other, when Gale, who had quickly slipped into a seat beside the man called Noel, interposed in a conversational manner.
"I fancy I can throw a little light on that. I believe I found a trace of it in looking at some old illuminated manuscripts of the ninth or tenth century. There is a very curious design, in a stiff Byzantine style, representing the two armies preparing for the war in heaven. But St. Michael is handing out spears to the good angels; while Satan is elaborately arming the rebel angels with peacocks' feathers."
Noel turned his hollow eyes sharply in the direction of the speaker. "That is really interesting," he said; "you mean it was all that old theological notion of the wickedness of pride?"
"Well, there's a whole peacock in the garden for you to pluck," cried Crundle in his boisterous manner, "if any of you want to go out fighting angels."
"They are not very effective weapons," said Gale gravely, "and I fancy that is what the artist in the Dark Ages must have meant. There seems to me to be something that rather hits the wrong imperialism in the right place, about the contrast in the weapon; the fact that the right side was arming for a real and therefore doubtful battle, while the wrong side was already, so to speak, handing out the palms of victory. You cannot fight anybody with the palms of victory."
[GKC, The Poet and the Lunatics, "The House of the Peacock"; emphasis added]

mercoledì, dicembre 03, 2014

Advent: Week 1 Day 4

Here we have Abraham in two different scenes: 

Abraham and the Covenant (upper left)

Here is depicted the mystical vision in which God instructs Abraham to take certain animals and sacrifice them, dividing them in two, then God sends His light (a firey lantern) between the divided parts. That ritual enacted the covenant as an ancient contract sealed in blood; it hints at a future covenant to be sealed in God's own blood: blood of Abraham's perfect descendant. "More numerous than the sands of the seashore, or than the stars of the sky, so shall your descendants be: I swear by Myself; they will be My people, and I will be their God." 

Abraham and the Sacrifice of Isaac (lower right)

God orders Abraham to go to the Mount of Moriah and sacrifice Isaac, his only son. At the very last moment, God stops Abraham from the actual sacrifice... The young Isaac, carrying the wood up the hill suggests another Man carrying wood up the hill called Skull-Place (Calvary, or Golgotha). As they go up the hill Isaac asks, "Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?" and Abhraham answers "God will provide it." And surely, in God's good time, He does. Only that time, the sacrifice is not interrupted, despite the best efforts of the jeering Pharisees: "if you are the son of God, come down from that cross, and we will believe." But God was not fooled: He did sacrifice His only Son. 

It is said that Mount Moriah is an ancient name for the hill of Jerusalem.

martedì, dicembre 02, 2014

Advent: Week 1 Day 3

Today we have Noah's Ark, after the flood, with the rainbow. The Ark is a very important emblem, and we shall see it twice more on our Tree...

"And the dove vanished, and Noah and his family and all the animals of the ark went out. And Noah built an altar, and offered sacrifice.... And God said, 'See, I set my bow in the sky, to remind you of my promise...'"

The rainbow. I know the arc of the rainbow is terrible, and I forgot to check whether the colours progress correctly. It's a curious question: had there never been a rainbow before, or had no man ever noticed, or what? Why was THAT rainbow remembered differently? Or was it simply because it appeared THEN, and from that point on, this particular meteor was to serve as a sign of God's promise?

The Ark. The great box-like ship, about which God provided rather specific details - its size, what to make it from, its three decks, a door and a window. We'll see the second ark, for which God again gave detailed specs, in a few days. We do not get to hear the details of the third ark, but they are summarized in a brief sentence, and we shall see that one later on - only in the last century and a half or so have some of those amazing details been learned! Does the ark still exist? There are stories and reports of something strange on Mount Ararat, and it is something still to be investigated.

The Flood. Another something to be investigated; I will not attempt to explore the data now. It is another (third?) appearance of the "water theme" which recurs throughout the Bible, and about which I have written at length earlier in this blogg. The water, even as symbol, has so many uses (just as St. Francis tells us in his "Canticle of the Creatures"!) Here it cleanses, and so in that sense also rescues - though that is paradoxical - for Noah would have perished as well, if he had not obeyed God and built the Ark - perished, not from the Flood, but from the evils of Man, which is far, far worse. Hmm. Do you hear a itinerant carpenter saying something: "Better for him to have a great millstone tied around his neck and thrown into the sea, then to be led astray..." But this good man - who was also a CARPENTER - cut down some trees, and built a big box and all but buried himself in a watery grave - and so rescued the whole world.

