Praying on the Feast of the Angelic Doctor

David Russell Mosley

St-thomas-aquinas
Epiphanytide
St Thomas Aquinas
27 January 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the feast day of St Thomas Aquinas. St Thomas was a Dominican Friar from Italy who taught at the University of Paris. The good doctor has increasingly become an important part of my life. Not only has his theological acumen enhanced my own, meager as it may be; but I have lately been equally influenced by his prayer life. Thomas had a profound prayer life, and according to his hagiographer was subject to visions as well.

I want to leave you with one of his prayers, which has been a help to me:

For the Attainment of Heaven

God of all consolation,
You Who see nothing in us
but what You have given us,
I invoke your help:
After this life has run its cource,
grant me
knowledge of You, the first Truth,
and enjoyment of Your divine majesty.

O most bountiful Rewarder, endow my body
with beauty of splendor,
with swift responsiveness to all commands,
with complete subservience to the spirit,
and with freedom from all vulnerability/

Add to these
an abundance of Your riches,
a river of delights,
and a flood of other goods

So that I may enjoy
Your solace above me,
a delightful garden beneath my feet,
the glorification of body and soul within me,
and the sweet companionship
of men and angels around me.

With You, most merciful Father,
may my mind attain
the enlightenment of wisdom,
my desire
what is truly desirable,
and my courage
the praise of triumph.

There, with You, is
refuge from all dangers,
multitude of dwelling places,
and harmony of wills.

There, with You, resides
the cheerfulness of Vern*
the brilliance of Summer,
the fruitfulness of Autumn,
and the gentle repose of Winter.

Give me, O Lord my God,
that life without death
and that joy without sorrow
where there is
the greatest freedom,
unconfined security,
secure tranquility,
delightful happiness,
happy eternity,
eternal blessedness,
the vision of truth,
and praise, O God.

Amen

From Aquinas, Thomas. The Aquinas Prayer Book: The Prayers and Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas. Translated and edited by Robert Anderson and Johann Moser. Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2003.

Sincerely yours,
David

*I chose to translate vernalis as Vern, rather than the translators choice of Spring, simply because I prefer the symmetry of two latin based names for seasons and two Anglo-Saxon.

The Unintentional and Unseen Godparents: The Light Princess’s Diabolical and Heavenly Godparents

David Russell Mosley

Old books

Epiphanytide
22 January 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

George MacDonald’s fairy tale, ‘The Light Princess’ is one of my favourites amongst his fairy tales. In many ways, it is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Let me explain. The story begins, very similarly with a king and queen who cannot have, but want, a baby. They are much sillier than the king and queen in sleeping beauty, but they are generally good people. So, eventually, a baby they have.

After the baby is born they begin planning the christening. Now, it’s true that there are no fairies invited to this christening, nor is anyone invited to be the little princesses godmother. I think, however, this is because MacDonald wants to provide her with two very different godparents: Princess Makemnoit, the little girl’s aunt who was not invited, by accident, to the christening; and God himself. Let me explain.

Like in Sleeping Beauty, Princess Makemnoit, who is a witch (and potentially a fairy as MacDonald writes, ‘she beat all the wicked fairies in wickedness, and all the clever ones in cleverness’), decides to revenge herself on the king for forgetting her. When she arrives, ‘she contrived to get next to [the baptismal font], and throw something into the water; after which she maintained a very respectful demeanour till the water was applied to the child’s face. But at that moment she turned round in her place three times, and muttered the following words, loud enough for those beside her to hear:—

“Light of spirit, by my charms,

Light of body, every part,

Never weary human arms—

Only crush thy parents’ heart!”‘

The witch deprives the little girl of all her gravity, in both senses. She is not directed downward and most all other creatures are and she has no gravitas, no sense of the grave or serious. It is telling that this is the only “gift” the princess receives on this day. And so the princess grows up, always laughing, never smiling. Even her levitas was incomplete, because it lacked gravitas.

Unlike Sleeping Beauty, this princess has had no godmother, fairy or otherwise to give her gift that will undo Princess Makemnoit’s curse. In Sleeping Beauty’s case, the final fairy godmother gives her the possibility of finding love. But in the Light Princess’s case it is the curse that leads her to love. In fact, first it leads her to water and then leads her to love. Princess Makemnoit is not only the cause of the undoing of the princess’s curse, by draining the water of the lake and causing the prince to give his life for the Light Princess, but she is also her own undoing. And so, Princess Makemnoit does good for the Light Princess. She teaches her gravitas, she gives her a reason to cry. She gives her, a bit delayed perhaps, a good gift, the gift of balance between gravitas and levitas that makes happiness and joy possible.

