"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, August 30, 2019

In the Image of Saint Dominic: Nine Portraits of Dominican Life by Guy Bedouelle, O.P.

 Guy Bedouelle, O.P.’s compendium of portraits of Dominicans in In the Image of Saint Dominic: Nine Portraits off Dominican Life intends to capture the mural of Dominican spirituality through a collage of individual holy men and women who carry some aspect of the holy founder’s character.  “After eight centuries of Dominican life, with its glories and trials,” Bedouelle surmises, “we can see how the paternal figure of St. Dominic contains in germ different types of holiness that have been actualized in the course of history."  From its founder, then, all Dominicans are expressed.

Bedouelle limits himself to nine such expressions.  Nine is a special number for Dominicans.  The nine expressions echo the nine ways of prayer St. Dominic de Guzman created to move the body closer to Christ.  So each portrait moves us closer to Christ in the image of St. Dominic.

Whose portraits make up the nine?  Seven are men and two women.  Five are canonized and four are not.  Seven are first order Dominicans while two are tertiaries.  They span from the founding of the order in the early 13th century to mid-19th century, from the rapid blossoming of the order to the decline and then resurgence.  They span from contemplatives to writers to artists to preachers to social activists.  They span the breadth and rich complexity of this venerable order.

What are the charisms that compose St. Dominic’s character?  Given the Order of Preachers there is preaching, of course, as exemplified in Blessed Jordan of Saxony; there is the defense of the faith in St. Peter of Verona, the talent for study in St. Thomas Aquinas, the capacity for prayer in St. Catherine of Siena, the transmission of beauty in Blessed Fra Angelico, the struggle for social justice in Bartolomé de las Casas, the grace of mysticism in St. Catherine di Ricci, the love of humility in St. Martin de Porres, and the charm of friendship in Henri-Dominique Lacordaire.

Each portrait provides a brief biographical note, a brief historical context to the subject, and converges on the subject’s charism.  The operating word for what does not add to the charism is “brief,” because everything is focused on the subject and his charism.  Bedouelle ends each portrait with a passage from the Office of Readings and a short responsory pertaining to the subject.  It truly is a spiritual portrait and not a biographical passage.

The portraits that work best (Thomas Aquinas, de las Casas) crystalize the charism and capture the subject and his nature succinctly and elegantly.  Here on Aquinas:

"The 'dumb Ox' as his brethren nicknamed him, was notably taciturn and silent, 'eager at study and given to prayer' (in studio assiduous et in oratione devotus).  All were struck by the humility of this extraordinary mind. [Biographer William of] Tocco had this to say: 'He was aware that all his knowledge was God's gift; this is why no movement of vainglory could ever darken his soul, knowing as he did that each day he received the light of divine truth.’”

Portraits that don’t work as well don’t seem to find the succinct image and language that crystallizes both subject and charism.  The portrait of St. Peter of Verona seemed vague.  Another critique could be that holding to nine portraits left out some important charisms.  Noticeably absent is the charism on teaching per someone like St. Albert the Great and reflected in all the wonderful Dominican Sisters who taught and continue to teach in schools of all grade levels.

Still this is a wonderful book that provides insight to Dominican spirituality.  Bedouelle brings it all back to the founder.  “The calm but unmistakable authority of St. Dominic, his decisiveness, his way of leading by example rather than words, and above all the remarkable balance of the institutions he founded all witness to the discrete audacity that characterized his sanctity.”  From the root spring the branches, and from these nine branches the fruit of Dominican spirituality.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, Part 8

This is my eighth post on Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop

Part1 was on the landscape theme. 
Part 2 a photo essay of the New Mexican landscape.  
Part 3 a photo essay of the actual Cathedral referred to in the novel.  
Part 4 on the civilizing effect of Catholicism.  
Part 5 on the reform of the Church from the old order.  
Part 6 on the relationship with the indigenous people.  
Part 7 on the significance of the Cathedral.

This, my last post on Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop are some odd and ends from the conversation on the novel.

Kerstin says:
Beautiful Manny! You are teaching all of us how to pull together the different components of a novel, their connection, and how they are related to one another on a deeper level.

My Response:
Thank you Kerstin.  Of course a novel has to have those integrated components.  That’s one of the reasons I said Dante’s Divine Comedy is the greatest work of literature, the incredible degree of integration.  I found Death Comes to the Archbishop to be a fine work of art, not just because of the lovely writing but because of this integration.  Is a work of literature that is highly integrated a greater work than one that isn’t?  That’s debatable.  I would say it is, but I can see the argument against it.  For instance, Cather’s My Antonia is also a great work of literature, and I think slightly greater work (if one can create a pecking order among great works) than Death Comes for the Archbishop.  Now to my memory, I don’t think My Antonia is quite as integrated as this novel but yet I hold it higher esteem.  Why is that, I ask myself?

I think it comes down to a few minor deficiencies I’ve been attuned to in Death Comes for the Archbishop.  The one that sticks out at me is the story structure, or in a sense lack thereof.  DCFTA is a picaresque novel, that is, one that goes from episode to episode.  That doesn’t mean picaresque novels can’t be great—Don Quixote is a picaresque novel—but there is something loose about them that strikes a reader as less satisfying if the themes are not transcendent.  DCFTA rises to great themes, but they are mostly themes of a time and place, whereas Don Quixote and Divine Comedy (also picaresque) are able to reach for more universal themes.  My Antonia by the way is superbly structured.  Perhaps I’m being overly critical here of DCFTA but I’m just trying to find a shade of difference between great works.

