Rorate Caeli

Lepanto Conference: "I will not cease from Spiritual Fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, till we have restored the worship of God"

The Second annual Lepanto conference took place Saturday amid the Gothic splendor of St Vincent Ferrer church in New York. There were 700 people in the congregation for the Pontifical Mass; some 315 attended the conference itself. Thanks are due to Fr Walter C. Wagner OP, the pastor of St Vincent’s and to the Dominican order for hosting the conference.

The Most Reverend James Massa, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, celebrated Solemn Pontifical mass for St Pius V – the codifier of the Traditional Roman liturgy. Our dear contributor, Fr Richard Cipolla, of the Bridgeport diocese, was assistant priest. Rev. Mr Roger Kwan (Archdiocese of New York) served as deacon; Fr. Sean Connelly (Archdiocese of New York) was the subdeacon. William Riccio and Steve Quatela were the masters of ceremonies.

The following is the magnificent talk given by Father Cipolla during the Conference:

“Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses, hurtling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls, great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion, feasts for the dogs and birds.”So begins, in the English translation by Robert Fagles, one of the seminal epic poems of Western civilization, The Iliad.  The first  book is called The Rage of Achilles, Achilles, the son of a goddess, fierce, the ultimate war hero and  yet, in Fagles’ words in his introduction to the Iliad, “imprisoned in a godlike, lonely, heroic fury from which all the rest of the world is excluded.”  Achilles sits out most of the Iliad in rage against Agamemnon for taking his concubine, Briseis. He returns to action, so to speak, only when his friend, Patroclus, whom he loves so deeply, is killed and despoiled by the Trojan Hector. And it is then that Achilles becomes the killing machine not so much for the cause of the Greeks against the Trojans but rather because of his rage against Hector, a hero in in his own right, for killing and despoiling Patroclus.  And in that terrible scene we know so well, he kills Hector and drags his body around the walls of Troy three times in uncontrollable fury.  He rises as a hero to avenge the death of his beloved Patroclus, and he is godlike in his single mindedness to punish at all costs the one and those who have taken away someone that he loved deeply.  Heroism as singlemindedness, as physical prowess in war, as exhibiting passionate emotion, and heroism as knowing as well that one is doomed to death by the botched attempt of a god to make him immortal.

Arma virumque cano.So begins the Aeneid, Vergil’s epic poem about the trials and tribulations of the founding of Rome by Aeneas, a fugitive from Troy who witnessed the destruction of that great city.” I sing of arms and the man.” I sing of war and the man, the man who is the hero that makes possible not only the founding of Rome but who is the personification of the ideal of Roman civilization. One sees clearly at the start that this hero, Aeneas, is quite different from Achilles.  We first see Aeneas, or meet Aeneas, not in a sulking rage in his tent, refusing to fight for the Greeks.  We first meet Aeneas on a ship in a storm, a storm whipped up by the orders of Juno, the goddess queen, who fears the founding of Rome and does everything she can to stop it.  The first speech of the hero, in the translation by Robert Fitzgerald, as the hurricane threatens the lives of everyone on board ship.

“Aeneas on the instant felt his knees go numb and slack, and stretched both hands to heaven, groaning out:  Triply lucky all you men to whom death came before your fathers’ eyes below the wall at Troy!  Bravest Danaan, Diomedes, why could I not go down when you had wounded me and lose my life on Ilium’s’ battlefield!”  This hero is not Achilles.  He is terribly frightened and wishes that he had died defending Troy instead of dying of drowning at sea.  Not a good introduction to a hero, the hero who would lay the foundations for the founding of Rome and the Roman civilization that left its mark even after its fall on the way to that Western civilization that developed impregnated with the Christian faith.  Aeneas is the first modern hero, that is, the hero as flawed, son of a goddess but very human indeed, with glaring faults that include a forgetting of who he was and what was his calling.  That forgetfulness defines in many ways Western man through history, which deliberate forgetfulness is the mark of modern and post-modern man.  Modern man deliberately forgot his roots.  Post-modern man has little clue of his roots.  Aeneas forgets his calling to found Rome when confronted with the very special woman that is Dido.  Dido as a real and persuasive temptation, a great woman, for Aeneas was very real and perfectly understandable. It was the temptation to become settled down and ordinary with an extraordinary woman.  It took a hair -raising visit from Mercury, sent by Jupiter, to jolt Aeneas to remember his destiny. 

Vergil describes Aeneas many times by using the adjective pius.  This adjective becomes almost part of his name:  pius Aeneas.  This adjective cannot be translated by the English adjective “pious”, especially in a time when piety is not seen as something entirely positive even in the Catholic Church.  Pius means something clear:  devotion and allegiance to the gods, to one’s family and to one’s country, patria. Aeneas’ obvious love for his comrades, his taking on the burden of his calling, his appreciation of lacrimae rerum, the tears of things that lie at the heart of the human experience, his face of optimism and hope that he presents to his comrades when he weeps and is afraid in his heart, his positive self-forgetting within his special vocation, this is pius Aeneas. Even when in the last books of the Aeneid Aeneas become a fighting machine like Achilles,his pietasis not lost.  To see that pietas in marble one must go to the Galleria Borghese in Rome and see one of the earliest of Bernini’s sculptures that depicts Aeneas fleeing the destruction of Troy, carrying his aged father, Anchises, on his back, his father holding the household gods, Aeneas holding the hand of his little son Iulus, as they go forth from burning Troy to the unknown that is known as his destiny.

I would submit, willingly accepting the arrows of historicists and current despisers of Western culture, that Roman pietas was transformed into Catholic pietas not as a merely human development but rather as the result of the thunderclap of the Incarnation that transcended and fulfilled not merely the longing of the Jews but also the dogged if also unclear and flawed longing of the Roman understanding, despite its warping through the years of Empire, of pietas:  love of God, love of family and love of one’s country, the latter understood as something that transcends mere nationalism. 

One either believes that the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ in our time and space radically changed the very nature of things, changed time and space itself in relationship to human beings, such that after the Incarnation time is no longer linear but spherical, with the Incarnation at its center---or not.  If not, Christianity is mere religion, one religion among many and in the end—a currently common opinion in Rome—it makes no difference what one believes because the God who is the Wizard of Oz has many tracks on his choo-choo train, and everyone ends up in the same wonderful place that is a projection of each individual’s picture of happiness.  But against this false and facile and foolish version of Christianity there are the saints:  the Christian heroes who are products of the big bang of the Incarnation.   The Christian heroes are a problem for those who would reduce Christianity to mere moralism, to being kind and good, and let others be kind and good in their own way without any reference to faith or belief.

The Latin word virtus is the origin of the English word, virtue.  Once a powerful word in the English language, virtue as a word now appears only in tony BBC remakes of Jane Austen novels or in homework assignments for Catholic boys and girls studying for the test that will allow them to be confirmed.  Imagine a sacrament depending on passing a test!  The first meaning in Latin of virtus is the obvious one: the quality of the man-hero, the vir  The secondary meanings are strength, courage, bravery, and in the Christian era, virtue.  The saints remind us that one cannot have virtue in the deepest sense without being strong, without having courage, without being a hero. And—here comes the pedantry of the Latin teacher—the word virtus in Latin is feminine. Those of us who celebrate the Traditional Mass as the heart of our priesthood know deeply the virtus of Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha,Lucia, AgnesCecilia, Anastasia, and all thesaintsThe quality ofvirtus transcends both sex and gender. Speaking of gender, I used to tell my Latin students when the whole question of the deliberate misuse of the word gender in our culture came up in class:  nouns have gender, people have sex. If your parents had gender and not sex, you would not be here today. 

I shall briefly offer three Christians as examples of a Christian hero.  One must understand essentially that what sets them apart from heroes in general is that the heart of their heroism is not an idea or an ideal but rather a person, and this person is Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried and on the third day rose from the dead.  What makes the Christian hero is not merely pietas or bravery or a shining example of virtue.   What makes the Christian hero is the person of Jesus Christ and the imitation of Him.

The first is Saint Paul, for me almost the very definition of the Christian hero.  It is perhaps unfair to offer him as an example because he is so singular in so many ways.  Who else was knocked off his horse as he, a Pharisee, was traveling to persecute Christians, knocked off in such a dramatic way that leaves nothing to the imagination, as painted by Caravaggio and seen in Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome? St. Paul, like all Christian heroes, is not perfect, he is flawed.  His letters betray his disappointment and frustration with those in the churches to whom he writes and which he visits, who do not understand what it means to be a disciple of Christ and what this means for one’s life. He is sensitive about his own calling as an apostle.  Unlike Peter, whom Jesus made the rock in his living presence, with all that means and does not mean, Paul is called late in time and never knew Jesus as he walked this earth, and that causes conflict for him in his own self-understanding and certainly in his relationship with Peter.  But when one reads Paul’s letters, it is absolutely clear that he understands that the person of Jesus Christ is the heart of his existence and that he believes that Christ is the Savior of the world, not merely of Jewish converts, but of the whole world, and this faith drives his missionary journeys replete with shipwrecks and beatings and imprisonment,  and the writing of his letters to the various churches throughout the Roman empire--without which there would be—bold statement coming—no Christianity.  And it is Paul who understands that the ultimate imitation of Christ in the world is to die for Christ, and it is this imitatio Christi that fuels his heroism and makes him a Christian hero.

The second is St. Ignatius of Antioch.   I first met this Christian hero in the Bodleian library at Oxford University.  I was doing my doctoral thesis on the history and development of the doctrine of Transubstantiation in the Church.  I knew I had to read Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans.  My Greek was not great, and I remember sitting there in the dreary English damp cold struggling through the text. And then I came upon this passage.

I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless you hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to anyone. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God]. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being a prisoner, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain.

All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die on behalf of  Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth. For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul? Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me. Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world. Allow me to obtain pure light: when I have gone there, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If an one has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened.

I stopped reading.  Ignatius’s words, his faith in the person of Jesus Christ and his faith in the real presence of this person in the Eucharist stopped me cold.  And in retrospect this was an important event that led me to the Catholic Church.  But not only his belief, in the second century, in the Real Presence but his understanding that the ultimate imitatio Christi is martyrdom made me understand for the first time the essence of the Christian hero: the imitation of the ultimate self-giving of the Son of God, martyrdom as the ultimateimitatio Christi. It is certainly true that many men and women through the past two millennia have had the imitation Christi at the center of their lives and have imitated Christ in the way they lived their lives:  subordination of the self by the act of self-giving love.  But it is martyrdom for the sake of Christ that is the ultimate crown. Again, it is not merely a desire for martyrdom.  The Christian desire for martyrdom is driven by love, a love for those to whom Ignatius writes his letters on his way to Rome, those who lived in fear of persecution everyday. And his love for his flock in Antioch as bishop and his concern for those living in cities on his way to Rome. The foundation for this loving concern is the person of Jesus Christ whom he knows and therefore loves.

The third is Joan of Arc.  Her presence in my life of faith is recent.  Some years ago, while rushing through the later European paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on my way to some painting deemed very important to the Met collection, I walked by a painting by an artist of the later nineteenth century, French, that I had never heard of.  I stopped and looked and was mesmerized.  The painting is strange, quite rightly, because Joan hearing the voices of the three saints calling her to her peculiar mission, is strange, the intensity of her listening face, the mysterious crudity of the painting of the three saints, the almost alarming clarity of her surroundings: I said to myself:  why do I not know this woman?  I knew about her vaguely from history books, strange young woman, dressed up in armor like a man and led an army to rid France of the English enemy, was burned at the stake in Rouen, all these facts.  I knew she was a saint but only recognized as such by canonization as late as the second decade of the 20th century.   I read about her from various sources, and then I hit upon her biography in novel form by Mark Twain. Mark Twain!  One of the great skeptics of any religion.  What Twain saw in her was the truth about Joan of Arc.  He was able to detach from her particular situation, her sitzimleben at a particular time and place , to see her as a true hero who transcended her time and place, and Twain knew, even if he did not understand, that what drove her to don her armor was not merely because she was the maid of Lorraine who heard these voices of the saints but because of her Catholic faith that exemplified itself in her pietas, part of which washer love of her country and its Catholic faith. The peasant girl who did what no man could do for years, to lift the siege of Orleans and to go on to make it possible to have Charles VII crowned as king of France in Rheims.  Surely this woman echoes the words of John of Austria’s words to his men about to do battle with the Ottoman fleet off the coast of Greece at Lepanto:“There is no paradise for cowards.” Joan of Arc was betrayed, betrayed by her countrymen and her Church.  She was totally abandoned by those she fought for and in a horrendous mock trial led by a faithless bishop she was stripped of the very heart of her singular and in some ways incomprehensible quest, and she was burnt at the sake in a public square in Rouen. One wonders, despite her canonization 500 years after her death, whether the irony of Joan’s martyrdom was ever understood by the Church. Probably not, for she, as so many other Christian heroes, has faded into that place where the names of saints are mere names, nomina nuda, verba nuda. 

