vallis lacrimarum


 

The habitual austerity of the Cordatian regime is always softened a bit in Easter Week, and so in recent days I have watched two Alfred Hitchcock films from the 1940’s, Spellbound and Notorious. In each, the heroine was played by Mrs Petter Lindström, better known by her maiden name, Ingrid Bergman.

One can see why this actress stood out in her generation: the particular cast of her beauty, at once wholesome and vulnerable, and the intelligence of her acting. She was ‘not like’ the other Hollywood stars, so the papers said, implying that these others were no better than they ought to be. She had a happy home life wholly separate from her career, and was glad to regard her Swedish husband, a neurosurgeon, as the head of their household.

Then in 1950 she revealed that she was leaving him for an Italian film director whose child she was carrying, and a nation mourned. Perhaps in America the 1960’s began in 1950.

The habit grew on her. The Italian was divorced after a few years, and then she ‘married’ another Swede. They divorced as well. She died officially unmarried in 1982, although her real husband, who had also married again invalidly, lived till the year 2000. They burned her body and threw the ashes into the sea.

Reading all this made me wonder about the dangers of acting. It’s not just that some of the scenes, even in films from 75 years ago, could not be performed without violating the virtue of modesty. But the very practice of mimicking romantic love, attentively and at length, is bound to make the reality of it sometimes spring up. Then what happens to the domestic life, especially if that has grown monotonous? ‘There are some occupations’, says St Gregory the Great, ‘which either hardly or never can be followed without sinning’.

Her husband revealed later that the Italian had not been the first man. It seems that Ingrid too had all along been no better than she ought to have been. But then who is, I wonder? In later life she came out with some sad stuff about having been true to herself. Rousseau is probably at the bottom of it all. I suppose she was simply trying to be happy.

One great idea on which all tragedy builds is the idea of the continuity of human life. The one thing a man cannot do is exactly what all modern artists and free lovers are always trying to do. He cannot cut his life up into separate sections. The case of the modern claim for freedom in love is the first and most obvious that occurs to the mind; therefore I use it for this purpose of illustration. You cannot have an idyll with Maria and an episode with Jane; there is no such thing as an episode. There is no such thing as an idyll. It is idle to talk about abolishing the tragedy of marriage when you cannot abolish the tragedy of sex. Every flirtation is a marriage; it is a marriage in this frightful sense; that it is irrevocable.

I have taken this case of sexual relations as one out of a hundred; but of any case in human life the thing is true. The basis of all tragedy is that man lives a coherent and continuous life. It is only a worm that you can cut in two and leave the severed parts still alive. You can cut a worm up into episodes and they are still living episodes. You can cut a worm up into idylls and they are quite brisk and lively idylls. You can do all this to him precisely because he is a worm. You cannot cut a man up and leave him kicking, precisely because he is a man. We know this because man even in his lowest and darkest manifestation has always this characteristic of physical and psychological unity. His identity continues long enough to see the end of many of his own acts; he cannot be cut off from his past with a hatchet; as he sows so shall he reap.

This then is the basis of all tragedy, this living and perilous continuity which does not exist in the lower creatures. This is the basis of all tragedy, and this is certainly the basis of Macbeth. The great ideas of Macbeth, uttered in the first few scenes with a tragic energy which has never been equalled perhaps in Shakespeare or out of him, is the idea of the enormous mistake a man makes if he supposes that one decisive act will clear his way. Macbeth’s ambition, though selfish and someway sullen, is not in itself criminal or morbid. He wins the title of Glamis in honourable war; he deserves and gets the title of Cawdor; he is rising in the world and has a not ignoble exhilaration in doing so. Suddenly a new ambition is presented to him (of the agency and atmosphere which presents it I shall speak in a moment) and he realizes that nothing lies across his path to the Crown of Scotland except the sleeping body of Duncan. If he does that one cruel thing, he can be infinitely kind and happy.

Here, I say, is the first and most formidable of the great actualities of Macbeth. You cannot do a mad thing in order to reach sanity. Macbeth’s mad resolve is not a cure even for his own irresolution. He was indecisive before his decision. He is, if possible, more indecisive after he has decided. The crime does not get rid of the problem. Its effect is so bewildering that one may say that the crime does not get rid of the temptation. Make a morbid decision and you will only become more morbid; do a lawless thing and you will only get into an atmosphere much more suffocating than that of law. Indeed, it is a mistake to speak of a man as `breaking out.’ The lawless man never breaks out; he breaks in. He smashes a door and finds himself in another room, he smashes a wall and finds himself in a yet smaller one. The more he shatters the more his habitation shrinks. Where he ends you may read in the end of Macbeth (G.K. Chesterton, ‘The Macbeths’)

May the divine mercy have released her from it before the end.