Another deficiency is that the novel seems inappropriately titled.  Yes, Latour dies, but does death actually come for him other than it being a natural end to his life?  And is death really a theme in the novel that it would warrant being in the title?  It’s not as if death started for Latour in the opening pages and then caught up to him at the end.  There are numerous deaths throughout, but I don’t see any thematic thread that connects them.  Again, this is a minor criticism, or perhaps it’s me not seeing the thread.  It could be there.

The beauty of the DCFTA is that it’s like an impressionist painting.  It spreads out before you with color and geometric links that give you an overarching effect.  I think this is why Cather needed to be so integrated.  The novel is beautiful, and I would rank this in the top American novels of all time.  Willa Cather, in my opinion underrated, has at least two novels in such a ranking.

Kerstin says:
I've been thinking of the function of a garden. In nature, we have the raw beauty of Creation, in a garden, we take some of these components to cultivate and sustain us. It isn't only functional, we also bring the beauty of flowers and plant them in a pleasing way. We create outdoor patios and hang a hammock in a tree. We admire the beauty around us. It is a place not only of cultivation but of leisure, a place to rest and retreat, or enjoy grilling a meal for family and friends. It is a place for both solitude and community. It sustains and renews both our bodies and souls on a deep elemental level, that hint of Eden, that is hard to put into words.

My Response:
Just a thought. To the primitive, there is really only two outdoor alternatives. Either you are in wilderness or you are in a garden. The wilderness is rough, random, savage, dangerous. The garden is orderly, nourishing, both nutritionally and spiritually, peaceful, safe. Christ and St. John the Baptist go into the wilderness to overcome their passions. And Christ comes to the garden to seek solace from His heavenly Father. And so we have Eden, the Garden, as the pre-fall place of dwelling. And once they get expelled they are driven to the wilderness. From there humanity needed to cultivate to survive, to restore the Garden of Eden down to earth. So when Christ proclaims the Kingdom of God on earth, perhaps part of that is the building of a garden.

My Comment:

Here’s another interesting tidbit.  Cather published this novel in 1927.  D.H. Lawrence, the British novelist, lived in New Mexico (around Taos, which is an hour north of Santa Fe) in the first half of the 1920s.  He wrote a novel with the same sort of indigenous people called The Plumed Serpent but he set it in Mexico.  He published his novel in 1926, so the two novels amazingly overlap.  Both novels deal with the local cultures and deal with religion.  However, they are almost diametrically apart.  By this time in his life, Lawrence was a Primitivist, and therefore glorified the primitive cultures.  The dark, demonic of the indigenous cultures win out in his novel, while in Death Comes for the Archbishop, Catholicism is firmly planted.  I don’t recommend Lawrence’s novel.  It’s interesting but one of his poorer ones.  He has better novels.  I did my Master’s thesis on DH Lawrence, so I had to read far more of his work than one would have liked. 

My final review:

This is a wonderful historical novel centered on the first Catholic diocese in New Mexico, set from the middle of the 19th century toward the end of the century with the focal point of its first bishop, Bishop Jean-Marie Latour.  The novel moves in wonderfully delineated vignettes that leaves the reader with a sort of an impressionist type painting, if a novel could be described as a painting.  The themes of New Mexico’s unique landscape and the ordering effect of Catholicism to the wild and remote territories come together for a unique American experience.  We see both Latour’s iron will for order and his compassionate love for people, culminating in the building of the beautiful Sante Fè Cathedral, and ultimately we see his final days of life.  Willa Cather captures the American spirit as well as any American writer and outdoes herself in this novel.  Consider this one of the great American novels. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, Part 7

This is my seventh post on Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop

Part1 was on the landscape theme. 
Part2 a photo essay of the New Mexican landscape.  
Part3 a photo essay of the actual Cathedral referred to in the novel.  
Part4 on the civilizing effect of Catholicism.  
Part 5 on the reform of the Church from the old order.  
Part 6 on the relationship with the indigenous people.  

In wrapping up Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop I would like to explore the significance of its final and dominating image, the Cathedral that Latour has built over the course of his lifetime.  The Cathedral is there throughout the novel, either in directly after it has been built, in desire to be built once Latour conceptualizes it, and perhaps in allusion prior to its being conceived.  It may be helpful to go to Part 3, the photo essay on the Cathedral (see link above) as you read this post.

We see only see the Cathedral fully built late in the novel.  It occurs on Latour’s last entry into Sante Fe, and he contemplates its beauty as the sun sets upon it.

Father Latour made his last entry into Santa Fé at the end of a brilliant February afternoon; Bernard stopped the horses at the foot of the long street to await the sunset.

Wrapped in his Indian blankets, the old Archbishop sat for a long while, looking at the open, golden face of his Cathedral.  How exactly young Molny, his French architect, had done what he wanted!  Nothing sensational, simply honest building and good stone- cutting,--good Midi Romanesque of the plainest.  And even now, in winter, when the acacia trees before the door were bare, how it was of the South, that church, how it sounded the note of the South!  (p. 269)

The significance of the architectural style—“Midi Romanesque”—is given right there in Latour’s thoughts: simplicity.  I couldn’t find anything on “midi” but Romanesque refers to a style of late antiquity which absorbed many of the pagan Roman simple geometric forms.  Midi I suppose refers to a revival of Romanesque during the middle ages.  What it most certainly is not is Gothic, with hard lines and abundant—perhaps overly abundant to the point of garish—embellishments.  Latour is proud that this style is most fitting to the “South,” and here I think he means the Southwest.  Latour then contemplates the Cathedral in its setting.