(Please remember I am paraphrasing, and not quoting; we are not doing a rigorous study but a kind of sketchy contemplation. Another way of looking at this schematic "Jesse Tree" is that these are the "mysteries" of an Old-Testament "rosary"...)

Sorry to digress just slightly, but this talk of the Flood suggests a hilarious Chesterton quote, which is not his own, but his good friend Mr. Belloc's, and I have to add it to give you something else to ponder, which the evolvers clearly haven't (or won't!): "...nobody needs to be told that in a flood fish live and cattle die. The question is, How soon do cattle turn into fish?" [quoted in GKC's The ThingCW3:310]

lunedì, dicembre 01, 2014

Advent: Week 1 Day 2

Advent: Week 1 Day 2

And the serpent tricked the woman... she ate of the forbidden fruit... and she gave it to her husband and he ate it. To the serpent, God said: "Therefore, you will crawl on your belly... I will put enmity between you and the Woman - 'she' will crush your head, and you will await 'her' heel..." To the woman, God said: "You will have pain in childbirth..." To the man, God said: "Cursed be the ground because of you! By the sweat of your brow will you eat... for you are dust and unto dust you shall return!" Then God stationed an angel with a firey sword at the gate to Eden... * * * (A warning: yes, the quotes are paraphrased out of memory! Yes I am also aware that there is some debate about the gender of the pronouns in the Protoevangelion.) Note that the serpent has wings and big eyes to stand for its cunning. It also has a little "arm" handing the "apple" to Eve - on the left. (If it had been a bigger picture, there would have been legs as well.) Two bites because both ate from it. Why is it an "apple"? My own guess is this is a Latin pun, for malum = "apple" but also "evil"! But I drew the traditional picture, for every Jesse Tree ought to have a (partially eaten) "apple" on it! Note also that the Christmas red and green appear in Eden - for there was the first revelation of Christmas. Hmmm.. It's funny to think that Christmas was revealed in the condemnation of the serpent... Oh happy fault! Oh necessary sin of Adam! that won for us so great a Redeemer! - how can we not think about Easter at this time of year???

domenica, novembre 30, 2014

Advent: Week 1 Day 1

Starting from today, which is the first day of Advent, I will post some material I have found on GKC's Favourite, an amazing blog run by Peter Floriani.

Advent: Week 1 Day 1

 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth... and it was very good!
 (This and subsequent images are from my "Jesse Tree" wall display, made way back in 1986.) Note: You read this one starting at the top, and going clockwise. The seventh day is the day of rest and so is not pictured. Yes, the wedge for "Light" has three equations in its center; another version might use the Maxwell equations - no doubt both sets are needed, and probably several more, but that gets too cluttered. Someday, perhaps, we'll know more, and make a more fitting design. Also note, I did not choose these pictures to debate "how" it started but to proclaim that God indeed started it!

martedì, novembre 25, 2014

In praise of the logos

In praise of the logos:

It's Stoic Week 2014. This article is an adapted extract from the new issue of The Idler Magazine. The organisers of Stoic Week will be publishing it on their blog alongside a response from someone who disagrees.

Ancient Stoics believed that life was grounded in a benign principle they called the logos. Logos is one of those Greek words that can be translated in numerous ways, as word or reason, discourse or principle, law or activity, allure or attraction.

The earliest extended Stoic text to survive the centuries is a hymn to Zeus, penned by Cleanthes, the second head of the Stoic school. He praises the high god for the logos that "moves through all creation". He celebrates it as the wellspring of unity, direction, meaning, purpose. Suffering, he argues, arises from refusing the logos. Ignorance of its workings leads men and women into all manner of false hopes and expectations – the pursuit of fame and fortune, of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Troubles resolve themselves in the letting go inherent in learning to follow the logos.

