Previous month:
February 2016
Next month:
April 2016

March 2016

Christian faith, inasmuch as it proclaims the truth of God’s total love and opens us to the power of that love, penetrates to the core of our human experience. Each of us comes to the light because of love, and each of us is called to love in order to remain in the light.

--Pope Francis (and Pope Benedict?), Encyclical Lumen Fidei (32), June 29, 2013

The explanation of the connection between faith and certainty put forward by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is well known. For Wittgenstein, believing can be compared to the experience of falling in love: it is something subjective which cannot be proposed as a truth valid for everyone. Indeed, most people nowadays would not consider love as related in any way to truth. Love is seen as an experience associated with the world of fleeting emotions, no longer with truth.

But is this an adequate description of love? Love cannot be reduced to an ephemeral emotion. True, it engages our affectivity, but in order to open it to the beloved and thus to blaze a trail leading away from self-centredness and towards another person, in order to build a lasting relationship; love aims at union with the beloved. Here we begin to see how love requires truth. Only to the extent that love is grounded in truth can it endure over time, can it transcend the passing moment and be sufficiently solid to sustain a shared journey. If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time. True love, on the other hand, unifies all the elements of our person and becomes a new light pointing the way to a great and fulfilled life. Without truth, love is incapable of establishing a firm bond; it cannot liberate our isolated ego or redeem it from the fleeting moment in order to create life and bear fruit.

If love needs truth, truth also needs love. Love and truth are inseparable. Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives. The truth we seek, the truth that gives meaning to our journey through life, enlightens us whenever we are touched by love. One who loves realizes that love is an experience of truth, that it opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved. In this sense, Saint Gregory the Great could write that "amor ipse notitia est", love is itself a kind of knowledge possessed of its own logic. It is a relational way of viewing the world, which then becomes a form of shared knowledge, vision through the eyes of another and a shared vision of all that exists. William of Saint-Thierry, in the Middle Ages, follows this tradition when he comments on the verse of the Song of Songs where the lover says to the beloved, "Your eyes are doves" (Song 1:15). The two eyes, says William, are faith-filled reason and love, which then become one in rising to the contemplation of God, when our understanding becomes "an understanding of enlightened love".

--Pope Francis, Encyclical Lumen Fidei  (27), June 29, 2013

In the Bible, the heart is the core of the human person, where all his or her different dimensions intersect: body and spirit, interiority and openness to the world and to others, intellect, will and affectivity. If the heart is capable of holding all these dimensions together, it is because it is where we become open to truth and love, where we let them touch us and deeply transform us. Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment.

--Pope Francis, Encyclical Lumen Fidei (26), June 29, 2013

Today more than ever, we need to be reminded of this bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age. In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings. Yet at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good. But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion. Surely this kind of truth — we hear it said — is what was claimed by the great totalitarian movements of the last century, a truth that imposed its own world view in order to crush the actual lives of individuals. In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant. It would be logical, from this point of view, to attempt to sever the bond between religion and truth, because it seems to lie at the root of fanaticism, which proves oppressive for anyone who does not share the same beliefs. In this regard, though, we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world. The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path.

--Pope Francis, Encyclical Lumen Fidei (25), June 29, 2013

52 Movies: Week 9 - One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (and two other movies)

In the guidelines for this series it was said that a contribution might discuss multiple films if they were somehow related (I think the examples given were Star Wars and Lord of the Rings). It might be taking liberties to interpret this as broadly as I am doing, but I would like to discuss three films that are related in the loosest sense: all three are Second World War British propaganda films about the air war, and all three have exceptional soundtracks. Two of them are set in the occupied Low Countries, which gives them a particular interest for me that others might not share.

The first of them, One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942), I mentioned in my earlier contribution about The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Both are wartime masterpieces of the writer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (of Black Narcissus fame), but two films could hardly be more different. Blimp is a Technicolor epic covering 40 years of history, with some fairly operatic elements; One of Our Aircraft is Missing is a tightly told story of a couple of days, entirely contemporary, and black-and-white.

The prelude to the film is a shot of a typed press release from the Dutch government-in-exile’s news bureau reporting the execution of five Dutchmen (two farmers and three farm hands) for helping a British serviceman, with a faint, funereal roll of drums in the background. Then the scene cuts to men at an air base straining their ears for the sound of aircraft returning, with the distant drone of an engine getting louder. All the bombers sent out are counted back, except for one. Then come the opening credits, and the film proper begins with the beginning of a night raid on the Mercedes Benz machine works in Stuttgart. For the first 20 minutes, the main sound is the throbbing of the engine, interspersed with short conversations (showcasing a range of accents among the crew) and occasional anti-aircraft fire.

The plot is simple. A British plane (a Vickers Wellington, to be precise) on its way back from bombing Stuttgart is shot down over the Netherlands. The crew bail out, after some mutual suspicion gain the trust of a member of the Resistance, and are smuggled to the coast. They brave the North Sea in a small boat, and are rescued by the Royal Navy. Throughout the film, the sound is as natural as possible — engines, sirens, guns, footsteps, birdsong, barking dogs, human voices. The only music is music that the characters in the film can hear (an organ in church, a gramophone, German soldiers singing). This was fairly revolutionary film-making for the early 1940s.

