Ha Jolly Ha

Monday, August 28, 2006

Part III:Farming and the Land

"Oh! all too happy tillers of the soil,
Could they but know their blessedness, for whom
Far from the clash of arms all-equal earth
Pours from the ground herself their easy fare!" Virgil, Georgics

"I have devoted my life to the preaching of platitudes - it is one of the satisfactions of my life. I like the old things - sun and moon, fresh air, bread and butter, work, friendship, avoiding the occasions of sin. Sometimes the devil would say to me, 'Now, Father Vincent, people don't like those sort of things, give them something modern.' My Guardian Angel says, 'It isn't your duty to be modern. You must give something true.'" Fr. Vincent McNabb

The preceding series of post by no means exhausts the evils of capitalism, and I originally intended to post something about contractual vs. role-based justice and the effects of industrialism upon the nuclear family and education. However, my spirit droops at that bleak task and I have decided to leave behind the problems of our present situation and consider the many joys and benefits of farming.

Nota bene - When I speak of farming, I refer to sustainable, organic farming.

First, the farming life is conducive to health. This may be somewhat obvious, but I mention it all the same. It is healthier to do physical labor out in the fresh air and sunshine than to sit under flourescent lights in front of a computer screen in a climate-controlled office. It is better to eat fresh seasonal produce from your own land than to buy processed or preserved food in a store. It is better to go to sleep when the sun goes down and to awaken when it rises. "[Some researchers believe that every minute you sleep before midnight is the equivalent of four minutes of sleep after midnight.] "

Secondly, it is a very "human" activity. Rational creatures reflect the Creator by their power of ordering. As the rational steward of creation, man has a duty to order non-rational created things for the good of creation. For example, a trained horse is both more useful and more noble, for it acts with a reasonableness above its nature. Or again, pruning makes an apple tree both more beautiful and more fruitful.

Thirdly, it is better to work with natural materials. According to the Fathers of the Church, signs of the Creator abound in His Creation. Synthetic materials do not bear the same imprint, thus, the ordering and use of natural materials is more conducive to contemplation. Furthermore, when one uses natural materials one must conform oneself to nature, the order of the Creator. For example, the carpenter must take into account the grain of the wood and the farmer must conform himself to the seasons.

Finally, it is conducive to the life of the family. Saint Bernardino of Siena warned against the spiritual dangers of trade, which separates the husband and wife for lengthy periods of time. Not that everyone must work from their home, but the interest of the home and the interest of the workplace have become so distinct that it is often difficult to preserve an integrity of life. When a man invests a great deal of time and attention in his work, his family is likely to suffer. On a farm, the family shares both the labors and the fruit.

Added 8/29/06 The Deserted Village, by Oliver Goldsmith

Friday, August 04, 2006

Part IIB:Problems with Capitalism

"The power which money gives is that of brute force; it is the power of the bludgeon and the bayonet." William Cobbett

"We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?" Wendell Berry

"A small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself" (Rerum novarum, n. 3).


St. Thomas distinguishes between two kinds of wealth: natural and artifical.(II-IQ.2.1) Those goods described as natural wealth, such as food and shelter, satisfy the needs of nature while artificial wealth refers to money, only valuable as a medium of exchange for acquiring natural wealth. According to St. Thomas, the danger of greed is inherent to artificial wealth. He says: "The desire for natural riches is not infinite: because they suffice for nature in a certain measure. But the desire for artificial wealth is infinite, for it is the servant of disordered concupiscence, which is not curbed, as the Philosopher makes clear (Polit. i, 3). "(ibid., ad.3)

Aristotle also distinguishes between the natural art of wealth-getting, which is a part of household management, and the unnatural art of wealth-getting, or retail trade. The former aims at providing for the comfortable maintenance of the family, or household. Again, it is limited by the finite needs of the home. Retail trade, on the other hand, aims at profit. According to Aristotle: "Of everything which we possess there are two uses: both belong to the thing as such, but not in the same manner, for one is the proper, and the other the improper or secondary use of it. For example, a shoe is used for wear, and is used for exchange; both are uses of the shoe. He who gives a shoe in exchange for money or food to him who wants one, does indeed use the shoe as a shoe, but this is not its proper or primary purpose, for a shoe is not made to be an object of barter. The same may be said of all possessions, for the art of exchange extends to all of them, and it arises at first from what is natural, from the circumstance that some have too little, others too much. Hence we may infer that retail trade is not a natural part of the art of getting wealth; had it been so, men would have ceased to exchange when they had enough."(PoliticsIX) Retail trade is problematic because it obscures the primary purpose of goods using them for the end of profit, which is understood as the acquisition of coin. In an economy based on retail trade, people come to confuse artificial wealth with real riches, and direct their household toward the accumulation of coin rather than those goods which satisfy a natural need.

