Father Jacques Hamel Cries Out to Humanity.

In my prayer over the last weeks, I have returned over and over to the life and death of Father Jacques Hamel in France. Every time I found myself thinking about him, I wasn’t really sure why. There was something about his story, the way people spoke about him, and the way he died that drew me to know more. I also had a number of encounters since Father Hamel died that kept bringing me back to him. People I spoke to often lamented his death and said things like, “Humanity is just so evil, isn’t it?” I found these phrases at odds with my experience, but I couldn’t explain or put anything into words at the time.

In the wake of what seems like completely senseless violence, I am prone, like the people I quoted above, to despair. I forget my experiences of God’s mercy in my own life and in the lives of those around me and I become anxious about many things (I’m prone to anxiety, anyway, it is worth noting). What can be done in the face of reckless hatred? What should our response be when we are confronted by death? I carried these questions into the week as I dug into the reading for School of Community (page 26-32 of the Fraternity Exercises). I also read the following article, which contains the homily given at the funeral of Father Hamel by his Archbishop, Dominique Lebrun. I found it a particularly moving read in general, and parts of it seemed very relevant to Father Carron’s reflections. In the combination of these texts, I found the beginnings of an answer to the questions that have been captivating me.


First, I noted the Archbishop’s reflection on Father Hamel’s final words: “Begone Satan.” Some of the secular people I had been speaking with about Father Hamel stated openly that these words distressed them. I paraphrase: “This poor old man was duped by religion. In his dying moment he couldn’t see the reality of who was attacking him and blamed a fictitious devil.” Again, I had no response to them at the time. But the Archbishop said, almost in reply: “Evil is a mystery. It culminates in horrific moments that takes us beyond what is human. Is this not that what you meant, Jacques, with your last words? You fell to the ground after the first stab; you tried to push your attacker with your feet, and you said, ‘Go away, Satan.’ Again you said, ‘Begone, Satan.’ In this you expressed your faith in humanity, created good, but gripped by the devil.” [Italics added for emphasis.] In this you expressed your faith in humanity. It seems to me Father Jacques saw in his attackers fellow human beings twisted by evil and he reached out to save them at the last moment. He prayed aloud and appealed to their common created humanity; a humanity skewed out of its truth, but nonetheless imbued with the Incarnation. In those two words he said to his attackers, “We have the same heart. Be free from this evil that grips you!” I remember that even Jesus said these same words to Peter, his friend, to call him back when he was lost. Faced with physical assault and certain death, Father Hamel spoke to his attackers the same words of Christ said to Peter. He was trying to save their lives as much as his own. This led me to another realization.

The two young men in that church, as far as we can tell, said “No,” to Father Hamel’s final plea for their lives. But though my own actions are not as evil as theirs, have I not also refused God in my life? Archbishop Lebrun addressed this as well: “It is in our heart, in the depths of our heart that we have to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Jesus, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the path of truth and peace; ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ to the victory of love over hatred, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to his resurrection. The death of Jacques Hamel called me to make a frank ‘yes,’— no, not a tepid yes — a ‘yes’ to life, as the ‘yes’ of Jacques to his ordination. And we must respond yes again and again. God will never force us. God is patient, and God is merciful. Even when I, Dominique, have resisted, and said ‘no’ to love; even when I told God, ‘I will think about it; we will see later,’ even when I have forgotten, God is patient. God expects me because of his infinite mercy.” [Italics added.] Benedict XVI echoed this on page 29 of our School of Community reading: “With every human ‘no’ a new dimension of His love is bestowed and He finds a new and greater way to bring about His ‘yes’ to man, history, and creation.” The Archbishop, Pope Benedict, Father Hamel’s attackers, and I all have something in common: We have said ‘no’ to God. But Father Hamel is calling out to each of us. He is appealing to our created humanity to bring about a new and greater “yes”. God expects us because of His infinite mercy. I know that Father Hamel’s death has already been efficacious because I can witness the change in myself, as his own Archbishop said. What a mercy that the life and words of an 86 year old priest in France, killed by hatred and a “no” to God’s love, can move even my stubborn heart to say “yes” to Him again.

Holy Saturday Reflection

From an ancient homily on Holy Saturday:

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Report: Patriots’ AFC Championship footballs were also way too small

Tuesday, January 21, 2015
Updated: January 21, 5:36 PM ET

Pats used mini-balls in second half

By Adam Schlefter

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – During its investigation of the New England Patriots’ alleged use of deflated game balls in the AFC Championship game last Sunday against the Colts, the NFL has found other possible infractions surrounding the footballs in question. League sources involved and familiar with the investigation told DR that not only were 11 out of the 12 balls inflated significantly below the NFL’s requirement, but each ball was also considerably smaller than regulations permit.

