Thursday, September 22, 2005

What a difference a word makes ...

Walking to work this morning I passed a fellow outside the University of the Arts who was wearing a t-shirt with the words "Arte Diem" printed on the front. But the fellow wearing it is obviously no Latinist. I presume "arte diem" is meant to be a take on "carpe diem" -- "seize the day." The problem is that "arte diem" doesn't mean anything. I guess -- and it's only a guess -- that it's supposed to mean "art day." Only, in Latin, that would be "dies artis."
OK, call me a pedant. But it brings to mind one of the many silly things in that singularly silly book The Da Vinci Code. The learned historian Lee Teabing tells our hero and heroine that of all the European languages, English is la lingua pura -- the pure tongue -- because it has the fewest words of Latin origin. Really? Why just a glance of what I've written reveals several -- passed, print, presume, obvious, origin. A glance at any page in any English dictionary will reveal plenty more.
I shall go to my grave dazed and confused over the success of The Da Vinci Code. It is poorly plotted, the time-frame is implausible, the writing pedestrian, and the characters barely one-dimensional. Even more annoying, at the same time The Da Vinci Code arrived in bookstores, another novel -- The Lamplighter, by Anthony O'Neill -- arrived there also. This is everything The Da Vinci Code is not: brilliantly plotted, beautifully written, and theologically imaginative. The main characters are unforgettable.
Imagination is a quality sorely lacking in most theological discourse. Take the Catholic doctrine of the bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven, where she is crowned Queen of Heaven by Jesus. So Heaven is ruled by the Son of God and His human mother. Richly ambiguous and mysterious to be sure. No wonder Carl Jung called Pope Pius XII's declaration of this dogma "the most important religious event since the Reformation." According to Jung, Mary "is functionally on a par with Christ, the king and mediator. At any rate her position satisfies a renewed hope for the fulfillment of that yearning for peace which stirs deep down in the soul, and for a resolution of the threatening tension between opposites. Everyone shares this tension and everyone experiences it in his individual form of unrest, the more so the less he sees any possibility of getting rid of it by rational means. It is no wonder, therefore, that the hope, indeed the expectation of divine intervention arises in the collective unconscious and at the same time in the masses. The papal declaration has given comforting expression to that yearning."

10 comments:

  1. No need to be dazed and confused, Frank. No one ever went broke underestimating the brainlessness of the American reader, whether religious or pagan. "The Da Vinci Code" is simply Sidney Sheldon, Judith Krantz, Danielle Steel -- or any lame, artless pop novel(ist) you want to insert there -- with the added frisson of defying dearly held conventional beliefs and of messing around with the supernatural. If it were written with half the wit of, say, Charles Williams' "War in Heaven," readers wouldn't be able to put it down fast enough. But it's everywhere: Have you read any of the stuff from what might be called "the other side" -- Frank Peretti's cosmic idiocies or the "Left Behind" dreck? Oi vey!
    Sincerely,
    Willis Wayde

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  2. No, Willis, I've spared myself the "Left Behind" business and ignorance has spared me Peretti. Ah, but Charles Williams! There's a great one. All Hallow's Eve is a genuinely frightening book -- and a profound one as well. I should write about Wliiams someday.

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  3. Actually, I DID read the first installment of the "Left Behind" series, cover-to-cover.

    I think all Christians should do the same ... after all there are those who will read it - excesses and all - and then say, "So, THAT's what Christians believe!" It doesn't hurt to know what they're talking about, and be able to respond with a different view of the Book of Revelation ...

    I'll admit, I haven't proceeded to Book #2 ... actually, I don't intend to ... but, at least, if I want to address the topic, I have some knowledge of what I'm discussing ...

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  4. I, too, have read Peretti and "Left Behind" -- one each, and I hope not to have to read another. Perhaps I am being unfair and that the authors grow better in later books. I read them so that -- as you say, Jeff -- I would feel able to comment honestly. In the same spirit I have read Whitley Strieber (again, only one -- some godawful vampire erotica) and the aforementioned Sheldon, Krantz, and Steel. I recommend everyone not to go there if they can avoid it. That way madness lies.
    And, Frank -- yes, you should write about Williams someday. And the early A.N. Wilson, and Rose Macaulay . . . and, oh gosh, you know. If people want honest faith-oriented fiction, there is no lack without having to resort to overheated potboilers.
    Sincerely,
    Willis Wayde

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  5. "Honest faith-oriented " -- there's the key phrase. I suppose Jeff is right that the "Left Behind" books will give some idea of how some Christians think (though I think I pretty much know, since I used to write for the religion pages here). But what I think has to be understood is that one of the problems in the media is the assumption that all Christians think alike. If that were the case, there wouldn't be so many denominations. Moreover, the "born again" movement is widely misunderstood. This is a group with pretty minimal dogma, actually. It's sort of like a Christian Zen: the essence of the one is the personal encounter with Jesus, the essence of the other is the personal realization of the Buddha self. I studied theology for four years and my own taste runs to C.S. Lewis, Williams, The Cloud of Unknowing, that sort of thing -- orthodox but thoughtful. It is the mystery of faith that fascinates and holds me, not the legalistic pronouncements derived therefrom (though I find genuine dogmatic theology a fruitful source for meditation -- as my original post suggested).

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  6. Frank, funny you should mention C.S. Lewis. I am a fan of his, and in the process of re-reading some of his works.

    Our Sunday School class is in the midst of 'The 7 Deadly Sins,' and one of the recommended texts to accompany our study and discussion is "Screwtape Letters."

    At the same time, my older boy and I are reading "Chronicles of Narnia" together. I'm hoping more youngsters look for it on the shelves after seeing the upcoming film.

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  7. When I read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to my kids years ago, I broke down when we came to the part where Aslan is killed. Lewis had brilliantly turned what had become something I had somehow taken for granted for years -- the Passion -- and made it painfully real. I also think Lewis hit it right on the head when -- is in "The Great Divorce"? -- he notes that the door to Hell is locked from the inside.

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  8. Mystery is easier for me to deal with than absolutes, just as the force of the ideas in a novel of ideas is easier for me to understand than the explication of a single idea itself. If that makes sense, which it probably doesn't. Lewis had some fabulous imagery. "Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse," he said, and something like -- I cannot remember exactly-- everything is coming to a point, getting sharper and harder. As for Hell, I think he said people could get out of it if they wanted to, but even in the misery of Hell they were unwilling to abandon that which had consigned them there -- they loved their sins too much.
    Sincerely,
    Willis Wayde

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  9. Perhaps the poor child's lettering should have read: Carpe Artem!

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  10. I hadn't thought of Carpe Artem. Should have, though, because it works. I suspect Jesuit training behind that comment.

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