No one but Molny and the Bishop had ever seemed to enjoy the beautiful site of that building,--perhaps no one ever would.  But these two had spent many an hour admiring it.  The steep carnelian hills drew up so close behind the church that the individual pine trees thinly wooding their slopes were clearly visible.  From the end of the street where the Bishop's buggy stood, the tawny church seemed to start directly out of those rose-coloured hills--with a purpose so strong that it was like action.  Seen from this distance, the Cathedral lay against the pine-splashed slopes as against a curtain.  When Bernard drove slowly nearer, the backbone of the hills sank gradually, and the towers rose clear into the blue air, while the body of the church still lay against the mountain. (p. 269-270)

The Cathedral is set against the hills and slopes of the mountains that are the terrain of the New Mexican landscape that has been so crucial to the novel.  It is as if the church building grows out of the mountainside, “to start directly out of those rose-coloured hills.”  And here is the significant qualifier: “with a purpose so strong that it was like action.”  The church building may stem from nature, but it has power over nature.  We see this even more so in the next paragraph.

The young architect used to tell the Bishop that only in Italy, or in the opera, did churches leap out of mountains and black pines like that.  More than once Molny had called the Bishop from his study to look at the unfinished building when a storm was coming up; then the sky above the mountain grew black, and the carnelian rocks became an intense lavender, all their pine trees strokes of dark purple; the hills drew nearer, the whole background approached like a dark threat. 

Despite storm or hills that have an ominous “dark threat,” the church stands calmly and with strength in opposition to the dangers that nature presents.  It is planted in place and stands strong against the dark forces of the world.  It recalls Matthew 16:18, “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

But the Cathedral doesn’t just emerge from the mountain; it is part of the mountain.  The very stone of the Cathedral came from one of the mountains in the area.  We get a little vignette of Latour showing Vaillant one day as they passed that particular mountain.

The two priests left Santa Fé a little after midday, riding west.  The Bishop did not disclose his objective, and the Vicar asked no questions.  Soon they left the wagon road and took a trail running straight south, through an empty greasewood country sloping gradually in the direction of the naked blue Sandia mountains.

At about four o'clock they came out upon a ridge high over the Rio Grande valley.  The trail dropped down a long decline at this point and wound about the foot of the Sandias into Albuquerque, some sixty miles away.  This ridge was covered with cone-shaped, rocky hills, thinly clad with piñons, and the rock was a curious shade of green, something between sea-green and olive.  The thin, pebbly earth, which was merely the rock pulverized by weather, had the same green tint.  Father Latour rode to an isolated hill that beetled over the western edge of the ridge, just where the trail descended.  This hill stood up high and quite alone, boldly facing the declining sun and the blue Sandias.  As they drew close to it, Father Vaillant noticed that on the western face the earth had been scooped away, exposing a rugged wall of rock--not green like the surrounding hills, but yellow, a strong golden ochre, very much like the gold of the sunlight that was now beating upon it.  Picks and crowbars lay about, and fragments of stone, freshly broken off.

"It is curious, is it not, to find one yellow hill among all these green ones?" remarked the Bishop, stooping to pick up a piece of the stone.  "I have ridden over these hills in every direction, but this is the only one of its kind."  He stood regarding the chip of yellow rock that lay in his palm.  As he had a very special way of handling objects that were sacred, he extended that manner to things which he considered beautiful.  After a moment of silence he looked up at the rugged wall, gleaming gold above them.  "That hill, Blanchet, is my Cathedral."  (p. 238-239)

Deep into the heart of the landscape is where the very rock that will be used to build the Cathedral resides.  The stone is of a distinct color, unlike the stone in the entire region.  It is part of the mountain itself.  One supposes that all stone that go into buildings must come from nature, but given the importance of landscape to this novel, seeing the virgin stone in the mountain, seeing the picks and crowbars that will cut the stone out, and holding sample stone in a character’s hand allows the reader to fuse the Cathedral with the landscape.  But it is more.  It is not just from the landscape; in being transformed into a Cathedral it has been transfigured into the holy.  It is akin to transubstantiation, where the simple elements of bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.  Through the simple elements of mountain rock, a holy tabernacle is formed.

There are several churches that either prefigure or contrast against the Latour’s cathedral.  First in contrast was the mission church at Ácoma, an “old warlike church.”  “Gaunt, grim, grey, its nave rising some seventy feet to a sagging, half-ruined roof, it was more like a fortress than a place of worship.” When Latour served Mass there,

he felt as if he were celebrating Mass at the bottom of the sea, for antediluvian creatures; for types of life so old, so hardened, so shut within their shells, that the sacrifice on Calvary could hardly reach back so far. Those shell-like backs behind him might be saved by baptism and divine grace, as undeveloped infants are, but hardly through any experience of their own, he thought. When he blessed them and sent them away, it was with a sense of inadequacy and spiritual defeat.”  (p. 100)

The church at Ácoma represents the spirituality of the old order, the Spanish missionaries of the latter generations that maintained a power relationship over the population, and that had fallen into corruption and heresy. 

There was also the “Gothic chapel” of the cavern where Jacinto and Latour took refuge from the winter storm.  Here was a pagan structure where dark ceremonies were performed and an underground river flowed untamed, “far, far below, perhaps as deep as the foot of the mountain, a flood moving in utter blackness under ribs of antediluvian rock. It was not a rushing noise, but the sound of a great flood moving with majesty and power” (p. 130).  Here the forces of nature threaten existence itself.  These are the very forces that Latour’s Cathedral stand against.

And there are the churches that prefigure the Cathedral.  We get a glimpse in the Prologue of the dome of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica, set against the hills of Rome.  Here too at one time the hills of Rome were pagan and “antediluvian,” encompassing a savage culture.  Latour’s Cathedral is clearly an allusion to what St. Peter’s achieved, the taming of the savage culture not by war as the Church at Ácoma projected but by assimilation.  The Catholic Church didn’t conquer pagan Rome; it assimilated it. 