“We are not going to comment on the investigation at this time,” said Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of communications. Despite the League’s official silence, several sources have stepped forward and told DR that the Patriots were actually using six-inch plastic mini-footballs during the entire second half, when Tom Brady led the team to 28 unanswered points. The plastic mini-balls have allegedly been recovered from the Patriots’ training facility and are being examined by Roger Goodell himself.

League sources have confirmed that the footballs were properly inspected and approved by referee Walt Anderson 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff, before they were returned to each team. Anderson was visibly upset when DR asked him for comment on the latest revelation in what is being stupidly dubbed “Deflategate.”

“I can’t believe we didn’t catch it,” said Anderson. “I mean I’ve been an official for 18 years and I couldn’t tell they were playing with a mini-ball? What the hell is wrong with me?” Anderson hinted that he might be contemplating retirement. “The inflation stuff, ok I could have missed that. You fooled me, Belichick, good job. But if I can’t see the difference between a regulation-sized ball and one my grandson would play with, maybe it’s time I moved on.”

The sideline ball-boys have made a joint statement through their lawyers pointing the finger directly at head coach Bill Belichick. The statement reads, in full: “Bill did it. He’s seriously nefarious. He kidnapped Timmy’s dog, too.” Patriots players, however, mostly towed the company line when questioned about the allegations.

“I’m just out there playing ball. I throw whatever ball they put in my hand,” said quarterback Tom Brady, who yelled comments to reporters from his balcony dressed only in Ugg boots, Stetson cologne and a grin. “Honestly, he [center Bryan Stork] could snap me a baseball bat and if [wide receiver Brandon] LaFell is open, I’ll throw it to him.”

“Gronk smash,” said one player who spoke with DR only on the condition of anonymity. “Every ball mini-ball to me. I smash!”

No stranger to controversy, Belichick called a surprise press conference in his front yard, a rare gesture of openness from a man who famously does not like speaking to the press, or speaking in general. Any hope of gleaning more information from Belichick was soon quashed, however, as he proceeded to answer every question in his standard dry monotone, “We’re on to the Super Bowl.” He grinned only slightly before walking away when a reporter from WEEI Boston asked the coach, “Are you trolling us, Bill?”

Phil Simms, who called the AFC Championship for CBS, seemed completely shocked when he heard the news. “I’m completely shocked,” said Simms. “Just shocked. I mentioned to Jim [Nantz] after the first drive of the 3rd quarter that Brady really looked like he could do anything he wanted with the ball out there, but I never thought it was because the balls were actually smaller than his hands.”

Looking back at the game film, the difference in ball size after the second half is considerable. At one point, Brady threw a short toss to running back LeGarrette Blount in the flat. The big back completely popped the ball when he attempted to catch it. Unbelievably, the play was simply called incomplete on the field and neither team noticeably reacted.

There is no word yet on what kind of punishment Belichick or the Patriots organization will face. Most people with the League who DR spoke to were still upset with themselves, partly over being duped by Belichick yet again, but mostly because they didn’t catch the egregious, obvious, stupid mistake during the game.

“They didn’t even try to cover it up,” one source said. “It makes me sick. I was on the sideline as an observer. I can’t believe I didn’t notice. Excuse me.”

With referees and league officials distraught and questioning their life choices, the question remains, will football ever recover from this dumb scandal? Did Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots finally kill the NFL forever?

Thomas Jefferson’s Version of the Bible

RLST 4260 The Bible in Judaism and Christianity – Prof. Sacks

Thomas Jefferson is known as one of the Founding Fathers of our nation and the author of the Declaration of Independence. While most Americans can recognize him as the 3rd President, many do not know that he also held a rather unorthodox view toward the Bible. For a large portion of his life, Jefferson desired to undertake a vast editing of the four Gospels into a form more in line with his morals. In 1819 he finally undertook this task, and by literally cutting and pasting the verses he wanted to use, put together his story of Jesus, called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. In this paper I want to first look at the unique techniques Jefferson used in creating The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth and a few of his reasons for these techniques before exploring a few examples from the actual text. Finally, I will offer a few reasons why I find Jefferson’s approach to the Bible compelling, but ultimately unconvincing.

For this course’s discussion on Thomas Jefferson we were given as background information two letters written by him to his friend William Short. The first letter was penned on October 31, 1819 and the second on August 4, 1820. These two letters, while not necessarily academic in nature, give an insight into Jefferson’s view of the Bible. In the second letter, much more explicit in its wording, Jefferson told Short that he “asked only what is granted in reading every other historian,” also be granted in reading the gospel accounts of Jesus. (8/4/1820, p. 1435) To this end, Jefferson felt that there were clearly two separate aspects of the Gospels: that which could be attributed to Jesus and that which was added by the “groveling authors.” (8/4/1820, p. 1436) He undertook the task of separating these two biblical natures because Jesus’ outstanding moral character, caught up within and surrounded by the chaff of his authors, needed to be rescued and justified “against the fictions of his pseudo-followers.” (8/4/1820, p. 1435)

Jefferson concluded that the parts of the Gospels clearly attributable to Jesus were the “sublime ideas of the Supreme Being, aphorisms, and precepts of the purest morality and benevolence,” and that those texts should be liberated “of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms, and fabrications” of the authors. (8/4/1820, p. 1436) The parts to be deleted, literally by razor and scissors if necessary, included any references to Jesus’ “deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection, […] his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, […] etc.” (10/31/1819, p. 1433) Jefferson urged the use of reason to accomplish this removal of “things against the course of nature,” from the biblical texts, (8/4/1820, p. 1435) and he thought the task shouldn’t be that difficult for a person who read the Gospels with a critical eye.