It's worth reading this hymn in full, not only because it is the Stoic document closest to the founder, but because it conveys the crucial dimension of ancient Stoicism that, sadly to my mind, is ripped out today.

Most glorious of the immortals, invoked by many names, ever all-powerful,
Zeus, the First Cause of Nature, who rules all things with Law,

It is right for mortals to call upon you,
since from you we have our being, we whose lot it is to be God's image,
we alone of all mortal creatures that live and move upon the earth.
Accordingly, I will praise you with my hymn and ever sing of your might.

The whole universe, spinning around the earth,
goes wherever you lead it and is willingly guided by you.
So great is the servant which you hold in your invincible hands,
your eternal, two-edged, lightning-forked thunderbolt.

By its strokes all the works of nature came to be established,
and with it you guide the universal Logos of Reason which moves through all creation,
mingling with the great sun and the small stars.

O God, without you nothing comes to be on earth,
neither in the region of the heavenly poles, nor in the sea,
except what evil men do in their folly.
But you know how to make extraordinary things suitable,
and how to bring order forth from chaos; and even that which is unlovely is lovely to you.
For thus you have joined all things, the good with the bad, into one,
so that the eternal Logos of all came to be one.

This Logos, however, evil mortals flee, poor wretches;
though they are desirous of good things for their possession,
they neither see nor listen to God's universal Law;
and yet, if they obey it intelligently, they would have the good life.

But they are senselessly driven to one evil after another:
some are eager for fame, no matter how godlessly it is acquired;
others are set on making money without any orderly principles in their lives;
and others are bent on ease and on the pleasures and delights of the body.
They do these foolish things, time and again,
and are swept along, eagerly defeating all they really wish for.

O Zeus, giver of all, shrouded in dark clouds and holding the vivid bright lightning,
rescue men from painful ignorance.
Scatter that ignorance far from their hearts.
and deign to rule all things in justice.
so that, honored in this way, we may render honor to you in return,
and sing your deeds unceasingly, as befits mortals;
for there is no greater glory for men
or for gods than to justly praise the universal Logos. 
To put it another way, ancient Stoics did not believe that it is possible to live contentedly by ignoring what you can't control, as Stoicism is sometimes interpreted today. They did not presume that those most human of feelings, fear and anger, are simply our personal choices, to be turned off and on by some trained trick of the will. They saw that life can gradually be re-ordered to serve a deeper, divine imperative that runs through all things. Let go into that fundamental goodness, and whatever happens will ultimately be shaped after its beneficent, magnificent pattern. It's a commitment of faith to a changed perception of life, not a commitment to reprogramming aimed at a personality adjustment, again as Stoicism can sometimes seem by its modern advocates.

It was a question of knowing the divine in nature through felt experience as much as reasoned argument. Hence, Seneca, speaks of intuiting the presence of God in nature.

If ever you have come upon a grove that is full of ancient trees which have grown to an unusual height, shutting out a view of the sky by a veil of intertwining branches, then the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, and your marvel at the thick unbroken shade in the midst of the open spaces, will prove to you the presence of deity. If a cave, made by the deep crumbling of the rocks, holds up a mountain on its arch, a place not built with hands but hollowed out into such spaciousness by natural causes, your soul will be deeply moved by a certain intimation of the existence of God.
Seneca also seems to have felt he had a relationship with God. "God is near you, he is with you, he is within you... a holy spirit indwells within us, one who marks our good and bad deeds, and is our guardian." Philosophy is nothing if not a promise that we can know the deity, and not primarily by our efforts but because God wills to be known to us. In another letter, he writes: "God comes to men; nay, he comes nearer, – he comes into men. No mind that has not God, is good. Divine seeds are scattered throughout our mortal bodies; if a good husbandman receives them, they spring up in the likeness of their source and of a parity with those from which they came. If, however, the husbandman be bad, like a barren or marshy soil, he kills the seeds, and causes tares to grow up instead of wheat."

