Sunday, January 27, 2013

the art of hagiagraphy

Though I do not always agree with Father George Rutler, he being a Thomist and I being a Lutheran, I do deeply appreciate much of what he has to say, in theological, liturgical, and historical matters, as well as the way he says it.  In some ways he is a jolt of fresh air amidst the liturgical devastation of modern Romanism.  One of my favorite reads, by the way, is his book, Coincidentally, in which, for example, the discerning reader gets a particularly tasty riff on the Novus Ordo.  I also recommend his book on the Cure of Ars, The Cure D'Ars Today, but only for the theologically discerning.  In the following passage he reflects on the balance that must be struck when writing about the saints.
In depicting the saints, there are bad and good portraits. It may be that Vianney scorned his portraitists, not because they drew bad likenesses, which they usually did, but because they liked him. Hagiagraphy may flatter saints but, when it does, it insults them; an affectionate picture of a man who is detached from the world can make him seem disconnected. In true devotion, though, to like a subject can give a good likeness. Strachey's word portraits of his eminent Victorians were no truer for being written with venom. In the case of the saints, you either have to attach yourself to their detachment, and let sympathy become empathy, or you have to reject it until scepticism becomes satire. But either is more apt to give some sense of a soul than the clinical indifference which claims to be objective. No one can remain indifferent to an object and get an impression of it.
The one pertinent consideration is the validity of the impression. Though it should not be shaped by less than history, it may take its form from a calculus behind history; it may be under the influence of a tale more delicate and shining than the most fabulous enchantment; it may have met the truth of myth and the object of legend. The saints impress by possessing their own heart's desire within themselves. If the prophets have prefigured a truth to come, the saints have postfigured a truth that came and stayed. When the wise have lived to foretell the way of God with man, the lives of the saints are its very telling. Here is how the saints make such an impression, and no unbeliever has dared completely to deny it. The atheist denies God, but he ignores the saints; he would not do that had he not been influenced by a need to ignore them. The need assumes a paradoxical and even compulsive quality, like the nihilist insisting it is true that there is no truth and like the atheist believing that there is nothing to believe. But the saints continue to live visible lives. As the sacraments are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace, the saints are living sacraments; they are sacraments of the sacraments. And no story about them, no display of their souls' architecture, can be so grand and schematic as living their story with them. The voice of Ars said it: "At the Holy Altar I had the most singular consolations. I was looking at the Good God."

1 comment:

Fr. Jay Watson said...

What a beautiful post Deacon; Rutler is a too wordsmith and poet of the 'higher things.' He is one of the finest writers that Ignatius Press has published over the past two and a half decades.
Kudos for sharing this with us.
Pax Christi,
frW