I want to first look at a few examples of how Jefferson employed his technique and reasoning before addressing the coherence of each. During class we took for our discussion Jefferson’s treatment of Luke 12: 1-15, from which he removed verses 8-12. In the remaining verses, Jesus teaches an “innumerable multitude” some moral platitudes. In summary, he urges his followers to avoid the “leaven of the Pharisees,” (which he clarifies to mean hypocrisy) and to act justly even when those actions are hidden because “there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed.” He goes on to explain how they should also not act in a covetous way, because a man’s life is “not in the abundance of things” that he owns. Curiously, in between those two very human moralistic teachings, Jefferson left in a reference by Jesus to a being who “hath power to case into hell,” and an explanation that the disciples should fear this being alone. I will discuss this curiosity in a later section. (All Bible quotations taken from The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.)

More interesting is what Jefferson removed in verses 8-12. Here, Jesus exhorts his disciples to confess him, the Son of man, before other men. In return, he will confess them “before the angels of God,” but if they deny him, he shall deny them as well. Additionally, Jesus references the Holy Ghost in these deleted verses, telling his followers to trust during times of tribulation, “for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” One can see why Jefferson would delete these final lines referencing the Holy Ghost as an account of the Trinity, explicitly placed on his list of unacceptable impostures. The other lines, however, only imply that Jesus is imposing a divine form upon himself. He is definitely saying that he has the power to testify on the behalf of these followers before angels, and is therefore very important in the grand scheme, but not explicitly divine. Nonetheless, Jefferson removed the reference.

In my second example from The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson took his razor to John 18: 28-38 and removed a single verse: John 18: 33 did not make the cut – literally. By this point in the story, Jesus has been arrested and Pontius Pilate is preparing to question him. Not wanting any trouble, Pilate tells the crowds to go and judge him by their own laws, but the rabble responds, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.” Enter here the scissors of Jefferson. Laying upon the floor of Monticello, the next line reads, “That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spoke, signifying what death he should die.” This deleted verse is an aside within the story arch, and one that implies a miraculous aspect of Jesus’ character: prophecy. Predicting the type of death one will die would certainly be considered miraculous, if not also somewhat morbid. The importance in the minds of later Christians of Jesus’ death and its relation to his divinity almost certainly added to Jefferson’s decision to remove a hint of prophecy such as this. I chose the deletion of this single verse to show how Jefferson had no problem removing sections big or small if they did not fit his standard.

Having discussed Jefferson’s argument and technique for viewing and editing the Bible, I want to explain three reasons why I am not convinced that he had good reason to do so. First, I think his original premise, that the Gospels can be treated the same as other history books, inherently misunderstands and does a disservice to the Gospels. Simply put, the Gospels are each unique and complete narratives. These narratives contain elements of history, but they are not primarily historical sources. For a reader to pick and choose aspects of the message that each Gospel posits about Jesus without understanding the contextual narrative is bad enough, but to actually take razor and glue to the pages is much worse. I see editing like this to weaken the overall narrative. For example, readers can find within Jefferson’s own edit, specifically in the Sermon on the Mount, references to Jesus changing the Law of Moses. In his letters Jefferson even lists this as one of Jesus’ more laudable undertakings. The Jewish people, however, believed that this Law was divinely given, and in such a case only a divine entity would have the authority to actually change it. In this reading, Jesus is implicitly gesturing at his divine nature, and the fact that people listen to his teachings shows that they understood from where his authority came. If Jesus didn’t actually believe he was divine but implied the same so others would listen to him, is this not an immoral power grab by him? The gospel texts, as complete narratives, were written and imbued with the idea of Jesus’ divinity. By removing only the explicit references to this inherent theme, Jefferson did a disservice to the unity of the texts.