Epictetus, too, had a powerful sense of God in his life. This is important to note because it is often from Epictetus that contemporary Stoics lift injunctions about how to live, though leaving the crucially divine setting behind - the metaphysical big picture that is required to make full sense of how we response to what happens. We are "children of Zeus", he says, before addressing God as father in prayer, acknowledging God's omnipresence, and God as the source and sustainer of our life. Indeed, our life is but a reflection of God's life, which is why it makes sense to let go of our own striving and trust life: "If our souls are so bound up with God and joined together with Him, as being parts and portions of His being, does not God perceive their every motion as being a motion of that which is His own and of one body with Himself?" Knowing this fact in every moment of our lives is what secures the Stoic promise of tranquility and freedom. "You are a fragment of God; you have within you a part of Him. Why, then, are you ignorant of your own kinship? Why do you not know the source from which you have sprung? Will you not bear in mind, whenever you eat, who you are that eat, and whom you are nourishing? Whenever you indulge in intercourse with women, who you are that do this? Whenever you mix in society, whenever you take physical exercise, whenever you converse, do you not know that you are nourishing God, exercising God? You are bearing God about with you, you poor wretch, and know it not!" He adds: "Remember never to say that you are alone, for you are not alone; nay, God is within, and your own genius is within."

Our task in life is not only to know the divinity in the sinews of our being, in every breath we take, but also to fulfill our part in God's purposes. This engages us in a struggle that is personal, not mechanical; there is a moral element of choice about how we might live, and struggle with yourself as well as with discerning the divine around and about, within and before. We are interpreters of God's world and witnesses of God's work. In a climactic celebration of Stoic life, Epictetus declares:

Why, if we had sense, ought we to be doing anything else, publicly and privately, than hymning and praising the Deity, and rehearsing His benefits? Ought we not, as we dig and plough and eat, to sing the hymn of praise to God? ‘Great is God, that He hath furnished us these instruments wherewith we shall till the earth. Great is God, that He hath given us hands, and power to swallow, and a belly, and power to grow unconsciously, and to breathe while asleep.’ This is what we ought to sing on every occasion, and above all to sing the greatest and divinest hymn, that God has given us the faculty to comprehend these things and to follow the path of reason. What then? Since most of you have become blind, ought there not to be someone to fulfill this office for you, and in behalf of all sing the hymn of praise to God? Why, what else can I, a lame old man, do but sing hymns to God? If, indeed, I were a nightingale, I should be singing as a nightingale; if a swan, as a swan. But as it is, I am a rational being, therefore I must be singing hymns of praise to God. This is my task; I do it, and will not desert this post, as long as it may be given me to fill it; and I exhort you to join me in this same song. 
Knowing that there is a God is, therefore, the first thing a Stoic must learn. Theology is not an optional extra for a few die-hard theists. It is the very heart and resting place of the Stoic view. Epictetus again:

(Stoicism)says that the first thing we must learn is this: That there is a God, and that He provides for the universe, and that it is impossible for a man to conceal from Him, not merely his actions, but even his purposes and his thoughts. Next we must learn what the gods are like, for whatever their character is discovered to be, the man who is going to please and obey them must endeavour as best he can to resemble them. If the deity is faithful, he also must be faithful; if free, he also must be free; if beneficent, he also must be beneficent; if high-minded, he also must be high-minded, and so forth; therefore, in everything he says and does, he must act as an imitator of God. 
Today, it is religious scholars of the ancient world who understand this essential aspect of Stoicism and aren't embarrassed to write about it. In his recent book on St Paul, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, NT Wright summarizes Stoicism, observing: "Once one has this knowledge, one is ready for the philosopher’s specific active vocation: to be dispatched like a scout or a spy in a time of war, to search out what is really going on, and then to come back and explain to people that they are mistaken in their perceptions of good and evil, and to point out the truth of the situation whether people want to hear it or not. Philosophers... are to be like owls who see in the dark – and then like heralds who announce the message with which they have been entrusted."

I've laboured the point about the theology, and included several key texts, because this is what you will miss if you read most introductions to Stoicism today. To be frank, I think it is dishonest to sideline the divine foundations. It turns Stoicism into an atmosphere without air, a sea without water. Such reductionism is doubly misleading when it comes to Stoicism because the Stoics prided themselves on their rational approach to life that adds up because all its different parts link together - physics, ethics and metaphysics. Drop one element and they felt you are on the way to losing the lot.