Finally there is another prefiguring of the Cathedral early in the novel, when Latour is on his first journey in New Mexico and lost comes upon the simple and devout Mexicans.  There he performs baptisms and marriages and a Mass.  He performs the sacraments in a house, which in essence becomes a House Church.  Near this idyllic community is also a stream,

 a spring overhung by the sharp-leafed variety of cottonwood called water willow. All about it crowded the oven-shaped hills--nothing to hint of water until it rose miraculously out of the parched and thirsty sea of sand. Some subterranean stream found an outlet here, was released from darkness. The result was grass and trees and flowers and human life; household order and hearths from which the smoke of burning piñon logs rose like incense to heaven.  (p. 31)

Here we see that same stream that was below the “Gothic chapel,” which threatened with its dark powers, now “released from darkness” and graces the landscape in a sort of benediction.  Bishop Latour sat by that river and contemplated its existence.

This spot had been a refuge for humanity long before these Mexicans had come upon it. It was older than history, like those well-heads in his own country where the Roman settlers had set up the image of a river goddess, and later the Christian priests had planted a cross. This settlement was his bishopric in miniature; hundreds of square miles of thirsty desert, then a spring, a village, old men trying to remember their catechism to teach their grandchildren. The faith planted by the Spanish friars and watered with their blood was not dead; it awaited only the toil of the husbandman.  (p. 31)

Here the Christian priests had planted a cross as well.  Here that cross had tamed the subterranean river.  That cross serves as the Cathedral in place.  The cross may be local, but the Cathedral will stand as that cross for the entire archdiocese. 

And so, the Cathedral encapsulates all four of the themes: the landscape as defining the life of the region, the civilizing effect of Catholicism, the reform of the Church from the accumulated heresies, and the assimilation of the indigenous culture.  The novel itself can be seen as the building of the Cathedral.

Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, Sante Fe

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, Part 6

This is my sixth post on Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop. 

Part1 was on the landscape theme. 
Part 2 a photo essay of the New Mexican landscape.  
Part 3 a photo essay of the actual Cathedral referred to in the novel.  
Part 4 on the civilizing effect of Catholicism.    
Part 5 on the reform of the Church from the old order.  

The fourth of the themes is perhaps a bit more difficult to articulate. It deals with the relationship not between Catholics in the novel but between the Catholics and the indigenous people, the various Indian tribes. It’s difficult to articulate because the relationships are varied. There is the relationship of power and domination as seen in the relationship of Fray Baltazar with the natives of Ácuma. Baltazar and the rebellion against him represent the subjugation and revolts that are part of the historical background. In contrast there is the relationship between Latour and the Navahos, as Latour does what he can to save them from slaughter. This theme of relationship is also difficult to articulate because the indigenous people present an enigma to the Catholics. And so the Catholics don’t quite know how to relate with the indigenous people.

We do know that the Catholic clergy are partly there to evangelize. And though the novel doesn’t allude to any forced conversions, if they had occurred they were thing prior to Latour. The process for Latour’s and Vaillant’s evangelization, like good Jesuits that they are, is to live among the people and merge cultures. Accept their culture, give them the dignity they deserve as human beings, while getting the natives to learn and accept Catholic culture. So here is an attempt of articulating this theme: the interaction of Catholics and Indians from which both cultures assimilate while preserving their respective identities.

While for the most part the indigenous are hardworking, family people that any Catholic religious can appreciate, there is a dark side to the indigenous culture that Latour, and, indeed, even the original Spanish Catholic missionaries, found abhorrent. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that the Spanish missionaries made much evangelical progress with the native population in New Mexico. It seems as if two antithetical camps were formed, a Spanish-American group, sometimes called Mexican, and the native Indians. Though they lived side by side, there is a tension between the two which would occasionally flare up into violence, but for the most part the two lived in their own cultural spheres. Fr. Martinez articulates this dichotomy to Latour early in Latour’s bishopric.

"You are a young man, my Bishop," he went on, rolling his big head back and looking up at the well-smoked roof poles. "And you know nothing about Indians or Mexicans. If you try to introduce European civilization here and change our old ways, to interfere with the secret dances of the Indians, let us say, or abolish the bloody rites of the Penitentes, I foretell an early death for you. I advise you to study our native traditions before you begin your reforms. You are among barbarous people, my Frenchman, between two savage races. The dark things forbidden by your Church are a part of Indian religion. You cannot introduce French fashions here." (p.147)

While Martinez articulates the dichotomy, he also suggests an assimilation. The problem is that his assimilation is a compromise of Catholic values. He is assimilating toward the dark customs of the native people. What are these dark customs? Latour realizes these customs while traveling about with Jacinto, an Indian who helps him translate. One night by the campfire we see Latour understand.

The two companions sat, each thinking his own thoughts as night closed in about them; a blue night set with stars, the bulk of the solitary mesas cutting into the firmament. The Bishop seldom questioned Jacinto about his thoughts or beliefs. He didn't think it polite, and he believed it to be useless. There was no way in which he could transfer his own memories of European civilization into the Indian mind, and he was quite willing to believe that behind Jacinto there was a long tradition, a story of experience, which no language could translate to him. A chill came with the darkness. Father Latour put on his old fur-lined cloak, and Jacinto, loosening the blanket tied about his loins, drew it up over his head and shoulders.

"Many stars," he said presently. "What you think about the stars, Padre?"

"The wise men tell us they are worlds, like ours, Jacinto."