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Some original footage of the asteroid (cf. Miss Hilary White, passim)

http://www.nbcuniversalarchives.com/nbcuni/clip/51A06327_s01.do

Oh, Cousin Vincent, if the whole world were animated with a reasonable soul, as Plato thought it were, and if it had wit and understanding to mark and perceive everything, Lord God, how the ground on which a prince buildeth his palace would loud laugh its lord to scorn, when it saw him proud of his possession and heard him boast that he and his blood are for ever the very lords and owners of the land! For then would the ground think the while, to itself, “Ah, thou poor soul, who thinkest thou wert half a god, and art amid thy glory but a man in a gay gown! I who am the ground here, over whom thou art so proud, have had a hundred such owners of me as thou callest thyself, more than ever thou hast heard the names of. And some of them who went proudly over mine head lie now low in my belly, and my side lieth over them. And many a one shall, as thou dost now, call himself mine owner after thee, who shall neither be kin to thy blood nor have heard any word of thy name.”

Who owned your village, cousin, three thousand years ago?

(from ‘Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation’, by St Thomas More)

It is good for human beings to die as infants, before they have known good or evil, if they have but received the baptism of the Church; but next to these, who are the happiest, who are the safest, for whose departure have we more cause to rejoice, and be thankful, than for theirs, who, if they live on, are so likely to relapse into old habits of sin, but who are taken out of this miserable world, in the flower of their contrition and in the freshness of their preparation…

We have all heard of the scene of impiety and profaneness which attends on the execution of the criminal in England; so much so, that benevolent and thoughtful men are perplexed between the evil of privacy and the outrages which publicity occasions (‘Difficulties of Anglicans’, VIII, 8).

(In the second paragraph he is contrasting England with the papal states, where he says that the condemned were often brought to die piously.)

The Garden of Eden from the Très Riches Heures...
How long were our first parents in paradise? Cornelius a Lapide mentions a few opinions in his Commentary on Genesis. One man suggests a day; another a week. Some suggest 40 days, so that our Lord atoned for Adam’s sin of gluttony by fasting for the same period. Some even suggest 34 years, saying that our Lord atoned for original sin by His whole life.
But Lapide himself prefers the opinion that he finds in St Irenaeus, St Epiphanus, one of the Sts Cyril and St Ephraim, namely that they fell on the very day of their creation, that is, ‘on the Friday, and in fact, at the very hour that Christ died on the cross outside Jerusalem, and restored the thief and ourselves to paradise.’
He gives three arguments for this conclusion. First, Scripture itself suggests no passage of time. It doesn’t say, ‘It came to pass on a certain day, that…’. The serpent is mentioned immediately after the marriage of Adam and Eve. The only reference to time is that the Lord God was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.
Secondly, why would the devil have lost any time in tempting Eve? He was a murderer ‘from the beginning’, as our Lord says.
The third reason is particularly interesting. The theory of the fall on the same day as creation is supported, says Lapide, ‘by the perfection of nature in which Adam was established, by which, like an angel, he immediately determined himself and so chose one option or the other’. Of course Adam’s choice was not irrevocable, as was the angelic choice. Yet there is an analogy between his state of original justice and the original state of the angels. He, like them, was incapable of venial sin. He had no disordered attachments or emotions or bad habits to confuse or distract his mind. Nor did Eve. They could not slide gradually into mortal sin.
Citing St Ephraim again, Lapide holds that Adam was created at the third hour. This would be appropriate, since this was the time when the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples to remake them in the likeness of the second Adam.
Just six hours, and so many years ago. Yet how well I remember it.

Cardinal Basil Hume had the “made the Church acceptable to the establishment” one. Archbishop Życiński, who died yesterday very unexpectedly in Rome, got this from his diocesan press person:

“Był człowiekiem ogromnej pracy, był wierny naukom Jana Pawła II, potrafił mówić głośno o tym co mu się nie podoba w Kościele ” – “He was … faithful to the teaching of John Paul II …”  Says more about the press person than about the poor old archbishop, but still.

Please say a prayer for the respose of the soul of the archbishop. I have no idea why women want to be priests, given the account they’ll be asked to make at the last judgement. Imagine what it must be like for bishops.

An old man of my acquaintance once asked me, in tones of moral outrage, whether I agree with him that some pronouncement by a Polish bishop (or bishops) wasn’t heretical.

I looked at him a moment in surprise. The statement seemed a little odd, but without any context it could not be said to be contrary to the faith. What was more surprising, was the fact that this chap was outraged, and was condemning the bishops with the force of righteous anger, when he himself hadn’t been to confession for about forty years, and hadn’t been to Sunday Mass for about seven – and didn’t see anything odd about this.

I said that I thought living in habitual mortal sin was perhaps worse than making a possibly badly phrased statement. I still can’t get over the fact that he didn’t see it was a little strange for him to be criticising the bishops, and with such indignation, when he himself was deliberately, evidently and consciously flouting one of the fundamental obligations of Catholics.

 

 

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