Second, I don’t believe one can so easily separate the more miraculous aspects from the moral teachings of Jesus with Jefferson’s reason-based technique. Jefferson reasoned that the superstitious parts attributed to Jesus go against his “well known and established” character, in the same way that claiming Caesar was not interested in politics would go against what we know of the Roman leader’s nature. (8/4/1820, p. 1435) I saw here an immediate problem in Jefferson’s logic. We know Caesar’s character only from the extant writings of his life, but if those writings said Caesar had different attributes, we would have since accepted those within his overall character. In the same way, all we reliably know of Jesus comes from the gospel texts, so to claim that some parts of the text point to Jesus’ accepted character while others go against that same character is a strange form of begging the question. As they exist now, the Gospels show that the authors believed Jesus to at least be imbued with miraculous powers, just as Caesar’s authors believed him to be a great military general. Jefferson added that he had been convinced of this character argument – specifically regarding Jesus’ divinity – by “men more learned” than himself, but he offered no evidence from these learned scholars. (8/4/1820, p. 1438) In his defense, the lack of a more reasoned explanation was probably the result of the letter format within which this discussion was framed.

Finally, in an issue related to the other two, I think that Jefferson did not always follow his own guidelines on what aspects of the Gospels should be deleted and kept. The two examples I listed above actually both contain instances of this problem. I mentioned how in John 12 Jefferson left in a reference to a being, presumably Satan in some form, who can cast persons into hell. Granted, that verse does not explicitly name Satan or a devil as the being to be feared, but knowing that Jefferson did not like to view the Supreme Being as wrathful or cruel, I do not know what other being he could be talking about. He clearly decided to delete other references to angels and heavenly beings, but in these verses we find some power other than God that inexplicably survived his edit. Similarly, Jefferson removed from John 18 Jesus’ prophecy concerning his death, but left in an earlier scene in Gethsemane that is filled with implicit prophecy of the same. What fills the cup that Jesus is asking the Father to take from him if not his impending suffering and death? Perhaps Jefferson read that scene differently, but in the absence of such an explanation, I cannot imagine any other reason to leave the entire passage within his story of Jesus. Lastly, Jefferson offered as one of the positive attributes of Jesus his “emphasis and precision” in teaching the doctrine of a “future state of existence.” (8/4/1820, p. 1437) I would want to then ask him how the concept of an afterlife is in any way less reasonable or more naturally provable than something like Jesus’ divinity or a recorded miraculous event?

Additionally, why did Thomas Jefferson feel the need to rescue and justify the character of Jesus at all? I have asked myself this question from the beginning of my inquiry into his version of the Bible. Couldn’t Jefferson have just taken what he wanted from the Gospels and ignored the rest? I think the answer to these questions shows at once a redeeming quality of the 3rd President and a problem in his following logic. As a sound-minded individual, I don’t think Jefferson could follow the moral code of a man he ultimately viewed as an imposter. At the same time, he really valued the moral code he saw attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, and so set about proving that Jesus was not an imposter. I view this logic as proceeding backwards, but at least it was well-intentioned.

I value that Thomas Jefferson took his ideas to their ultimate conclusion within The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, but at the same time I cannot agree with those conclusions. Even with the questions of his consistency and at times questionable logic set aside, Jefferson ultimately did a disservice to the texts by picking through them and not treating each Gospel as a coherent narrative within itself.


Jefferson, Thomas. 8/4/1820. “Jesus and the Jews.” Letter to William Short. Course material.

Jefferson, Thomas. 10/31/1819. “I too am an Epicurean.” Letter to William Short. Course material.

Jefferson, Thomas. 1819. The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Accessed from:

http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/62/The_Jefferson_Bible_The_Life__Morals_of_Jesus_of_Nazareth_1.html. (All Bible citations taken from here.)

Did Peter Jackson’s Trilogy Capture the Essence of LOTR?

Tolkien Independent Study – Prof. Sacks

I have enjoyed exploring some essays discussing J.R.R. Tolkien as a postmodernist (all found in Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages), especially Verlyn Flieger’s take on Tolkien’s unique place within 20th century literature, but I want to focus mainly on two essays by Michael Stanton and Tom Shippey on the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. I have long been intrigued by how Peter Jackson portrayed Tolkien’s masterpiece, and Shippey and Stanton put into words much of what I have struggled to explicate in the past. I believe that I fit within the “millions of people” described in Shippey’s final paragraph who moved from film to book rather than the reverse. (Shippey, p.254) This is only partly true. As a child I remember reading The Hobbit, but I was only 12 years old when The Fellowship of the Ring was released, and by then I had only attempted reading The Lord of the Rings several times without much success. That is to say, I knew that I wanted to see the first movie, and when I did I was blown away. I knew I had encountered something wholly different than just an action movie, something richer than a fantasy. By the time I walked out of the premier of The Return of the King three years later, I knew I wanted more. The films had satisfied me, but also piqued my interest. If the films were so epic, what were the books like? And so my road to Middle-earth began in a movie theater.

As I delved into my fresh copy of Tolkien’s masterpiece, my reactions to the work were more along the lines of, “I hadn’t realized that before,” or “I had no idea that happened,” rather than, “Well Tolkien left out/added something here and there.” I was blown away all over again by the story, and I wrote small book reviews for classes in high school that belittled the film productions as not true to the story, though I could hardly articulate anything deeper than specific character and moment omissions. Only in the years since have I come to a deeper understanding (and it grows ever deeper!) of the greater themes within Tolkien’s corpus. A great deal of credit for that understanding is owed to my discovery and consumption of The Silmarillion and the author’s letters, but I have also reread The Lord of the Rings every summer, finding something new with each pass.