That, I fear, is what today's atheistic interpreters of Stoicism risk doing today. Unfounded and ungrounded, Stoicism loses its promise, its efficacy, and its divine energy.

martedì, novembre 18, 2014

Un aforisma al giorno (mai abbastanza compreso, pensato, fatto nostro)

Un aforisma al giorno (mai abbastanza compreso, pensato, fatto nostro):

Nessun uomo ha veramente misurato la vastità del debito verso quel qualsiasi essere che l'ha creato e che lo ha reso capace di chiamarsi qualcosa. Dietro il nostro cervello, per così dire, v'era una vampa o uno scoppio di sorpresa per la nostra stessa esistenza: scopo della vita artistica e spirituale era di scavare questa sommersa alba di meraviglia, cosicché un uomo seduto su una sedia potesse comprendere all'improvviso di essere veramente vivo, ed essere felice.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Autobiografia

sabato, novembre 15, 2014

sabato, novembre 08, 2014

sabato, novembre 01, 2014

Wan Bao

Wan Bao:

Wan Bao concspt art

Wan Bao is a concept artist based in Shanghai. Beyond that, I know little of his professinal credits.

His website divides his work into “Environment”, “Chinese Style” and “Practice”. As is often the case with concept artists, I find much the work in his practice or personal section even more compelling than his professional work, in that he is free to let his imagination run wild without the restraint of the requirements for a particular project (images above, top, with detail).

He has a nice touch with atmospheric and linear perspective, which he uses to advantage in his images of huge futuristic cities and towering structures.

He also has a gallery on deviantART.

giovedì, ottobre 30, 2014

Scovato da Nancy Carpentier Brown, ecco cosa vi proponiamo...

Scovato da Nancy Carpentier Brown, ecco cosa vi proponiamo...:

Si tratta della partitura "illustrata" del canto How far is it to Bethlehem? il cui testo è stato scritto da Frances Blogg sposata Chesterton, la moglie del nostro caro Gilbert.

E' originale di quei giorni, come vedete.

Di questo canto abbiamo parlato anche altrove, grazie alla nostra cara Nancy Carpentier Brown, elemento di spicco del braccio di Chicago della American Chesterton Society, che abbiamo avuto modo di conoscere lo scorso settembre, avendoci invitato ad uno dei loro raduni chestertoniani in uno splendido pub alle porte di Chicago, con tanto di pelle d'orso e testa di bisonte appese ai muri!

Trovate altre belle tracce qui e qui. Nancy sta lavorando molto sulla persona di Frances, di cui non si è ancora detto abbastanza, e la ringraziamo per questo.

mercoledì, ottobre 29, 2014


Una storia americana che non riesco a commentare tanto è il senso di sgomento e inadeguatezza che provo. O sono io ad essere ormai superato da questi bagliori di nuovo mondo, oppure la psicologia degli appartenenti al mondo militare americano richiede interventi in profondità , così come il trattamento economico della truppa.

Faccio precedere questo post da ben tre collegamenti con articoli di giornali americani sull’argomento perché , a mio avviso, questa notizia ha dell’incredibile e la nostra cultura europea ci porterebbe a pensare che si tratta di uno scherzo.

L’ultimo dato statistico USA disponibile sulle madri surrogate è del 2008 e ci dice che vi furono in tutto il paese 1400 gestazioni per conto terzi.

Una ricerca sui casi di madri surrogate ( le donne che affittano a pagamento l’utero a terzi che non vogliono o non possono avere una gestazione classica) ha rivelato che una alta percentuale di queste persone – dal 19 al 50% – sono mogli di militari in missione e che lo fanno ” per arrotondare lo stipendio e anche per dare un figlio alla Patria”.

Cosa spinge queste persone pare sia il fatto che una famiglia raddoppia i suoi proventi. Ai 30.000 dollari annui dello stipendio del marito , si aggiungono i trentamila che vengono dall’affitto dell’utero della moglie. C’è chi ha calcolato che, a questi prezzi, una gestazione completa costa tre dollari l’ora.