The end of the Indian's cigarette grew bright and then dull again before he spoke. "I think not," he said in the tone of one who has considered a proposition fairly and rejected it. "I think they are leaders--great spirits."

"Perhaps they are," said the Bishop with a sigh. "Whatever they are, they are great. Let us say Our Father, and go to sleep, my boy." (p. 92-93)

What you see here are two worldviews come into contact, and yet come together. Jacinto hasn’t rejected his world view, but he does recite the Our Father. In fact that whole chapter is a wonderful coming together and acceptance of each other. Latour doesn’t require Jacinto to reject his worldview, but he is able to meet Jacinto on a human level, and in so doing Jacinto admires Latour. Later Latour is invited to sit in Jacinto’s home and have dinner with Jacinto’s wife and child, an infant who is ailing.

The Bishop bent his head under the low doorway and stepped down; the floor of the room was a long step below the door-sill--the Indian way of preventing drafts. The room into which he descended was long and narrow, smoothly whitewashed, and clean, to the eye, at least, because of its very bareness. There was nothing on the walls but a few fox pelts and strings of gourds and red peppers. The richly coloured blankets of which Jacinto was very proud were folded in piles on the earth settle,--it was there he and his wife slept, near the fireplace. The earth of that settle became warm during the day and held its heat until morning, like the Russian peasants' stove-bed. Over the fire a pot of beans and dried meat was simmering. The burning piñon logs filled the room with sweet-smelling smoke. Clara, Jacinto's wife, smiled at the priest as he entered. She ladled out the stew, and the Bishop and Jacinto sat down on the floor beside the fire, each with his bowl. Between them Clara put a basin full of hot corn-bread baked with squash seeds,--an Indian delicacy comparable to raisin bread among the whites. The Bishop said a blessing and broke the bread with his hands. (p. 121)

There is much that Latour admires about the native customs. The father, mother, and child situation he encounters here is not much different from the Holy Family situation in a barn in Bethlehem. The humanity present in this Indian family suggests the spark of God in the hearts of all humanity. And we see this humanity in several places with the native peoples in the novel. But then there are also the dark legends. We learn of the ceremonial fire that must be served and the snake worship where infants were to be sacrificed (p. 122). When taking shelter from a snow storm Jacinto takes Latour to a “cathedral” of sorts, a cave where Indian ceremonies are conducted. It’s no coincidence that the cave is described as a “Gothic chapel.” The association with religion and Latour’s later building of his Cathedral is a metaphor. But the contrast is also important. The air inside the cave had a “fetid odour” and “highly disagreeable” (p. 127). And after building a fire, Latour seems to sense something even more disturbing.

The heat seemed to purify the rank air at the same time that it took away the deathly chill, but the dizzy noise in Father Latour's head persisted. At first he thought it was a vertigo, a roaring in his ears brought on by cold and changes in his circulation. But as he grew warm and relaxed, he perceived an extraordinary vibration in this cavern; it hummed like a hive of bees, like a heavy roll of distant drums. After a time he asked Jacinto whether he, too, noticed this. The slim Indian boy smiled for the first time since they had entered the cave. He took up a faggot for a torch, and beckoned the Padre to follow him along a tunnel which ran back into the mountain, where the roof grew much lower, almost within reach of the hand. There Jacinto knelt down over a fissure in the stone floor, like a crack in china, which was plastered up with clay. Digging some of this out with his hunting knife, he put his ear on the opening, listened a few seconds, and motioned the Bishop to do likewise.

Father Latour lay with his ear to this crack for a long while, despite the cold that arose from it. He told himself he was listening to one of the oldest voices of the earth. What he heard was the sound of a great underground river, flowing through a resounding cavern. The water was far, far below, perhaps as deep as the foot of the mountain, a flood moving in utter blackness under ribs of antediluvian rock. It was not a rushing noise, but the sound of a great flood moving with majesty and power.

"It is terrible," he said at last, as he rose.

"Si, Padre." Jacinto began spitting on the clay he had gouged out of the seam, and plastered it up again. (p. 129-130)

The river is “one of the oldest voices of the earth,” secret, powerful, antediluvian, that is pre-Noah’s flood. It associates Jacinto’s culture with the primordial and therefore pre-divine revelation. Yes, Jacinto’s culture has elements of Christian humanity, but they lack the benefit of divine revelation of God and Christ. And so they have accrued these dark legends and, perhaps from a Catholic point of view, demonic cultural practices. Zeb Orchard explains to Latour that the Indians “got their own superstitions, and their minds will go round and round in the same old ruts till Judgement Day.” But the bishop is not dismayed.

Father Latour remarked that their veneration for old customs was a quality he liked in the Indians, and that it played a great part in his own religion. (p. 135)

Latour doesn’t want to obliterate the indigenous culture. He wants to absorb it, and he wants them to absorb his Catholicism. Through Latour’s actions, his prayers, his blessings, his living out the faith, he is trying to plant the seeds of Christianity in this garden that is New Mexico. This is why Cather spends some length going over the Guadalupe apparition and Mexican conversion. The indigenous people absorb the Virgin and assimilate their colors and clothing to the Blessed Mother. This is why we see Fr. Jesus de Baca absorb the beauty of parrots—a distinctly native bird that was integral to the Native American sensibility—and integrate it into his church. Entering into Fr. Jesus’ garden, Latour was surprised at how Fr. Jesus had absorbed the Indian sensibility.