I am taking a roundabout path to saying that in the course of my study of The Lord of the Rings (if one can call something so enjoyable “study”) my once harsh opinion of the films has softened. I am now much more in the camp of Tom Shippey, and have taken to defending Jackson’s vision of Middle-earth as perhaps the truest take a film could possibly have. I agree with Shippey that critics must take into account the differences between, and dominating forces within, the two media of prose and film. I often take this example: The equivalent books to the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, are almost entirely filled with passing activities like walking and thinking. The hobbits take a very long time to plan for and finally set out on their journey to Rivendell, and while they meet adventure along the path, it is still a great deal of travel. Now, this is a very important literary technique for Tolkien, as he wants the reader, on the one hand, to truly understand the culture of hobbitdom, and on the other hand, to deeply feel the doom closing in on his unsuspecting heroes while they argue about dinner. At the same time, this would make for an absolutely terrible movie sequence. Traveling is great for doing some deep thinking and revealing your inner self, but does not make for an extremely compelling scene. Similarly, the somewhat general battle descriptions that Tolkien gives can be drawn out and emphasized when put onto a screen. These and all of Shippey’s examples make perfect sense to me, and I defend Jackson’s “abridgement” rather than “compression” of the work in such ways. (Shippey, p. 236)

However, I also side with Stanton in saying that sometimes the abridgement came at the true detriment of overall theme. I also agree with Stanton’s particular thematic example that did not find its way to the end of the films. Tolkien’s distrust of machinery and the myth of industrial progress is one of the more explicit themes within his text. I don’t know that I would trust a reader who did not see within The Lord of the Rings this obvious thematic element. This is apparent in the first two films, but then becomes lost in the final with the omission of the Scouring of the Shire. By leaving out the Scouring, Jackson lost other, less obvious but more important, Tolkien themes: “the general persistence of evil” and hope within the slow defeat of mankind through history. (Stanton, p. 210) Within these two omitted themes we find Tolkien’s Catholicity once again present. The first theme is clearer to me. When the hobbits return home, a significant amount of time after the Ring has been destroyed, they do not find the peaceful, green, careless Shire they left. Instead, evil has come to their homeland despite all of their heroic attempts to keep it at bay. Evil has outlived the Ring, and they must yet strive against it. This chapter is at once a sobering call to avoid apathy and complacency and a reminder of the brokenness within which we find ourselves. This leads to the second theme. Tolkien famously said. “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat.’” (Letter to Amy Ronald, 15 December 1956 ) John Holmes accurately interpreted this to be a sober and humble admission that our time in the world, both individually and as a race, will inevitably end. “But such an ending is only tragic if temporal existence […] is all there is.” (Holmes, p. 49) In Tolkien’s worldview, there is an eternal hope within the admission of evil and decay. Jackson’s films end with this hope, as Frodo smiles and sails off to the undying lands and Sam returns home to his family, but Jackson’s hope is too much Hollywood and not enough Sarehole Mill. Without the Scouring first and the realization it brought to the Shire, the hopefulness of the ending is somewhat lessened, perhaps even a bit false. As St. Paul said, “Who hopes for what one sees?” True hope can only spring from a dark place, from the realization of enduring evil and a long defeat where the person sees not, and hopes nonetheless. For this reason, I wish Jackson had found a way to keep the Scouring of the Shire in his films.

Faure’s Ave Verum Analysis

MUEL 3822: Words and Music – Prof. Guralnick

As a singer in a Latin Schola, I have often encountered the adaptation of poetry, or in this case prayer, into different musical forms. I realized during this semester that my experience in choir is an example of how the move from words to music is something much more ancient than anything we studied in class. This led me to want to explore how one of the most famous, and my personal favorite, Latin prayers, Ave Verum Corpus, has been put to music through the years.

The words to the prayer Ave Verum Corpus were written by Pope Innocent VI, who was pope between 1352 and 1362. In Latin, the prayer traditionally reads:

Ave verum corpus natum de Maria virgine,

Vere passum immolatum in cruce pro homine,

Cujus latus perforatum fluxit aqua et sanguine,

Esto nobis praegustatum mortis in examine.
O Jesu dulcis! O Jesu pie! O Jesu fili Mariae!

(Miserere mei.) Amen.

Having taken Latin classes, and knowing a bit of the prayer’s background, I translate it this way:

Hail, true body, born of the Virgin Mary,

Truly suffering, sacrificed on the cross for mankind,

From whose pierced side flowed water and blood,

Be for us a foretaste in the trial of death,

O sweet Jesus! O loving Jesus! O Jesus son of Mary!

(Have mercy on me.) Amen.