Una seconda motivazione dice che la signora con questo sistema riesce a stare a casa per accudire i figli invece di andare al lavoro.

A ben vedere c’è una sorta di tragico contrappasso in questo: lui guadagna uccidendo, lei creando una nuova vita.

Lui viene visto come un eroe, lei come una poco di buono.

La parte più aberrante di questo fenomeno è la protesta di chi dice che la puerpera froda lo stato godendo dell’assistenza sanitaria gratuita mentre in realtà sta sta facendo un affare privato e quindi non dovrebbe godere delle cure gratuite, ma accollarsi il costo produttivo di reddito imponibile.

Una fiera delle aridità .

Come può un popolo del genere aspirare a dettare codici etici al resto del mondo? Come fanno a non rendersene conto?

Il solo comportamento moralmente ancora più discutibile è quello dei giornalisti che non scrivono o commentano queste notizie.

Fatele girare voi.


domenica, ottobre 26, 2014

giovedì, ottobre 23, 2014

Così Giovanni Reale svelava tutti gli enigmi del Simposio

Così Giovanni Reale svelava tutti gli enigmi del Simposio:

È scomparso Giovanni Reale. Per ricordarlo pubblichiamo una sua intervista con Giancarlo Bosetti uscita su Repubblica nel febbraio del 2005.

Diceva Werner Jaeger, il grande grecista tedesco, che nessuna parola umana e nessuna analisi critica possono rendere giustizia alla suprema perfezione artistica del Simposio. Ma questo non ha mai spaventato Giovanni Reale che su quelle pagine di Platone è tornato tante volte nella sua vita, traducendole, commentandole, portandole in teatro, disseminando per ogni genere di collezione, tascabile o accademica, i suoi saggi e le sue annotazioni alle parole del filosofo.

L’amore è un enigma per tutti i mortali, ma nel Simposio, bestseller più che bimillenario (fu scritto in un anno imprecisato intorno al 370 a.C.), l’enigma diventa un labirinto giocoso di enigmi, popolato di maschere, di messaggi cifrati, di allusioni, di scambi di ruolo, di teorie false presentate per vere e di vere camuffate da false. C’è da perdersi come in un ballo in maschera in cui non si sa più chi è chi e che cosa, se non si dispone di una guida come Giovanni Reale; il quale nel labirinto abita stabilmente con la dimestichezza di un giardiniere che si occupi della manutenzione delle siepi e ne conosca tutti gli angoli. Con il suo aiuto allora vediamo di sciogliere una manciata di enigmi e di togliere la maschera a qualcuno dei personaggi. Chi voglia fare una visita completa dovrà andarlo a sentire in teatro oppure leggere il suo Eros dèmone mediatore (Rizzoli), dove ognuno dei personaggi del banchetto viene smascherato nella sua funzione scenica, poetica e filosofica.

Togliamo una prima maschera, Reale, quella di Pausania, il politico, quello che distingue tra Afrodite celeste e Afrodite terrestre, amore nobile e amore volgare, amore per gli uomini e per le donne.

«È il retore sofista alla moda, colui che spiega le regole della Atene-bene per l’amore comme il faut, formula per esteso il bon ton del corteggiamento, teorizza l’amore pederastico, che è alla base della cultura ateniese dell’epoca, quasi come una legge dello scambio: i favori della bellezza contro la sapienza e la virtù; il giovane conceda i suoi favori per diventare migliore. Ma gli risponderà alla fine del dialogo la scena d’amore (non consumato) tra Socrate e Alcibiade. Il secondo, bellissimo, giovane e potente, voleva. Il primo, sapiente e bruttissimo, no, si nega, e spiega: “Caro Alcibiade, se credevi di scambiare la bellezza straordinaria che vedi in me con la tua avvenenza fisica, tu pensavi di trarre vantaggio ai miei danni. In cambio dell’apparenza del bello, tu cerchi di guadagnarti la verità del bello, e veramente pensi di scambiare armi d’oro con armi di bronzo”.»

