Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Austin Warren, Richard Crashaw; A Study in Baroque Sensibility

Austin Warren, Richard Crashaw; A Study in Baroque Sensibility, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor Books, 1957.

In 1611, William Laud was appointed chaplain to the King; in 1620, he conducted, before King James, the King’s favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, and Buckingham’s mother, his famous conference with the Jesuit, Fisher; thereafter, he became Buckingham’s confessor. The accession of King Charles, amateur theologian and cultivated gentleman, submitted the country to the control of Buckingham and of his confessor, for whom Charles felt a high and constant respect. (5)

During the decade when no Parliament sat, Laud, whose rigor was as sincere as tactless, ruled ecclesiastical affairs. (5)

In 1635 Anthony Stafford published, with the approval of the Primate and Bishop Juxon, The Femall Glory: of, The Life, and Death of our Blessed Lady, the Holy Virgin Mary, God’s Owne Immaculate Mother, one of the most floridly rhetorical productions of the age and one of the most audacious documents of the Anglo-Catholic party. The author addresses his book especially to women: “You who have lived spiritual Amourists, whose spirits have triumphed over the flesh, on whose cheeks Solitude, Prayers, Fasts, and Austerity have left an amiable pale: You who ply your sacred Arithmeticke, and have thouts colde, and cleane as the christall beads you pray by: You who have vow’d Virginity mentall and corporall… Approach with Comfort, and Kneele downe before the Grand White Immaculate Abbesse of your snowy Nunneries, and presente the All-Saving Babe in her arms, with due Venerations.” (9)

The accusations that Laud was an unconfessed Papist had no truth. At least twice offered a cardinalate if he would submit, he refused. (10)

King Charles, reared on the books of Hooker, Andrewes, and Herbert, remained perfectly satisfied with his sacramental Anglicanism, and, though regardful of his wife’s freedom, was eager that his personal attendants should make Anglican communions. (11)

What Catholicly minded Anglicans were most likely to miss, and to seek outside a national church, was provision for the contemplative life. England had—save for Little Gidding, a conventual establishment limited to a single family—no “religious houses.” In developing a devotional literature it was slow… The devout had chiefly to depend, for such aids, upon adaptations of pre-Reformation works like the Imitatio and upon such contraband importations as English versions, printed at Douai or Antwerp for recusant use, of St. Francis of Sales’ Introduction a la Vie Devote and St. Teresa’s autobiography. / In his temperate apologia, publishied in 1647, Serenus Cressy, a convert to Rome who became a Benedictine, made it a chief ground of his defection form the English Church that it did not provide for monks and mystics. Anglicans, he says, “renouncing all Evangelicall Counsills of Perfection, as voluntary poverty, Charity, etc., and their avarice having swallowed all the revenues which nourished men in a solitary life of meditation and contemplation,… (11-12)

Aroused from somnolence by the Reformation, Rome had, with the Council of Trent (1545-63) entered upon her own Renaissance. The new order had its subtractions: the general departure from the Church of the Scandinavian and Germanic peoples left her less catholic in temperamental scope; the presence of doctrinal critics without her borders led her to renounce much of the speculative freedom permissible within an undivided Christendom; there was a marked impulse to emphasize and exalt whatever tenets, practices, and cults had suffered Protestant opprobrium. But with these retrenchments there developed a tighter unity, an inflammation of ardor. /

The most powerful instrument—almost, indeed, the symbol—of this Counter-Reformation was the Society of Jesus, in its foundation almost concurrent with the Council. Everywhere these martially disciplined, indomitable men took command: in education, in learning, in theology, in the conversion of Lutherans and infidels, in the creative arts. Themselves ascetic and scrupulously obedient to the vicar-general and the pope, the Jesuits concealed their iron [13] hand within the softly pliant gauntlets, accommodating themselves, save in matters of de Fide, to the temperaments and manners of the nations among whom they operated; they sought, Christian humanists that they were, to provide frail human nature with amiable incentives to the practice of religion, and, meanwhile, to set heroic standards for the wills of the spiritually ambitious. /

In their acute realism, they saw the importance of controlling education, particularly that of the well-born; … In academies for the laity, the Jesuits excelled at the teaching of rhetoric and the classics, … Learned Jesuits defended the Church against Protestant criticism, … (13-14)

The chief arguments of the Counter-Reformation were its saints, heroes… Though born to wealth and position, Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, founded schools for the poor, sat by the roadside to teach beggars their Pater and Ave, remained by the sick and dying during the great plague. Francis Xavier, winning repute for himself as a professor of philosophy at Paris, became, at the call of St. Ignatius, a Jesuit, labored for twelve years in India and Japan, … “The saints of the Middle Ages performed miracles; the saints of the Counter-Reformation were themselves miracles.” (15)