It is first important to note that Ave Verum Corpus was most likely never meant to be simply spoken. Like all chant, Ave Verum Corpus has no time signature and no bars marked by measure lines. The music is made to fit the words, not the other way around, and so each phrase is unique in length, with breaks only put in place for breathing. I circled these breath marks on the score. A chant piece like Ave Verum has no clear downbeat, so counting is not extremely important. All of these techniques purposefully place the song, the singer, and the listener outside of time, so to speak. Ave Verum is a Eucharistic hymn, which strengthens the timeless desire within the chant. The Catholic teaching on the Eucharist consists of equal parts remembrance of the sobering reality of the crucifixion and the beautiful reality of God truly present on the altar. Jesus’ suffering is both in the past and right there on the altar, and the flowing timelessness of the chant makes that reality ever-more-present to worshippers.

While single-voice chant has remained, liturgical music has spread its wings over time into polyphony, or the blending of multiple independent voices together into one whole. As one of the most popular liturgical chants, Ave Verum Corpus was adapted into this new musical form many times. The choir I am in has sung many of these versions, but three stick out in my memory. By the time the composers, William Byrd, Gabriel Fauré, and Domenico Bartolucci, wrote their settings, music composition used a more formal time-style, with bars and time signatures. The composers were also from three different places and eras, and each of their works is unique. Despite the time-bound nature of music composition and their three unique settings of Ave Verum, I believe that all three composers maintained, each in his own way, the necessary timelessness found in the original chant.

One of the oldest and most popular versions of Ave Verum was composed by William Byrd in the early 1600s. Byrd composed Ave Verum as a four-voice a cappella motet typically sung much slower than the chant. Though on distinct notes, all four singers begin on the first beat of the first bar and remain on somewhat similar rhythms through bar 19. Although there are clear phrases in Byrd’s piece, with full choir rests in several locations, the phrases are each slightly different in length and style. I highlighted each full choir rest, and wrote above the length of the prior phrase. Byrd also used staggered entrances to enhance the sense of his piece being timeless. In bars 19 and 20 each part comes in with staggered entrances on the word “Unda;” first the altos, then the sopranos, then basses, and finally the tenors with all four unique melodies swelling. At bar 29, Byrd employed a second strategy to take his piece outside of time. Starting with the sweetly sung “O dulcis,” by the soprano line, the piece does not have a full break in sound until a slight lift at bar 36. Byrd used a call and response technique in this section, but the individual parts sustain and overlap each other so there is no break in the sound. I have highlighted the sustained parts. After these sustained overlaps, the staggered entrances mentioned above make another appearance in bars 31-33 and again when the singers reach the climactically flowing “Miserere” section in bars 36-44. I highlighted the staggered entrance points for each voice at bars 18-20, 31-33, and 36-40. Byrd started his composition with clear phrasing, but through staggered entrances and sustained voices, he built up to a timeless feel that is undeniable by the end.

Gabriel Fauré composed his Ave Verum in the late 1800s for just soprano and alto voices. Different from Byrd’s, his composition also included a score for organ or orchestral accompaniment, which caused it to have much more clearly defined phrases. In fact, at the beginning each part sings by itself; first the sopranos, then the altos, then back to the sopranos before both parts sing together at bar 19. Fauré maintained the timelessness of the original chant despite this phrasing in two main ways. First, each phrase is a different length (8 bars, 4 bars, 4 bars, with endings highlighted) and they increasingly run into each other. There is a clear break in the song at the end of the first phrase, and then a one-note overlap between the next two, etc. Once the song reaches the “O Jesu” lines, the call and response parts are running seamlessly together, making the downbeat difficult to find as in the chant. Second, when the two parts do finally sing at the same time (as highlighted in the score), they sing two completely different melodies. Each melody flows independently of the other, creating a rising and falling effect instead of clear phrases. Between bars 18 and 22 the altos dominate with the sopranos echoing, and then at bar 22 the sopranos soar away as the altos drop so low that they can barely be heard.

The latest composition of Ave Verum was created by Domenico Bartolucci, the longtime director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 96. His Ave Verum was written for four a cappella voices and is exceedingly beautiful, as well as difficult. The most striking aspect of this piece is how the melody maintains a clear connection to the original chant while being passed back and forth among all four polyphonic parts. At the beginning it is clear that the sopranos have the melody with the tenors echoing, but which part holds the melody soon becomes less obvious. Yet the singers and the listeners can hear the chant tune like a thread running through every bar, tying the piece together. With his dedication to the sound original chant, Bartolucci committed his piece to being wholly and unequivocally outside of time. From the first note to the last, there is not one beat without sound. When the tenors take a rest at bar 17, the other three parts continue, at bars 24, 31, 37, and 46 the sopranos sing alone for one beat, but all three parts join them quickly, and so on. Taking advantage of all four parts, Bartolucci removed even the breathing phrasing from the original single-voice chant. I love this piece in part because it is composed so that each voice carries the other three forward, even in the delicate and soft bars. When listening to Bartolucci’s Ave Verum, one cannot find anything resembling a downbeat. Heard together the four separate voices blend together into one breathless sound, only fully resting after the last note.