The propaganda message of the film is twofold. Firstly, that Britain is not alone, and not only fighting for its own survival; even countries conquered by the enemy are actively subverting German efforts and diverting German resources, and eagerly await the day the Allies will invade. Secondly, that patriotic civilians in occupied countries are given a sense of hope by British bombing raids. This gives the sound of the aircraft engine a more than incidental role. This is not just an experiment in cinematic realism, but a theme in which the sound of the aircraft engine is central, almost a character itself. In one of a couple of set-piece speeches in the film, a Dutch Resister (played by Googie Withers) references the sound as British planes fly overhead, sending the German soldiers who would otherwise block the airmen’s escape to their shelters.

Can you hear them running for shelter? Can you understand what that means to all the occupied countries, to enslaved people, having it drummed into their ears that the Germans are masters of the earth? Seeing those masters running for shelter, seeing them crouching under tables, and hearing that steady hum night after night, that noise which is oil for the burning fire in our hearts.

The other film set in the Low Countries, The Flemish Farm (1943), is in many respects similar to One of Our Aircraft is Missing. A refugee Belgian pilot serving in the RAF obtains permission to return to occupied Flanders on a mission to retrieve the colours of the Belgian Air Force, buried in a secret location on the eve of capitulation in 1940 to keep them from falling into German hands. Although his presence on occupied territory is voluntary, the plot has a similar outline (evading identification and capture, contacting the Resistance, obtaining the means to return to Britain). It doesn’t have Powell/Pressburger’s irony, and the comedic touches are fewer and heavier The opening credits claim that the screenplay is based on ‘an actual incident’, and this may be true.

There are a couple of important differences. One is location. Outside shots in One of Our Aircraft is Missing were filmed in a part of the Lincolnshire Fens that was drained and colonised by Dutch immigrants in the 17th century, and that looks entirely like Holland. The first time I saw the film, when it was on television almost 30 years ago, it looked so Dutch that it didn’t even occur to me that it could not have been filmed in the Netherlands. The Flemish Farm, in contrast, relies heavily on models and backdrops that are artfully made but could never be taken for real locations. There’s a backdrop of the medieval city centre of Ghent that is instantly recognisable, but unmistakably a painting. One of the few exceptions is the crossing of the Pyrenees, shot on location on Exmoor, which to my eye (but Grumpy would perhaps correct me) is not a very convincing substitute for Spanish mountains.

The other is the soundtrack. The Flemish Farm has an orchestral score specially commissioned from Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of the great names in the British romantic-classical tradition, recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. This, in a sense, links it to the third film, The First of the Few, which was scored by William Walton (an avant-gardist not, in this instance, being very avant-garde).

The First of the Few (apparently released in the US in a much shorter version under the title Spitfire) is not an adventure story like the other two, but something in the nature of a ‘biopic’ about the designer of the Spitfire (and also something of a ‘buddy’ film, with David Niven playing his test pilot). Perhaps surprisingly, it has similarities to two Studio Ghibli films, Porco Rosso (for scenes of the Schneider Race) and The Wind Rises (another biopic about an aeronautical engineer of the 1930s). The title is an allusion to Churchill’s ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’, referring to the fighter pilots who warded off the Luftwaffe in 1940–41. The film opens with the Battle of Britain, with the Niven character, now an RAF officer, reminiscing about the development history of the Spitfire. Although it’s a little slow-moving in places, and I can see why they cut it for the US release, to does have some quite funny and some quite touching moments. I only saw it for the first time recently, and it surprised me slightly that I had never heard of it until a year ago, when a Dutch classical musician being interviewed on the Belgian radio mentioned the score as one of his favourites.

—Paul has been reading the blog since 2008, when Janet drew his attention to a discussion about Brideshead Revisited. He currently trains translators in Brussels.

Therefore, each one of us is called to make Jesus known to those who do not yet know him. But this is not to proselytize. No, it is to open a door. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16), St Paul declared. If Our Lord Jesus has changed our lives, and he changes it every time we go to him, how can we not feel the passion to make him known to those we encounter at work, at school, in our apartment building, in the hospital, in meeting places? If we look around us, we find people who would be willing to begin — or begin again — a journey of faith were they to encounter Christians in love with Jesus. Shouldn’t we and couldn’t we be these Christians? I leave you this question: “Am I truly in love with Jesus? Am I convinced that Jesus offers me and gives me salvation?” And, if I am in love, I have to make him known! But we must be courageous: lay low the mountains of pride and rivalry; fill in the ravines dug by indifference and apathy; make straight the paths of our laziness and our compromises.

--Pope Francis, Angelus talk, December 6, 2015

(Sorry I missed yesterday--got busy and distracted.)

Off to Vote

For Marco Rubio in the Republican primary, because polls show him second behind Trump in this state, and I want the Trump alternative to get as many votes as possible. 

The Trump phenomenon is like a metastasizing cancer. As the evidence mounts that he is a bad man who will very likely do bad things, he gains more and more votes. I'm not on Twitter, and have an immediate reaction of irritation to any string of letters following a pound sign (except as a construct in a programming language like C). But I'm with the people who are saying #NeverTrump.

My casual distinction between right-wing and conservative seems to be applicable here. This is pretty much separating the right-wingers from the conservatives.

Before going to vote, I have to go to the dentist and get a couple of cavities filled. Seems appropriate for this election.

Addendum: thanks to Marianne for pointing me to this piece by Megan McArdle: "The Die-Hard Republicans Who Say #NeverTrump".