St. Francis of Sales, fearing that sanctity might be identified with these spectacular gifts, asserted: “There are many Saints in heaven who were never in Extasie, or Rapture of contemplation”… But popular piety, ignorant of these warnings, seized upon raptures and stigmata as the marks of preeminent holiness; and, in the paintings of the seventeenth century, the great saints of recent times, like Saints Ignatius, Philip, and Teresa, were nearly always represented in their moments of vision or rapture. / St. Ignatius and St. Teresa, true Spaniards, united intense practicality with intense mysticism. (16)

…whereas, in the Middle Ages, the martyrs had been depicted triumphant of countenance, they were now represented writhing in the agony… Under the influence of Bernini, whose statue of Alexander VII was immediately felt to be a master work, the skeleton became a familiar equipage of mortuary monuments, while the tense and sometimes agitated effigies of the dead seem remotes from the serene sleep with which the thirteenth century endowed them. The saints, ordinarily visualized by medieval art in the performance of miracles, now appears as recipients of miraculous grace; and the composure of their faces and figures, the tranquil amenity of Raphael’s Virgins, has yielded to the [64] physically contorted pattern of the trance or the rapture. The contraventions of law and reason which Protestantism sought to minimize are everywhere selected for celebration. Common sense and sober judgment, the “wisdom of this world,” are flagrantly violated; and prudence is made to seem a paltry thing in comparison to the extremes, often united, of pain and ecstasy. (64-5)

The baroque style is exuberant, rhetorical, sensual, grandiose. The repose and symmetry of Renaissance art have yielded to agitation, aspiration, ambition, an intense striving to transcend the limits of each genre. Sculpture and architecture would elicit the effects of painting; painting—weary of exact draftsmanship, clearly outlined masses, grouping within the plane, and the architectural fitting of the design to the square or circle of the canvas—would move upward or backward, would anticipate the agility of the cinema, would flow, would disappear into modulated glooms or dissolve into luminosity. In architecture, all is splendor and surprise: (65)

The baroque was the Catholic counterstatement to the reformer’s attacks on the wealth of the Church and her use of painting and sculpture. (65)

Protestant and Catholic attitudes towards the arts differs significantly. The one will have no “graven images” of the supernatural; probably Hebrew in its origin, … The other—more ancient, more indulgent—incorporates elements of Greek polytheism and Platonism; … (66)

…the Jesuits, exponents of the new Catholicism, had dominance; and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the influence of which was, throughout Europe, profound, authorized the “Application of the Senses” to all the themes of religion. (67)

Working verse by verse and stanza by stanza, he rarely envisaged a whole to which the parts should be subordinate. (121)

Crashaw never attempts to translate Marino’s words; instead, he recasts the substance of a passage, transmuting it into a texture which is not only English but Crashavain. (121)

The two illustrious sinner-saints whom Bellarmine cited in his Disputations were St. Peter and St. Mary Magdalen; and both of these became the themes for innumerable poems and paintings. / In the Gospels, the Magdalen is thrice mentioned—as a woman out of whom Christ cast seven devils, as present at the Crucifixion, and as the first to whom the risen Lord appeared; but the Western Church presently identified her with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and with the unnamed penitent who brought an alabaster box of ointment and, with her tears, washed Christ’s feet, wiping them with her hair. /

French tradition continues the story: After the Ascension, Mary, Matha, Lazarus, and others were set adrift in a boat without sails, oars, or rudder, but, divinely conducted, they made a safe passage to the shores of Provence. Having first converted the pagans of the land by her preaching and her miracles, the Magdalen retired to a grotto in a barren wilderness, penance for her past sins. The angels visits her at the canonical hours, carrying her in their arms to heights from which she could hear the celestial harmonies and see “what eye hath not seen”; and in her solitude, surrounded by angels, she died. /

In the seventeenth century, the Provencal legend was still accepted; and the Magdalen, who has been called the century’s favorite heroine, was generally represented—by painters like Guerchino, Ribera, the Caracci, Rubens, and Van Dyke—in the solitude of her grotto, where, alabaster box in hand, she meditates. She was equally a subject for the Catholic poets, whether they wrote in Latin, Italian, French, or English. (134-5)

As founder and superior of the Discaled Carmelites, she exhibited marked capacities for organization and administration; as ruler of her convent and counselor of her nuns, she was sensible, shrewd, humorous, realistic. … At the bidding of her director, she wrote eight books, of which the most celebrated, The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, … In the most celebrated of her visions, she saw, as she records in her Life, a seraph holding in his hand a fire-tipped dart of gold, which he thrust several times through the heart of the saint. “The paine of it,” she says, “was so excessive, that it forced me to utter those groanes; and the suavity, which that extremitie of paine gave, was also so very excessive, that there was no desiring at all, to be ridd of it…” (140)

In rhyme he preferred the familiar, and the familiar to him, repeated his hearts and darts like so many traditional and dear pieties. Apparently constricted by the planned economy of a stanzaic pattern, he found eventual ease in fluid couplets. (159)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home