As a singer and a listener, I love these and many more versions of Ave Verum Corpus (I didn’t even mention the most famous adaptation by Mozart) because the words and the music seem to combine to transcend time. The timelessness within chanted prayer has a theological backing, especially regarding Eucharistic chants. Composers of future settings have often sought to remain true to that timeless nature while still creating unique and widely varied musical compositions. The conventions of music change over time, and composers like Byrd, Fauré, and Bartolucci were not immune from these changes, but they used these new techniques to further enhance the original timelessness of chant in their settings of Ave Verum Corpus.

Works Cited

Attached scores and the following recordings:

Byrd, William. Ave Verum Corpus. Westminster Choir. J. Flummerfelt.

Naxos Music Library: Catalogue/item.asp?cid=CD-83

Fauré, Gabriel. Ave Verum Op. 65 No. 1. Netherlands Chamber Choir. Ed Spanjaard.

Naxos Music Library: Catalogue/item.asp?cid=PTC5186020.

Innocent VI. Ave Verum Corpus. Susanne Peck. Dennis Keene. Naxos Music

Library: catalogue/item.asp?cid=DE3174

Tolkien the Racist?

Tolkien Independent Study – Prof. Sacks

The topic of racism is always one filled with complicating factors, explanations, and strong emotions. In the essay “A Genealogy of Modern Racism,” by Cornel West, this fact is abundantly clear. West argues that racism, specifically towards black people, cannot “be fully accounted for in terms of the psychological needs of white individuals and groups or the political and economic interests of a ruling class.” (West, p. 92) In other words, West thinks that the more traditional understanding of where racism of this sort originated comes up short. The reality, as he shows, is much more complicated, and lies at the heart and goals of the modern discursive project. If I understood him correctly, his argument maintains that the kind of scientific discourse involved in the modern era led to reductive definitions of everything, including people, and despite the intentions of some of the modern thinkers, these definitions were not without biases and presuppositions. One can quickly see the descent from such reductive definitions of entire groups of people into a subtle, inherent racism.

Some of the critical analyses of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works regarding race show how discussing racism within fictional literature can be filled with even more complexity than racism in the real world. The most basic claims against Tolkien confront his imagery of light as superior to dark within Middle-earth. As a fan of the author, I have been confronted by a very similar question to the one described by Anderson Rearick in the first paragraph of his essay, “Why is the Only Good Orc a Dead Orc?” Thankfully, in those instances I have often been able to articulate a similar argument as the one Rearick lays out. When looking at Tolkien’s entire body of work, including his incredibly honest and revealing personal letters, one finds very quickly that the “light vs. dark” in Middle-earth is based entirely on Tolkien’s Christian ethos, as Rearick explains on page 5. There is absolutely a hierarchy on Middle-earth, but it has nothing to do with color, and everything to do with grace. I think the final paragraph that Rearick leaves his reader with gives a very beautiful, if also not strictly empirical, argument against the racist claims. “Racism is a philosophy of power,” Rearick says, “but The Lord of the Rings functions with the Christian idea of the renouncement of power. […] Nothing could be more contrary to the assumptions of racism than a Hobbit as a hero.” (Rearick, p. 6)

Two other noteworthy critical pieces, by Christine Chism and Dimitra Fimi, bring up a claim of a different kind of racism in The Lord of the Rings that I had not heard before this week: anti-Semitism. It seems that Tolkien’s obsession with Germanic/Nordic culture, exacerbated by his placement in history, has led some critics to question his viewpoint on the Jewish people. Both authors do a very good job of explaining not only the cultural situation within which Tolkien, especially as a young man, found himself, but also the evidences for and against the claims against him. As Fimi shows, “Race” was an evolving term during Tolkien’s time, and I think that some of his language regarding that issue can be taken out of context when viewed by a 21st century reader partly for this reason. Additionally, his love and use of northern-European culture by no means places him within the same confines as another man obsessed with the same, one Adolf Hitler (whom Tolkien called a “ruddy little ignoramus”). If it is not enough that Tolkien despised the Nazis to his core, in part precisely because of their bastardization of a culture he loved, (a highlight for me is his response to the Nazi publishing company inquiring about his racial purity), then one must also take into account how he used Germanic culture in his literature. More plainly, as Chism shows, Tolkien actually broke from some of the Germanic themes championed by Richard Wagner, who Hitler idolized. Concerning the murder of Mime by Siegfried in Wagner’s Ring, Chism says, “This callous sacrifice of the old to the emergent is antithetical to Tolkien, both ethically and aesthetically.” (Chism, p. 77) As a counter-example, Chism points to how both Frodo and Bilbo Baggins both choose to have pity and mercy on Gollum when they could just as easily, and perhaps justly, have slain him.