Le tesi di Pausania sono dunque ben presentate ma non accolte da Platone.

«Per Platone Eros e sapienza vanno congiunte ma in un modo differente. Pausania vuol mediare cose non mediabili in quel modo, perché l’Eros sessuale è solo il primo gradino della scala d’amore; l’Eros filosofico va molto più in alto fino a congiungersi con il Bello assoluto.»

E sciogliamo adesso un enigma. Perché Socrate arriva in ritardo al banchetto al punto che devono cominciare senza di lui?

«Socrate si ferma fuori della casa di Agatone perché riceve una ispirazione divina; arriverà a metà della cena, così come il suo discorso arriverà a metà delle pagine del Simposio. E l’ispirazione era indispensabile – andava rimarcata con il ritardo – perché in questo modo non è lui a confutare direttamente gli altri, distruggendone le idee. Potrà fingere di essere stato confutato lui stesso dalle idee che ha ricevuto attraverso l’ispirazione. Non è solo una questione di eleganza. Un contrasto così forte sarebbe stato dissacratore della sacralità del simposio, avrebbe introdotto una dialettica distruttiva, mentre il simposio deve essere una sinfonia.»

Questo è più Platone che Socrate.

«È infatti un Socrate ricreato; quello vero invece si faceva anche picchiare, per come era a volte urtante, ma Platone vuole che il simposio sia armonioso e che le sue idee passino attraverso mezzi poetici e delicati. E dunque impone a Socrate una doppia maschera.»

Perché doppia? Che cosa deve rappresentare Socrate?

«Socrate finge di fare sue le posizioni di Agatone, il poeta tragico, padrone di casa, reduce da una grande trionfo teatrale che il simposio ha appunto lo scopo di festeggiare. Il discorso di Agatone è purissima musica di parole, Eros è il più bello, il più felice, il più buono degli dèi, e reca una infinità di doni agli uomini, è una guida bellissima e bravissima che tutti devono seguire. Quando poi prenderà la parola Socrate, raccontando il suo incontro con la sacerdotessa Diotima di Mantinea, il gioco teatrale delle maschere farà sì che questa gli parli come se lui fosse Agatone. Ma lui a sua volta si rivolge ad Agatone come se fosse Diotima, mettendosi dunque questa seconda maschera. Per far passare, e trionfare, il suo celebre discorso (quello di Diotima) finge di essere stato confutato, si finge ambasciatore delle confutazioni.»

E il rovesciamento delle tesi di Agatone (come degli altri che spiegano quel che «l’amore non è») lascia il posto al celebre discorso di Socrate-Diotima sul quello che «l’amore è».

«Con la confutazione di Agatone, presentata come il discorso di una veggente, si entra un clima nuovo, si apre il sipario alla presentazione della Verità, veniamo iniziati ai misteri dell’amore, facciamo la conoscenza di Eros come dèmone mediatore, come quello che connette le cose e rende unitario l’essere. Non la bellezza ma la mancanza della bellezza, perché si ama e si desidera ciò che ci manca. Ed è un mito a spiegare la natura di Eros, figlio di Penia e di Poros, della povertà e dell’astuzia, un figlio “ruvido e irsuto e scalzo e senza asilo, che si sdraia sempre per terra, senza coperte, dorme a cielo scoperto davanti alle porte e sulle strade” per parte di madre; e “mirabile cacciatore, che intreccia sempre astuzie” per parte di padre.»

Abbiamo lasciato da parte un altro enigma, quello di Aristofane, uno dei banchettanti. Il suo discorso è quello del mito delle due metà, separate da Zeus. Perché un comico fa un discorso tanto importante nell’equilibrio del dialogo?

«Perché Platone così, ridendo, riesce a dire cose in cui credeva, evitando di essere deriso, perché protetto dalla maschera di Aristofane, la maschera del comico. Forse è questo il momento più magico del dialogo, quello in cui si spiega l’amore come il desiderio di ricongiungersi con l’altra metà. Gli esseri umani erano una unità androgina, che fu divisa in due da Zeus per punirla dei tentativi di assalire gli dèi. Il male nasce dalla divisione, dalla diade e il bene consiste nel cercare di superarla, di fare di due uno. L’amore è nostalgia dell’unità perduta.»