This enclosure was full of domesticated cactus plants, of many varieties and great size (it seemed the Padre loved them), and among these hung wicker cages made of willow twigs, full of parrots. There were even parrots hopping about the sanded paths--with one wing clipped to keep them at home. Father Jesus explained that parrot feathers were much prized by his Indians as ornaments for their ceremonial robes, and he had long ago found he could please his parishioners by raising the birds. (p. 84-86)

The difference here from Fr. Martinez is that Fr. Baca has absorbed the positive elements of Indian life but reformulated them. I think it significant that the cacti are “domesticated” and birds’ wings are clipped. The parrot can be seen as an Indian version that is the dove of the Holy Spirit. And so Latour naturally understands that Fr. Baca’s methods is a model for his mission. He isn’t going to alter the native people’s customs but infuse their customs with the breath of Christianity. We see later the culmination of this theme in the wonderful relationship Latour builds with Eusabio, the rich Navajo leader.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, Part 5

This is my fifth post on Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop
Part1 was on the landscape theme. 
Part2 a photo essay of the New Mexican landscape.  
Part3 a photo essay of the actual Cathedral referred to in the novel.  
Part4 on the civilizing effect of Catholicism.  

The third theme of the novel that I identify is that of Church reform.  What Bishop Latour finds in New Mexico is a degenerated church, one that fails to live up to the standards holiness and, indeed, to Church doctrine.  We see this with the first of the priests of the “old order” that Latour finds, the “genial Father Gallegos,” the priest in charge of the parish in Albuquerque. 

Though Padre Gallegos was ten years older than the Bishop, he would still dance the fandango five nights running, as if he could never have enough of it. He had many friends in the American colony, with whom he played poker and went hunting, when he was not dancing with the Mexicans. His cellar was well stocked with wines from El Paso del Norte, whisky from Taos, and grape brandy from Bernalillo. He was genuinely hospitable, and the gambler down on his luck, the soldier sobering up, were always welcome at his table. The Padre was adored by a rich Mexican widow, who was hostess at his supper parties, engaged his servants for him, made lace for the altar and napery for his table. Every Sunday her carriage, the only closed one in Albuquerque, waited in the plaza after Mass, and when the priest had put off his vestments, he came out and was driven away to the lady’s hacienda for dinner.  (p. 82)

Dancing, poker, hunting, whiskey and fine wines, and a very suggestive relationship with a rich widow all reveal the scandalous nature of Fr. Gallegos’ life and ministry.  Certainly this cannot be approved, and Latour makes a note that he will end this scandal.  But this is what the Church, outside of a stray priest like Padre Jesus de Baca, has become in the lawless and uncontrolled wilderness of New Mexico.  Besides serving the needs of the devout Catholics, besides the evangelization of the non-Catholics, Bishop Latour must suppress the deviant clergy and bring orthodoxy and order to the region. 

A month after the Bishop’s visit to Albuquerque and Acoma, the genial Father Gallegos was formally suspended, and Father Vaillant himself took charge of the parish. At first there was bitter feeling; the rich rancheros and the merry ladies of Albuquerque were very hostile to the French priest.  He began his reforms at once. Everything was changed.  The holy-days, which had been occasions of revelry under Padre Gallegos, were now days of austere devotion. The fickle Mexican population soon found as much diversion in being devout as they had once found in being scandalous. Father Vaillant wrote to his sister Philomene, in France, that the temper of his parish was like that of a boys’ school; under one master the lads try to excel one another in mischief and disobedience, under another they vie with each other in acts of loyalty. The Novena preceding Christmas, which had long been celebrated by dances and hilarious merry-making, was this year a great revival of religious zeal.  (p. 117)

Latour in essence is a religious version of a sheriff assigned to the Wild West.  The degeneration of the Catholic Church is dramatized through the wayward priests that Latour encounters, and just like with Fr. Gallegos Latour brings a law and order to the diocese.  Besides Fr, Gallegos, there is Fr. Jose Martinez, an assertive, violent, and physically powerful man, who lives a life of “uncurbed passions,” cheating Indians from their land and fraternizing with women.  There is Fr. Marino Lucero, who lives a life of miserly storing money and greedily exploiting the poor.  There is Trinidad Lucero, who is ambiguously the son of either Martinez or Lucero, a clever touch by Cather to stain both reprehensible priests as having failed their celibate vows.  The two priests are further linked in that they together form a schismatic church to oppose the Catholic Church.

These wayward priests are referred to as “the old order,” a pun I think on the word “order” since what they have established is disorder.  This is the order that the dignitaries in Rome were hoping to bring when they assigned Fr. Latour as Bishop to the region.  Through his own force of will, Latour brings a new beginning, a new decorum, to the diocese.

Father Latour judged that the day of lawless personal power was almost over, even on the frontier, and this figure [Martinez] was to him already like something picturesque and impressive, but really impotent, left over from the past. (p. 141)

Through the various priestly characters in the novel, Cather builds a historical layering of holiness and degeneration.  There are of course the original missionaries, who first brought Christianity to the New World, and specifically to the American southwest.  We get a glimpse of them in the mention of Fray Juan Ramirez, “a great missionary, who labored on the Rock of Ácoma for twenty years or more.”  Father Ramirez came to the region in the early 1600’s and responsible for building the great church at Ácoma and for “the only path by which a burro can ascend the Mesa” in Latour’s day some two hundred and fifty years later.  It is still called “El Camino del Padre.”  

This original missionary order was wiped out by Indian uprisings of 1680, slaughtered because of Spanish corruption and enslavement of the indigenous population.  You can read about it here. Ultimately the Spanish retook the land and established new missionaries and Cather tells the story of Fray Baltazar Montoya as representative of that next wave of priests.  