While there is significant critical literature entertaining the existence of racism within Tolkien’s opus, I believe that the authors quoted here, sometimes without meaning to, provide detailed and scholarly defenses of Tolkien and his works.

Tolkien the Philologist

Tolkien Independent Study – Prof. Sacks

On the surface it might seem like an ordinary and obvious statement to say that J.R.R. Tolkien, a professional philologist and a linguist, was extremely concerned with language. Tolkien clearly had an affinity toward words and language, but the readings for this class showed me the depth of what that affinity really meant for his mythology.

Until now, I had never thought for very long about the nature of language. It is a reality that we experience and use nearly every moment of every day, but it is also one that passes by almost entirely unexamined. When I read David Lyle Jeffrey’s essay, “Tolkien as Philologist,” many of the points he raised about language in general and Tolkien’s understanding and use of it in particular, created in me a new sense of awe for the linguistic phenomenon. For example, Jeffrey stated that within medieval philology, which profoundly influenced Tolkien, language occupies a place “between history and dream.” (Jeffrey, p. 68) Jeffrey explained that in this idea, language makes present both the past (history) and the future (dream) in a way that no other human function does. In Jeffrey’s own words, language “seems to express timeless truth through an utterance in time.” (Jeffrey, p. 68)

Jeffrey also explored how Tolkien viewed his writing as sub-creation and history or recovery rather than allegory. Tolkien famously said that he had a natural aversion toward allegory and that he “much prefers history true or feigned.” (Jeffrey, p. 64) With the knowledge that Tolkien was so influenced by medieval philology, this distinction began to make sense for me. From a Christian and specifically medieval point of view, all human artistic endeavor is not true unique creation but rather sub-creation of the one perfect Creation. In other words, even writing becomes an act of historical allegory of the deeper Truth of Creation. Tolkien used an example of a leaf to show the somewhat paradoxical connection between truly unique creation seemingly unique sub-creation. A leaf, Tolkien explained, is nothing new. We have all seen many leaves and will see many more, but each leaf grown new each season is unique in its “embodiment of the pattern.” (Jeffrey, p. 66) The pattern here is the singular, unique, archetypal creation of leafness, and all leaves since then, while unique in their types, follow under that original pattern. I recalled Tolkien’s example when I was reading, “A Disease of Mythology” in Splintered Light by Verlyn Flieger. In that chapter, Flieger discussed at length the idea of proto-language, a sort of archetypal language from which all others have flowed. Flieger looked at proto-language both as a theory of language evolution in the “real world” and in Middle-earth. This is a very complicated concept, but I also think a very beautiful and humble one for a creative writer like Tolkien to champion. He, the writer, in many ways cannot take ultimate credit for his work, as the words, the language(s), and the underlying themes are all just being recovered and relayed by him; he is simply picking up the many leaves on the ground and placing them into a coherent story.

Flieger and to a lesser extent Jeffrey both make use of many examples to show how language fills Tolkien’s works with deep meaning, and this is just the one aspect of their explorations of Tolkien as philologist that fascinated me the most.

Tolkien and Aquinas Synthesize

Tolkien Independent Study – Prof. Sacks

Once again I find myself struggling to put the swirling ideas in my head into a coherent thought. I see a clear connection between the combination of many different traditions in Tolkien’s writings and the picture of St. Thomas Aquinas painted by Alasdair MacIntyre (page 183 of Whose Justice? Which Rationality?), but I cannot make very many clear assertions based on this connection.

First of all, I find it interesting how I have had to explain to my contemporaries in the past that labeling Aquinas as only a medieval Aristotelian or only an Augustinian is too simplistic, as I have had to make similar defenses of Tolkien against some of the reductions thrust upon him by contemporary critics. At the same time, I struggled to really discern what MacIntyre’s ultimate conclusion on Aquinas was. On the one hand, he seems to be arguing that Aquinas ultimately synthesized aspects of Aristotelian and Augustinian thought, but on the other hand MacIntyre also seems to believe that Aquinas embraced the apparent paradox between the two systems and instead “reconstructed” them within his own framework as a metaphysical theologian and philosopher. And, of course, now that I type those two conclusions out they don’t seem all that different from each other.

Maybe the difficulty in understanding Aquinas’ synthesis is similar to how I view the complexities of Tolkien’s thought. In Verlyn Flieger’s book Splintered Light, it becomes clear that anyone seeking to commit a reduction of Tolkien’s thought similar to the sort I mentioned about Aquinas will be missing large influences on the works and on the author. Flieger’s discussion in the first chapter on how Tolkien was a “Man of Antitheses” showed the depth of research to which one must go in order to offer a worthy and accurate critique of a complicated author like Tolkien. Tolkien, in his life and in his works, made similar moves to those attributed to Aquinas by MacIntyre. In many ways, a deep search into the like of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien will find a man who embraced paradox and sought to reconstruct the apparently opposite sides.