Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Budding Musician

I am currently in the process of writing a research paper about the illustrious Johann Sebastian Bach and came across this story about him as a child. It's rather pleasing in a nerdy sort of way that I am able to recognize the names of two out of the three composers whose works were featured in the book of clavier pieces.

"The love of our little Johann Sebastian for music was uncommonly great even at this tender age. In a short time he had fully mastered all the pieces his brother [Johann Christoph Bach, an organist and former student of Pachelbel] had voluntarily given him to learn. But his brother possessed a book of clavier pieces by the most famous masters of the day-Froberger, Kerl, Pachelbel-and this, despite all his pleading and for who knows for what reason, was denied him. His zeal to improve himself thereupon gave him the idea of practicing the following innocent deceit. This book was kept in a cabinet whose doors consisted only of grillwork. Now, with his little hands he could reach through the grillwork and the roll the book up (for it had only a paper cover; accordingly, he would fetch the book out at night, when everyone had gone to bed and, since he was not even possessed of a light, copy it by moonlight. In six months' time he had these musical spoils in his own hands. Secetly and with extraordinary eagerness he was trying to put it to use, when his brother, to his great dismay, found out about it, and without mercy took away from him the copy he had made with such pains. We may gain a good idea of our little Johann Sebastian's sorrow over this loss by imagining a miser whose ship, sailing for Peru, had foundered with its cargo of a hundred thousand thaler. HE did not recover the book until after the death of his brother."

-From the Obituary of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Horse

"Do you give the horse his strength and endow his neck with splendor? Do you make the steed to quiver while his thunderous snorting spreads terror? He jubilantly paws the plain and rushes in his might against the weapons. He laughs at fear and cannot be deterred; he turns not back from the sword...Frenzied and trembling he devours the ground; he holds not back at the sound of the trumpet."
Job 39:19-25

Monday, October 4, 2010

On The Feast Of St. Francis Of Assisi

"I lean me against the Cross of Christ, and there I will fasten me." -St. Catherine of Siena

"The world shrinks from showing us the real Francis: a man drawn into the embrace of Crucified Love and marked by Love’s own wounds; a man who went about weeping uncontrollably and saying over and over, 'Love is not loved! Love is not Loved!'

The vocation of Saint Francis himself began with an image: the crucifix of the church of San Damiano. Speaking from that crucifix, Christ himself said, “Francis, go repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.” The vocation of Saint Francis was ratified when he himself became an image of Crucified Love, an icon written by the Holy Spirit in fire and in blood.

Thomas of Celano, Saint Francis’ first biographer, writes that, “In truth there appeared in him a true image of the cross and of the passion of the Lamb without blemish who washed away the sins of the world, for seemed as though he had been recently taken down from the cross, his hands and feet were pierced as though by nails and his side wounded as though by a lance” (First Life, 112). We become what we contemplate."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Two Heads Are Better Than One

Another Passage from C.S. Lewis' Introduction to St. Athanasius' "On The Incarnation."

"None of us can fully escape this [blindness of the twentieth century], but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about hte past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them."

On The Old Books

A Passage from the Introduction by C.S. Lewis to St. Athanasius' "On The Incarnation."

"There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about 'isms' and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.
This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Whenrever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself. Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why-the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed 'at' some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity ('mere Christianity'...) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one until you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. ..."