Some time in the very early years of seventeen hundred, nearly fifty years after the great Indian uprising in which all the missionaries and all the Spaniards in northern New Mexico were either driven out or murdered, after the country had been reconquered and new missionaries had come to take the place of the martyrs, a certain Friar Baltazar Montoya was priest at Ácoma.  He was of a tyrannical and overbearing disposition and bore a hard hand on the natives.  All the missions now in ruins were active then, each had its resident priest, who lived for the people or upon the people, according to his nature.  Friar Baltazar was one of the most ambitious and exacting.  It was his belief that the pueblo of Ácoma existed chiefly to support its fine church, and that this should be the pride of the Indians as it was his.  He took the best of their corn and beans and squashes for his table, and selected the choicest portions when they slaughtered a sheep, chose their best hides to carpet his dwelling.  Moreover, he exacted a heavy tribute in labour.  He was never done with having earth carried up from the plain in baskets.  He enlarged the churchyard and made the deep garden in the cloister, enriching it with dung from the corrals.  Here he was able to grow a wonderful garden, since it was watered every evening by women,--and this despite the fact that it was not proper that a woman should ever enter the cloister at all.  Each woman owed the Padre so many ollas of water a week from the cisterns, and they murmured not only because of the labour, but because of the drain on their water- supply. (p. 103)

Well Fr. Baltazar meets an untimely death because of his callousness and injustice toward the indigenous people, but he represents a trend in the priestly caste in the region which had changed from the original missionaries.  He became self-centered and self-indulgent.  He started treating the indigenous people as if they are less than human, and as objects to satisfy his needs.  Now it is still a couple of hundred years jump to go from Father Baltazar to Fathers Martinez and Lucero, but one sees the similarities in the generations.  And perhaps there is a suggestion of another layering in between those generations in the character of Padre Jesus de Baca, a genial “old white-haired man, almost blind, who had been at Isleta many years and won the confidence and affection of his Indians” (p.84).  While Fr. Jesus is contemporaneous with Fathers Martinez and Lucero, his age situates him between them and Baltazar.  He is almost the direct opposite of his counterparts.

The priest's house was white within and without, like all the Isleta houses, and was almost as bare as an Indian dwelling.  The old man was poor, and too soft-hearted to press the pueblo people for pesos.  An Indian girl cooked his beans and cornmeal mush for him, he required little else.  The girl was not very skillful, he said, but she was clean about her cooking.  When the Bishop remarked that everything in this pueblo, even the streets, seemed clean, the Padre told him that near Isleta there was a hill of some white mineral, which the Indians ground up and used as whitewash.  They had done this from time immemorial, and the village had always been noted for its whiteness.  A little talk with Father Jesus revealed that he was simple almost to childishness, and very superstitious.  But there was a quality of golden goodness about him.  His right eye was overgrown by a cataract, and he kept his head tilted as if he were trying to see around it.  All his movements were to the left, as if he were reaching or walking about some obstacle in his path. (p.85)

So the rhythm of priestly history in the region as Cather layers it seems to be a back and forth between holiness and corruption.  With Fathers Latour and Vaillant, we see again the return of holiness and their commission to stamp out the nefarious.  They will bring reform.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

2019 Reads, Update #2

I’m just going to post this without any fanfare.  This was supposed to be my second quarter update, and technically the second quarter ended June 30th.  I forgot.  I have continued to read since then and I’ve completed some works.  I’ll list those read in the second quarter as such.  Those that will be listed in the third quarter are separated by the dashed line. 

Completed First Quarter:
“The Background,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“How to Mark a Book,” an essay by Mortimer J. Adler.
“In the Snow,” a short story by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anathea Bell.
“Poldi,” a short story by Carson McCullers.
Book of Jeremiah, a book of the Old Testament, NIV Translation.
"Why Bugsy Siegel Was a Friend of Mine," a short story by James Lee Burke.
Paradisio, 3rd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Robert and Jean Hollander.
Paradisio, 3rd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Anthony Esolen.

Completed Second Quarter:
The Life of Saint Dominic, a biography by Augusta Theodosia Drane.
The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, 3rd Edition, a non-fiction work by Mike Aquilina.
"Thunder and Roses" a short story by Theodore Sturgeon.
"A House on the Plains" a short story by E.L. Doctorow.
Book of Jeremiah, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
Book of Lamentations, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
Book of Lamentations, a book of the Old Testament, NIV Translation.
The First Letter of John, an epistle from the New Testament, NIV Translation.
The First Letter of John, an epistle from the New Testament, KJV Translation.
The Imitation of Christ, a non-fiction devotional by Thomas à Kempis.
The Second Letter of John, an epistle from the New Testament, NIV Translation.
The Second Letter of John, an epistle from the New Testament, KJV Translation.
The Third Letter of John, an epistle from the New Testament, NIV Translation.
The Third Letter of John, an epistle from the New Testament, KJV Translation.


Death Comes for the Archbishop, a novel by Willa Cather.
“Social Error,” a short story Damon Runyan.
In the Image of St. Dominic: Nine Portraits of Dominican Life, a collection of short biographies by Guy Bedouelle, O.P.
Mariette in Ecstasy, a novel by Ron Hansen.

Currently Reading:
The Horse and His Boy, a novel from the The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.

How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem, a confessional memoir by Rod Dreher.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, Part 4

This is my fourth post on Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop
Part1 was on the landscape theme. 
Part2 a photo essay of the New Mexican landscape.  
Part3 a photo essay of the actual Cathedral referred to in the novel.  

The second major theme, and perhaps the central theme of the entire novel, is the civilizing effect that Catholicism brings to the region.  We see this right in the Prologue where the reason for selecting Latour for the Bishopric is that he is a man who needs to bring “order” to a place where “savagery and ignorance” rule the day.  (p. 8).  As I mentioned previously, the landscape of Rome is a tamed version of the landscape we see in New Mexico.  It has become tamed, symbolized by the dome of the Vatican over a land and people who were one time also savage and ignorant.  Rome is a projection of what New Mexico needs to become.  The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica projects the future Cathedral in Sante Fe.