With their distinctions, Aristotle and St. Thomas anticipated the rampant consumerism of our present system. Free market capitalism depends heavily upon artificial wealth and retail trade. Our previous Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, said: "It would now be helpful to direct our attention to the specific problems and threats emerging within the more advanced economies and which are related to their particular characteristics. In earlier stages of development, man always lived under the weight of necessity. His needs were few and were determined, to a degree, by the objective structures of his physical make-up. Economic activity was directed towards satisfying these needs."(Centesimus Annus, 36) Now, we are assaulted from every direction by advertisements stirring up excessive desires and fabricating false needs. In this environment, spiritual goods quickly recede from cultural consciousness, replaced by the all-engrossing pursuit of material possessions.

Click Here for Part III

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Holy Beauty of Icons

"In former times God, who is without form or body, could never be depicted. But now when God is seen in the flesh conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter; I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter; who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation!" On Divine Images, John of Damascus

"Just as words edify the ear, so also the image stimulates the eye. What the book is to the literate, the image is to the illiterate. Just as words speak to the ear, so the image speaks to the sight; it brings us understanding." On Divine Images, John of Damascus

I am going to interrupt my series on Distributism vs. Capitalism to offer a few reflections on the sacred art of Eastern Christianity.

The traditional understanding of human nature affirms the fittingness of sacred art in general. An intimate union of body and soul, of matter and spirit, exists in the human person. Human knowledge reflects this duality, for it fundamentally depends upon the senses. For this reason, material signs and images are an important means of making the truth intelligible to man. In the words of St. Thomas: "Though we cannot reach God with the senses, our mind is urged by sensible signs to approach God."(ST.II-II.Q84.2.ad3)

St. John of Damascus offers even greater justification by pointing to the Incarnation. Now that God has walked the earth, the Old Testament prohibition no longer applies:

When the Invisible One becomes visible to flesh, you may then draw a likeness of His form. When He who is a pure spirit, without form or limit, immeasurable in the boundlessness of His own nature, existing as God, takes upon Himself the form of a servant in substance and in stature, and a body of flesh, then you may draw His likeness, and show it to anyone willing to contemplate it. Depict His ineffable condescension, His virginal birth, His baptism in the Jordan, His transfiguration on Thabor, His all-powerful sufferings, His death and miracles, the proofs of His Godhead, the deeds which He worked in the flesh through divine power, His saving Cross, His Sepulchre, and resurrection, and ascent into heaven. Give to it all the endurance of engraving and colour. On Divine Images, John of Damascus

God could have redeemed mankind without taking a human nature, but in His infinite mercy He gave us the Incarnate Word, a perfect image of Himself. Now we have a Person to imitate and remember, through His words and through His saints, but also through holy images.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an insightful lecture on icons. The artist speaker made several interesting points. First, the artistic purpose of icons is different than that of western art, thus they employ a different technique. Generally speaking, in traditional western art, the picture draws the viewer in through the use of perspective. The artist wishes the viewer to feel a part of the scene, so the vanishing point is in the visual distance, pulling the eye in. In contrast, the icon is meant to enter the heart of the viewer. The principle is a Trinitarian one. We can only know the mysteries of God the Father through the Son and His friends, who work in us through the Holy Spirit. Thus, the background of the image is solid, flat, plain; it represents the mysteries beyond our reach. The person represented in the foreground helps us to see those mysteries. Finally, architecture in icons is often wider at the back and narrower in the front so the vanishing point of the image is in the viewer, a symbolic representation of the Holy Spirit effecting a transformation of the soul.

In order to elucidate the aforementioned concept, the speaker made a fascinating analogy, quoting from one of the Early Church Fathers. The passage pointed to a paradox in the Eucharist - while ordinary food becomes part of the flesh of the eater, the man who eats the Body and Blood of Christ is assimilated by IT, entering more deeply into the Mystical Body of Christ. Similarly, the icon ought to enter into the viewer, increasing his piety. And for Eastern Catholics, icons hold hefty sacramental uumph. Regulations have loosened, but in the past, icons could not be used until after an elaborate blessing period - they were enshrined in the sanctuary for 40 liturgies!

One last point of interest, the writing on icons is "weird" for a reason. The artist purposely distorts the words so the viewer will stare at it longer. Through this distortion, the image reminds us that the understanding of sacred mysteries requires patient, meditative attention.

St Basil's Sermon on the Martyr St Barlam, beginning, "In the first place the death of the saints."

"Arise, you renowned painters of brave deeds who set forth by your art a faint image of the General. My praise of the laurel-crowned victor is faint compared to the colours of your brush. I will give up writing on the excellencies of the martyr whom you have crowned. I rejoice at the victory won to-day by your strength. I contemplate the hand put out to the flames, more powerfully dealt with by you. I see the struggle more clearly depicted on your statue. Let demons be enraged even now, overcome by the martyr's excellencies which you reveal. Let the powerful hand be again outstretched to victory. May Christ our Lord, the supreme judge of the warfare, appear in picture. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen."