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True Sanctity Lies in Strength of Soul and Not in Sentimental Softness

By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira   
July 01, 1953

Originally published in the magazine Catolicismo, Vol. 30 - July 1953

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The Church teaches that true and complete sanctity is the heroism of virtue. The honor of the altars is not granted to weak, hypersensitive souls that flee from profound thoughts, from acute suffering, from the fight, in short, from the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Mindful of the words of Her Divine Founder, “the kingdom of heaven belongs to the violent,” the Church canonizes only those who, in life, authentically fought the good fight, those who plucked out their own eye or cut off their own foot when it caused scandal, and sacrificed everything to follow only Our Lord Jesus Christ. In reality, sanctification entails the greatest heroism, for it presupposes not only the firm and serious resolution to sacrifice life itself if need be to remain faithful to Jesus Christ, but even to live a prolonged existence on earth if God so desires, constantly renouncing everything most dear in order to adhere only to the divine will.

A certain iconography, unfortunately much in use, presents the saints quite differently: they appear soft, sentimental, with neither personality nor strength of character, incapable of serious, solid and coherent ideas; they seem to be souls guided only by their emotions and, therefore, totally unsuited for the great fights that always accompany earthly life.

The figure of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus was especially deformed by bad iconography. Roses, smiles, inconsistent sentimentality, a soft life free of cares, a person with bones of rock candy and blood of honey — this is the idea they would like us to have of that great, that incomparable saint.

How all this differs from her true spirit — vast and profound like the firmament, shining and burning like the sun, yet so humble and so filial — which one finds upon reading her autobiography, The Story of a Soul.

Our two pictures represent, so to speak, two different and even opposite “Theresas.”

In the first, there is nothing heroic; this is insignificant, superficial and perfumed Theresa imagined by romantic and sentimental iconography. The second is authentic Theresa, photographed on June 7, 1897, shortly before her death on September 30 of the same year.

Her countenance is marked by the deep peace earned by great and irrevocable renunciations. Her features have a definition, a strength and a harmony possessed only by souls with an iron logic. Her gaze bespeaks tremendous sufferings in the deepest recesses of the soul yet, at the same time, reveals the fire and courage of a heroic soul, determined to advance cost it may.

Contemplating this physiognomy, strong and profound as only the grace of God can make a human soul, one thinks of another Face: that of the Holy Shroud of Turin, which no man could have imagined and perhaps none dare describe. Between the Face of Our Dead Lord, which has a peace, a strength, a profundity and a sorrow that human words cannot express, and the face of Saint Theresa, there is an imponderable yet very real similarity. And why should it be though surprising that the Holy Face impressed something of Itself on the face and the soul of one who in religious life called herself Theresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face?

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Equalizing Everything: A Mania, Not a Necessity

By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira   
April 01, 1953

Orginally published in the magazine Catolicismo, Vol. 28 - April 1953 (*)

While the horse is increasingly abandoned as a means of transportation, it continues to be in vogue in sport. Everywhere, horsemanship continues to be an object of lively interest. Football and boxing champions have not destroyed the popularity of the jockey. Indeed, the qualities that an authentic horseman should embody – daring and prudence, acute perception, presence of mind, agility, knowledge and perfect control in the saddle – merit public acclaim.

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These pictures show three horsemen jumping difficult obstacles. They are typical of photographs found in equestrian clubs throughout the world. It is delightful to contemplate the dexterity, strength and elegance of these three horsemen.

However they are not horsemen, but horsewomen. The elements of distinction in French horsemanship, the way of riding, the attire, in short everything taken together gives them a markedly masculine appearance.

Without going into details it is good to note how anti-natural and abnormal it is for a woman to look like a man in any circumstance. It is just as anti-natural and abnormal for a man to look like a woman. This strange mania for masculinizing women (not to mention the feminization of men!) also infiltrates horsemanship, as is shown in the pictures above.

Where does this tendency come from? In each case, it is covertly introduced under a different pretext: convenience, simplicity or economy. In the case of horsemanship, freedom of movement and safety were perhaps the excuses used. However these are mere deceptions… 

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Here we have a charming group of German horsewomen, who gallop swiftly in an aristocratic park. Using sidesaddles, they ride with the distinction of true ladies, which does not impede their gallop from having the speed, lack of restraint, and lightness of the “Ride of the Valkyries.” Their whole costume displays all the grace and delicacy of dignified ladies in a highly civilized nation. Yet the sportive note, inseparable from horsemanship, is not damaged in the least. (The word sportive here is in its good sense, although discussion of its multiple and dubious applications would demand a whole article.)

Practical reasons, then, are not what impose the masculinization of women in horsmanship. Rather, it is a manifestation of the tendency, more apparent today than ever, to level, equalize, homogenize and confound everything.   


(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. –Ed. American TFP.

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Sacred Art and Naturalism

By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira   
January 01, 1953

Orginally published in the magazine Catolicismo, Vol. 25 - January 1953 (*)

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Upon entering the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the first impression is one of vastness. The immense polished floor provides an open arena for the diverse performance of the filtering light. The length and height of the walls are enhanced by the tall, narrow arches. One row of arches opens to the expansive gardens; the other side is inset with mirrors, whose reflections add depth to the perspective. The vaulted ceiling depicts a multitude of mythical characters in abundantly rich colors, which even further accentuates the vastness of the whole.

This first impression is immediately followed by another: that of an admirable, harmonious proportion between the height, width and length of the hall. The same could be said of the decorative features of the wall at the far end: the arch is in perfect proportion to the curvature of the ceiling and to the width and height of the hall; the panels on both sides are exactly proportionate to each other and to the respective walls; the vases could have not been better chosen. The size of the chandelier in the room beyond is perfect when seen through the arch. Similar observations could be made about each of the many decorative features that embellish the hall.

It is as if the same vigorous - almost unyielding - harmony permeated everything; it rules and orders, subjecting all forms, designs and colors to one grand central theme, which reigns and shines in even the smallest details. It is a theme abounding in grandeur, consistency, strength, gracefulness and charm. In other words, it is a faithful image of the temporal order as envisioned by absolutism: a harmonious relationship of all things, established and preserved by the rule of the strong, enlightened, fatherly and always invincible will of the king.

This harmony is not just triumphant, but also festive. This hall was made for glory and pleasure. It bears the mark of a society that thought it had reached perfect stability by making the will of the king its absolute center. And through this stability, they imagined that they had reached material abundance and a perfect earthly well-being.

In fact, this well-being does possess a high spiritual tone. All the pleasures offered by this hall are primarily intended for the delight of the soul, touching, stirring and nourishing its most noble aspects. It is a dignifying environment that makes man feel like what he really is: the king of nature.

Earthly well-being, earthly glory, earthly pleasure and natural order are all reflected in this hall with admirable clarity and skill. Nature was created by God, and it is good and beautiful in itself. The artist and the Catholic thinker must acknowledge this goodness and beauty of the purely natural side of earthly life.

But should he be content with this alone? What about the idea of Original Sin, the struggle between good and evil and the need for penance? What about the notion of death and, beyond death, that of heaven and hell? What about the concept of a redeemer who suffered and died for us amidst an ocean of indescribable sorrow and pain? What about the many lessons in Divine Revelation and the Redemption, so visible and so well expressed in medieval art? In a word, what about the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ?

One may find many admirable spiritual values in this environment -but they are the very values that inspired the revolution of 1789. The stamp of pagan thought conspicuously overshadows the mark of Holy Baptism when compared with the Gothic style.

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Those who danced in the Hall of Mirrors prayed in the chapel of the Palace of Versailles. Couldn't one say that this chapel is an extension of or a complement to the hall? The paintings in the chapel have a religious theme, but the stances, gestures and expressions of the saints more or less resemble those of the mythological gods in the Hall of Mirrors. The arches and the colonnade have. a pompous, festive air. Everything reflects natural propriety, order and proportion; nothing expresses mysticism (in the good sense of the word, of course) or supernatural fervor. It looks like a chapel for happy, self-sufficient men who desire only a prosperous earthly life and who come here to visit God out of sheer courtesy. Nothing seems capable of providing an ambience for the prayers of suffering men who fight against the world, the devil and the flesh and who long for heaven.

These two examples show the influence exerted by the naturalist trend of the epoch on not only the temporal sphere--but on the spiritual sphere as well.  


(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. –Ed. American TFP.

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Can Only Sacred Art Be Christian?

By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira   
December 01, 1952

Orginally published in the magazine Catolicismo, Vol. 24 - December 1952 (*)

Through tall stained glass windows comes abundant but soft streams of light. This light is reflected everywhere: on the floor, the polished metal of the weapons and suits of armor, and the bronze and crystal of the immense candelabras. It even seems to touch with difficulty the ceiling ribbing and paintings overhead. The strong yet elegant columns, with their coherent, distinct, and suave lines, open up like immense palm trees that protect the hall with their fronds of stone. The hall is strongly impregnated by a special ambience that invites one to repose without idleness or dissipation. Rather, it is a repose imbued with gravity, reflection, equilibrium and strength.

The armor and the stuffed deer enrich this ambience recalling the prowess of the hunt and the battlefield. The carved wood paneling with its elegance and warmth breaks the austerity which the stone alone perhaps would have had to the extreme. In the back on a pedestal is a statue of a saint which draws one’s thoughts toward Heaven.

This hall undoubtedly reflects a mentality that may be pleasing to some and perhaps displeasing to others. However, it expresses an admirable arrangement of colors and forms. It is a hall designed for daily use in civil society which presents an ambience in which most of us would feel at ease living our daily lives.

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Through tall stained glass windows comes abundant but soft streams of light. This light is reflected everywhere: on the floor, the polished metal of the weapons and suits of armor, and the bronze and crystal of the immense candelabras. It even seems to touch with difficulty the ceiling ribbing and paintings overhead. The strong yet elegant columns, with their coherent, distinct, and suave lines, open up like immense palm trees that protect the hall with their fronds of stone. The hall is strongly impregnated by a special ambience that invites one to repose without idleness or dissipation. Rather, it is a repose imbued with gravity, reflection, equilibrium and strength.

The armor and the stuffed deer enrich this ambience recalling the prowess of the hunt and the battlefield. The carved wood paneling with its elegance and warmth breaks the austerity which the stone alone perhaps would have had to the extreme. In the back on a pedestal is a statue of a saint which draws one’s thoughts toward Heaven.

This hall undoubtedly reflects a mentality that may be pleasing to some and perhaps displeasing to others. However, it expresses an admirable arrangement of colors and forms. It is a hall designed for daily use in civil society which presents an ambience in which most of us would feel at ease living our daily lives.

Sainte Chapelle - Blog Catedrais Medievais

The Sainte Chapelle in Paris was constructed in the thirteenth century by Saint Louis IX, King of France, to house some of the thorns from the Crown of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It expresses the same mentality as the hall even though it is not turned toward daily life in society, but rather toward prayer. Its note of elegance touches on the sublime. These differences however do not cause it to lose any of its plenitude of strength, equilibrium, gravity and recollection.

Over the centuries, religious, artists and pilgrims have seen an archetypal expression of the Christian soul in the Sainte Chapelle. This is seen in the ambience contained therein. It can also be discerned in the mentality so well expressed in its lines, colors, forms, and general design.

Both the hall and the Chapel are Christian. What makes them Christian is not only the effect of the religious images and symbols found there. Rather, it is more by the ambience that one imbibes there and the mentality that is the basis of this ambience.

From these observations, one arrives at a broad concept. A work of art is not Christian by simply being covered with symbols of our Holy Religion, just as a man does not become a monk by simply wearing a habit.

To be called genuinely Christian, the pulsating soul that shows through in the work of art must be Catholic. And a Christian ambience does not only impregnate buildings destined for worship, but any place where one sees in its design that unmistakable mark expressed by a truly Christian soul in everything that he does.

 


 

(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. –Ed. American TFP.

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Saving the Earth, Disfiguring the Earth

By James Bascom   
July 22, 2016

A basic principle of the Green Movement is the flawed idea that modern man, and especially Western Christian man, is oppressing and exploiting the Earth. Whether by building cities, cultivating farmland, or burning coal, modern man is slowly killing our planet. The only way to reverse this trend, so they say, is to radically change the way people think of themselves and their relationship with the natural world. Essential to this transformation is the way we produce and consume energy.

Thanks to this philosophy and political pressure by moneyed ecological organizations, governments around the world have spent billions of dollars on so-called “renewable” energy, especially solar and wind power. So many wind turbines have been built in the United States that few people have not see one. Below is a photo of a wind turbine farm, the Alta Wind Energy Center in California, the largest in the country.

Alta Wind Farm

The Alta Wind Energy Center in California, the largest in the country. 
Z22/WikimediaCC BY-SA 3.0 


Like the movement to fight “global warming,” “renewable” energy is more about politics than science or economics. Many people hesitate to criticize it publicly and expose themselves to ridicule. However, these wind turbines have become a symbol of sorts. They represent the spirit and values system of our post-modern, post-Christian society. 

If there is one thing about wind turbines that nearly every decent American could agree with, it is that they are extremely ugly. Their thin construction leads an observer to question how such a gigantic structure could possible hold itself together. Their drab, gray, metallic exterior only adds to their inorganic foreignness. The turbine blades don’t catch the air gracefully, but rather seem to wage a perpetual knife fight with it.

One could be forgiven for thinking that some race of aliens secretly placed them there as monuments to overawe mankind with their "superior" technology. Nothing in these turbines reflects a distinctly human touch or reflects anything of the national character. There is nothing in their design to indicate that they were made in the United States as opposed to, say, China. Nothing about them reflects the colors, materials, or shapes of the world upon which they were built, the personality of the engineers who designed them, or the craftsmanship of the workers who built them. 

Contrast these modern wind turbines with the De Adrien windmill in Haarlam, Netherlands.

Traditional windmills like this one not only performed practical functions but served as cultural monuments which were valued far beyond their role in economic production. Their unique design were representative of the spirit of the local people. Locals could proudly say that their great-great grandfather helped build them. Unlike modern turbines, which are so ugly and noisy that they are built far away from populated areas, this windmill doesn’t crush or overwhelm man or the natural world. On the contrary, it has a calming, relaxing influence on the observer. No one finds it unpleasant in the middle of a populated city.

Haarlem molen de Adriaan

Windmill of Haarlem, Netherlands.
Michielverbeek/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Like so many things in our world, wind turbines are monuments to efficiency, practicality, and material production. Their design, no doubt, is the pinnacle of wind turbine technology. They probably extract energy out of the air more efficiently than any other windmill in history. There is nothing wrong with efficiency and practicality per se. We Americans are a practical people and take legitimate pride in our ability to solve practical problems. But the error of our times is to turn efficiency, practicality, and material production into supreme values that completely exclude other, more important needs of the soul such as beauty, harmony, elegance, hierarchy, organicity, and proportion, among others. 

These wind turbines are one of the great contradictions of our times. Radical ecological groups in the 1980s and 1990s such as Earth First! would often sabotage logging equipment to preserve the wilderness from the supposed corrupting influence of man. For them, the act of harvesting the Earth’s resources is inherently destructive to the beauty of the natural landscape. 

Today, the very same ecologists promote wind turbines in order to "save" the Earth from the harmful effects of mankind’s hydrocarbon-based technology. Yet few structures so completely mar a beautiful landscape like a wind turbine farm. Instead of having a single power plant that is virtually never seen by the majority of people, we have vast fields of ugly wind turbines that destroy the beauty of the landscape that God created. Ecologists are disfiguring the Earth in the name of saving it.

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Ambiences, Customs, Civilizations written by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

 

What is meant by Ambiences, Customs, Civilizations"?

 

N. 5 -- Painting of the Human Soul

N. 6 -- Two Paintings, Two Mentalities, Two Doctrines

N. 7 -- The Christian Spirit and the Pagan Spirit Manifested in Architecture

N. 9 -- Two Ways of Looking at Country Life

N. 13 -- Two Styles, Two Ways of Being

N. 17 -- Spiritual Decoration vs. Materialist Decoration

N. 19 -- Barbarians, Pagans, Neo-Barbarians, Neo-Pagans

N. 20 -- Clothing, Mirror of an Epoch

N. 21 -- Two Feminine Ideals

N. 22 -- Small Symptoms of a Great Transformation

N. 23 -- Old Age: Decrepitude or Glory?

N. 24 -- Can Only Sacred Art Be Christian?

N. 25 -- Sacred Art and Naturalism

N. 28 -- Equalizing Everything: A Mania, Not a Necessity

N. 30 -- True Sanctity Lies in Strength of Soul and Not in Sentimental Softness

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