And early on we get a sense of this mission from Latour and Vaillant as they administer the sacraments, evangelize the indigenous people, and shape the existing New Mexican culture.  “The Church can do more than the Fort to make these poor Mexicans ‘good Americans’ Latour writes in a letter to back home to France (p. 35-36).  We see Vaillant cooking refined dishes and teaching the housekeepers his recipes.  Fr. Latour comments on Vaillant’s onion soup.

“Think of it, Blanchet; in all this vast country between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean, there is probably not another human being who could make a soup like this.”
“Not unless he is a Frenchman,” said Father Joseph. He had tucked a napkin over the front of his cassock and was losing no time in reflection.

“I am not deprecating your individual talent, Joseph,” the Bishop continued, “but, when one thinks of it, a soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.”
(p. 38)

The priest’s mission is to bring that two thousand year tradition of Christ’s Church to a people who lack it.  New Mexico, as it turns out, is the second assignment where these two priest friends have worked.  Their first mission was in Ohio where at the least they planted a garden.  Vaillant reflects back at that garden they had to leave for other people.

“And salad, Jean,” he continued as he began to carve. “Are we to eat dried beans and roots for the rest of our lives? Surely we must find time to make a garden. Ah, my garden at Sandusky! And you could snatch me away from it! You will admit that you never ate
better lettuces in France. And my vineyard; a natural habitat for the vine, that. I tell you, the shores of Lake Erie will be covered with vineyards one day. I envy the man who is drinking my wine. Ah well, that is a missionary’s life; to plant where another shall reap.”  (p. 39)

The garden here represents control over wild nature.  The missionary, then, is a person who makes a place for controlled vegetation for the refinement of life.  The two priests are just small elements of a bigger picture that will span lifetimes.  Latour goes on to explain what the Church is there to do.  His explanation stems from learning about the visitation of Our Lady of Guadelupe and of the miracle of the mantle of her image. 

“What a priceless thing for the poor converts of a savage country!” he exclaimed, wiping his glasses, which were clouded by his strong feeling. “All these poor Catholics who have been so long without instruction have at least the reassurance of that visitation. It is a household word with them that their Blessed Mother revealed Herself in their own country, to a poor convert. Doctrine is well enough for the wise, Jean; but the miracle is something we can hold in our hands and love.”

Father Vaillant began pacing restlessly up and down as he spoke, and the Bishop watched him, musing. It was just this in his friend that was dear to him. “Where there is great love there are always miracles,” he said at length. “One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.”
(p. 49-50)

The beautiful image of the Blessed Mother brings a refinement to the “savage country,” Vaillant observes.  And Latour responds that the miracles come not so much to heal but to make perceptions “finer,” so that they can see and hear “what is there about us always.”  That to me is the central thesis of the novel, and its guiding aesthetic principle.  The Church refines the culture so that the people can hear and see the divine in this amazing and savage landscape. 

The novel is a sort of collage of imagery and episodes that run through time.  There is no driving narrative except for the time that passes as the priests perform their functions.  We see Vaillant stipulating order and cleanliness as he performs his priestly duties at the Lujon ranch.

“Take me to a place where I can wash and change my clothes, and I will be ready before you can get them here. No, I tell you, Lujon, the marriages first, the baptisms afterward; that order is but Christian. I will baptize the children tomorrow morning, and their parent will at least have been married over night.” (p.55)

We see Latour bring in the Sister of Loretto from France to set up a school in his diocese.  We see devout Madame Olivares sing and play the harp.  We see Fr. Vaillant riding thirty miles a day to the Hopi Indians, “marrying, baptizing, confessing as he went, making camp in the sand-hills at night” (p. 202).  We learn that Vaillant likes to leave “some little token” in every house he visits, “a rosary or a religious picture,” going away “feeling that I have conferred immeasurable happiness, and have released faithful souls that were shut away from God by neglect” (p. 206).  That is the refinement, the civilizing process, that the Church brings in the novel. 

And of course there is the Cathedral, but let us hold off the discussion of its construction for another place.

So we see the Church’s mission of civilizing and we see the process, but we also get a glimpse of the fruits of that labor.  One occasion comes early on in the novel.  Latour is lost in the desert and suffering of thirst.  Suddenly his mare senses water nearby and leads him to it. 

Running water, clover fields, cottonwoods, acacias, little adobe houses with brilhant gardens, a boy driving a flock of white goats toward the stream,—that was what the young Bishop saw. A few moments later, when he was struggling with his horses, trying to keep them from overdrinking, a young girl with a black shawl over her head came running toward him. He thought he had never seen a kindlier face. Her greeting was tha of a Christian.

Ave Maria Purissima, Senor. Whence do you come?”

“Blessed child,” he replied in Spanish, “I am a priest who has lost his way. I am famished for water.”

“A priest?” she cried, “that is not possible! Yet 1 look at you, and it is true. Such a thing has never happened to us before; it must be in answer to my father’s prayers. Run, Pedro, and tell father and Salvatore.  (p. 24)

The shepherd boy, the little stream, the kind and innocent young girl, the little hamlet who are filled with simple and devout Catholics, what Fr. Latour finds is an isolated community that is living the faith, beautiful in their kindness, a little garden of paradise in the midst of a savage country.  He finds a microcosm of what he hopes to transform all of New Mexico.  In this instance, Latour is reaping the benefits of someone else’s plantings.  But creating this Edenic community across his diocese is his mission and at the center of the novel.