Shortly after the movie, The Graduate, became a big hit in 1967 and the song from that film, Mrs.Robinson , became a hit as well, Paul Simon happened to meet Joe Dimaggio who  somewhat testily asked him why he included in this song those words, “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?”  Simon, in his retelling of this meeting, was taken aback and really could not answer.  That further refrain in the song: “Jesus loves you more than you can know.”  Where did that come from?  The sixties were that time of transition from modern to post-modern, a time of social upheaval, a time of challenging deeply the basic assumptions and mores of a Western culture that was permeated by Christian faith. And sadly and ironically, that was exactly the time that the Catholic Church decided to become modern, when the rest of the Western world was abandoning modernity. It was not being abandoned for the sake of turning to the Catholic faith to be sure, but rather for a post-modernity that has little interest in the modern world, the latter world formed at least symbolically by the so-called Enlightenment and which crumbled under the onslaught of two terrible World Wars.  The tragedy associated with the Second Vatican Council is not the Council itself, for many Ecumenical Councils contributed little to the ongoing faith of the Church. Most Councils contributed just what they had to, no more, no big deal.  The tragedy of the Second Vatican Council is not merely Councilolatry, worship of the Council, nor its adopting the false confidence of the revolutionaries who were convinced that they were ushering in a new world in which all you need is love.  The real and deep tragedy of the Council is its still -born attempt to make Catholic worship modern, imposing forcibly on the whole Catholic Church, like the Protestants at the English Reformation, a liturgy that is redolent of a progressive looking but terribly sentimental sitcom of the 60s and 70s that now has little relevance to contemporary man and even less relevance to the worship of the Church within the God-given Tradition of the Church, and whose bitter fruit is the fact that at least in the Western world an average of only 20% of Catholics attend Mass on a Sunday. 

The Greek word doxa in classical Greek means common belief or popular opinion. Socrates famously rejected doxa as understood in this way as the basis of truth.  But many centuries later, the translators of the Septuagint translated the Hebrew word for “glory’, as in the glory of God, as doxa.  It is this word that permeates the New Testament with respect to the glory of God, and, not insignificantly, the book of Revelation, the vision and handbook so to speak of the eternal worship of God in heaven.  What this means is that one cannot separate true worship, how one worships God, from true doctrine, what is to be believed as true.  True and good worship of God brings forth and supports the truth of dogma, and this is true certainly in the development of doctrine.  The form of worship, the liturgy, that departs from the bond between the truth of doctrine and the truth of worship within that special Holy Spirit led reality that is Catholic Tradition, must in the end dissolve both worship in spirit and truth and the very idea of orthodoxy as what is to be believed.

The heroes of the Church of the immediate and near future will be those Catholic men and women, lay, priests and bishops, who will understand that the fruit of wrong worship is wrong theology and wrong living. A liturgy made up after the Council by a committee called a Consilium( some members of which openly despised the Roman Mass)  at a certain time and place in the history of the Church, a liturgical rite concocted on the basis of liturgical scholarship du jour and personal preferences, a liturgical rite that is a break with the Tradition of the Church, cannot provide the spiritual nourishment that will enable Catholics in the future to be Christian heroes.  And without Christian men and women as Christian heroes the scandal and wonder of the Incarnation will no longer be known.  Without Christian heroes the centrality of the Cross of Jesus Christ to the meaning of the suffering of the world will be lost.  Without Christian heroes the reality of the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ will be lost.  But there are young people here—especially the young men who organized this conference--and in many other places who understand what it means to be a Catholic and who have discovered the Traditional Roman Mass and who are willing to be Christian heroes, even if it means in some real way to walk the way of the Cross, especially within a Church whose leaders have deliberately forgotten what it means to be a Christian hero and who seem hell bent to make the Catholic Church into a form of Anglicanism except without good taste.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you
Wu wuwu
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson
Jolting Joe has left and gone away
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey

Or this:

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Spiritual Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have restored the worship of God,
In every Catholic Church in ev’ry land. 

Final note: The Society of St Hugh of Cluny sponsored this event. The generosity of the late Fr. Ignacio Barreiro sponsored the memorable divine liturgy.