L’altra metà, una tesi anche molto romantica e moderna.

«E che spiega il desiderio di unità e fusione che c’è nella relazione amorosa, spiega come l’incontro degli amanti corrisponda al ritorno a qualche cosa di antico. Ma la forza della poesia filosofica consiste qui nel fatto che Platone allude in modo cifrato alle dottrine interne dell’Accademia, non segrete ma riservate alle comunicazioni verbali, non scritte: l’Uno causa del Bene, la Diade causa del Male. Platone ha due linguaggi: uno per tutti, e uno soltanto per quelli che seguivano le sue lezioni; quando in qualche occasione accettò di esporre a un grosso pubblico la sua dottrina dell’Essere tutti si aspettavano che, arrivato al nocciolo, dicesse che il bene è la bellezza e cose simili. Quando gli sentirono dire che il Bene è l’Uno – ce lo racconta Aristotele – raccolse reazioni di scherno. Quelle idee non sarebbero state bene accolte per molto tempo, fino a Plotino. Il gioco poetico delle maschere era dunque necessario a Platone e gli consentiva di rivelarsi attraverso il sublime, in un linguaggio che riesce a parlare anche agli innamorati di oggi.»

La nostalgia dell’unità perduta nel discorso di Aristofane produce un altro enigma. L’anima degli amanti, dice, parla per enigmi.

«Quando le due metà si ritrovano sono sopraffatte dall’intimità, dall’affetto, dall’amore, e non vogliono più separarsi l’uno dall’altro, neanche per un momento. Questa situazione si presenta come un grande interrogativo. Perché accade? Questo slancio così grande non si può spiegare con un infinito riproporsi dei piaceri amorosi. Spiega Aristofane-Platone: “È evidente che l’anima di ciascuno di essi desidera qualche altra cosa che non sa dire, eppure presagisce ciò che vuole e lo dice in forma di enigmi”. L’inseguimento dell’intero perduto continua indefinitamente, e guarda verso l’ulteriore, l’al di là, il trascendente. Eros porta con sé quest’altra domanda e insieme anche la speranza di un ricongiungimento, che ricostituisca la nostra natura antica e ci renda beati e felici. La sua natura di demone, di intermedio, dà a Eros la sua forza creatrice, lo spinge ad entrare in possesso del Bene per sempre.»

Ultimi due enigmi, almeno per il momento: quello che apre il Simposio e quello che lo chiude. L’inizio: il Simposio è un racconto di terza mano. Apollodoro, che al banchetto leggendario non c’è mai stato, racconta a un compagno di viaggio, Glaucone, quel che ha saputo anni prima da un vecchio amico di Socrate, Aristodemo, che c’era.

«Il significato è chiaro: le dottrine non scritte rischiano di essere tradite nella catena della trasmissione orale. Dunque Platone dice ai suoi: fate attenzione, i racconti vanno controllati, facendo delle verifiche, perché girano versioni lacunose e sbagliate persino su chi c’era e chi no. E poi il simposio viene collocato così in una dimensione leggendaria, come leggendaria è la figura del vincitore della competizione intellettuale: Socrate. Chi lo racconta era bambino all’epoca dei fatti. In questo modo Platone non inventa il banchetto ma lo ricrea trasfigurando qualche cosa di realmente avvenuto.»

E infine quella che lei chiama la «firma d’autore» nelle ultime righe.

«Socrate trionfante a notte fonda costringe Agatone, poeta tragico, e Aristofane, comico, ad ammettere che “è proprio dello stesso uomo il saper comporre commedie e tragedie, e che chi è poeta tragico per arte per arte è anche poeta comico”. I due ciondolavano la testa e crollarono per il sonno. Palesemente nessuno di loro sapeva fare entrambe le cose, uno solo comico, l’altro solo tragico. Con eleganza squisita, senza dirlo, Platone parlava della sua propria arte, della poesia filosofia fondata sul vero. O, se preferite, della vittoria di Apollo su Dioniso.»