Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Descent of the Dove - VI

Williams now brings us to Chapter Six, "Consummation and Schism".

The consummation to which he refers is played out in Dante. Williams gives a long literary analysis of Dante's works, all of which somehow fit into Williams' notion of the importance of Eros as a spiritual impulse. I must admit Williams sounds rather vaguely spiritualist at some points when discussing this stuff, and I catch a whiff of folks like C. G. Jung, the Swiss psychologist who rationalized promiscuity by making all of our appetites equally spiritual in their origins and destinations. But Williams never goes as far as Jung or as far as the New Age spiritualists of our day. He is clear to point out that Eros cut off from God, Eros that is satisfied in itself and in possessing the lover, leads to the Inferno in Dante, not to Paradise. Still, it's clear that Williams thinks the Church denigrated romantic love and sexual desire and even marriage in favor of the more ascetic way of celibacy. The Way of Negation, as he would put it, is given priority over the Way of Affirmation - and that's certainly true from St. Paul and even from Martha and Mary onwards. There is probably much to be said for the case Williams is making, especially in light of how the issue is addressed by Vatican II and the Theology of the Body, but it's a dangerous path to tread, for it can lead so easily to a man having all sorts of sexual liaisons as long as he tells himself his heart's in the right place, or to a man justifying any kind of lust - lust for power, for money, for fame - as being a spiritual way.

I had a good friend once who was notorious for being a womanizer. "People say that all of those hundreds of pictures of women in your office are pictures of women you've slept with," I said to him.

"That's true," he replied, "I don't put a woman's picture up unless I've slept with her." Then he grew serious. "But, you see, Kevin, I've paid a horrible price."

"What is that?" I asked.

"Every single one of them fell in love with me," he answered.

Or as Fr. Groeschel would say, there might be something to this Eros thing, but "I'm from New Jersey, and I'm not so sure."

The Schism to which Williams refers is the Great Schism, the complex and distressing split between the Popes and the anti-Popes of the 14th and early 15th centuries, which was a kind of spiritual Black Death within the medieval Church. And Williams ends this chapter by pointing out that an entire generation of men grew up living with this unprecedented contradiction in the practise of the Church, this terrible schism - an atmosphere that paved the way for the Reformation, an atmosphere of confusion that two generations have grown up breathing in our own day.

I had hoped to post a reflection on each of Williams' nine chapter each of the nine days of the Great Novena. For the next three days, however, I will be in Rhode Island at the Portsmouth Institute Conference on the Catholic Shakespeare performing scenes from Hamlet with my Theater of the Word actors, with commentary by Joesph Pearce. If my final three installments don't appear until after Pentecost, I beg your indulgence, as well as that of the Holy Spirit.

The Same HOLY SPIRIT, I beg, to COME!

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