Up to this point, I have looked at Princess Makemnoit as an Unintentional Godmother, she is, after all, the only one who gives anything to the child on the day of her baptism. However, I think there is clearly another godparent. God is clearly present in this story, working like a godparent to the Light Princess from the first. It is he who makes it possible for the curse of Princess Makemnoit to ultimately lead to love. It is he who avenges himself and nature on Princess Makemnoit by the use of nature itself. What is more, Princess Makemnoit sins against the waters of baptism by defiling them before the princess is baptised. It is fitting then, that the mode of her destruction should be water itself. For further proof that God is the unseen godparent of the Light Princess, notice that it is in water itself that the Princess regains her right relationship with gravity. Water was the means of her curse, but it was also the means of her salvation and redemption, both in her baptism, and in the death of her love.

So, in the end, George MacDonald’s ‘The Light Princess’ gives us a very interesting look at godparenthood in fairy tales. Rather than give his Princess a fairy godparent (or at least giving her a good one), she receives instead God himself as her godparent.

Sincerely yours,
David

Giving the Gifts of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Sleeping Beauty’s Gifts from Her Fairy Godmothers

David Russell Mosley

Christmastide
Twelfth Night
5 January 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I want to look at the fairy tale we most commonly call Sleeping Beauty. In truth, this tale has several titles, or variations, anyway. In French it is ‘La belle au bois dormant’, the Grimm’s called it ‘Little Briar Rose’, and there is an Italian story very similar to it called Sun, Moon, and Talia. I will be focusing on the French version as written/collected by Charles Perrault and translated by Andrew Lang. It is once again interesting to note that in the Grimm version of this story, the fairies are not godparents.

La belle au bois dormant begins with a royal family longing to increase from two to three (at least). They eventually conceive and a little girl is born. They have a christening (which is really just another word for a baptism) and invite to it seven fairies to serve as her godmothers (for it is at baptisms that godparents become bound to their godchildren). Her mother and father choose fairies, ‘that every one of them might give her a gift, as was the custom of fairies in those days.’ After the baptism a feast is held (remembering that festivals and gift-giving are inherent to and the foundation of the godparent-godchild relationship), and an eighth fairy shows up. She was an old fairy and was not invited for the believed her ‘dead or enchanted.’ She is given a seat at the table, but does not receive as a nice a place setting as her elven companions. And so, ‘The old fairy fancied she was slighted, and muttered some threats between her teeth. One of the young fairies who sat by her overheard how she grumbled; and, judging that she might give the little princess some unlucky gift, went, as soon as they rose from table, and hid herself behind the hangings, that she might speak last, and repair, as much as she could, the evil which the old fairy might intend.’

After the feasting is done it is time to give gifts: ‘The youngest gave her for gift that she should be the most beautiful person in the world; the next, that she should have the wit of an angel; the third, that she should have a wonderful grace in everything she did; the fourth, that she should dance perfectly well; the fifth, that she should sing like a nightingale; and the sixth, that she should play all kinds of music to the utmost perfection.’ I find these gifts interesting and informative. Again, think back to Cinderella and what her fairy godmother does for her, she makes evident to all the truth, beauty, and goodness (which naturally belong together) that are coincident in her. Here, the first fairy makes her beautiful; the second intelligent for an angel’s wit is not in humour, but in knowledge and most specifically knowledge of God and this would be truth; I do not think it a stretch to say third gives her the gift of goodness, for what else can it mean to have grace in everything that we do; the fourth, fifth, and sixth seem to give her further gifts of beauty, goodness, and truth, specifically in the things she does. Sleeping beauty is not rendered strange by her godmothers, but is given the coincidence of truth, beauty, and goodness as gifts themselves.

The old fairy gives the gift of death and terrifies the whole court. But then out comes the original seventh fairy who does not undo the gift of death, but transforms it: ‘At this very instant the young fairy came out from behind the hangings, and spake these words aloud: “Assure yourselves, O King and Queen, that your daughter shall not die of this disaster. It is true, I have no power to undo entirely what my elder has done. The princess shall indeed pierce her hand with a spindle; but, instead of dying, she shall only fall into a profound sleep, which shall last a hundred years, at the expiration of which a king’s son shall come and awake her.”‘

This fairy godmother proceeds to put the whole kingdom to sleep, excepting the girl’s natural parents, and raises up thorns and brambles in order to protect the young girl from harm while she slept. She is awakened after 100 years by her handsome prince, is married and the story takes a strange turn involving the prince’s mother who is part ogress and desires to eat his wife and children. There are no more mentions of the fairies who had served as godmothers to Sleeping Beauty, nor do we learn whether any fairies served as godparents to her children Morning and Day. Yet we can see how they continue to be protected by the triple gift of goodness, beauty, and truth. The cook cannot bring himself to kill the children: Morning’s beauty and goodness overwhelm him as she, ‘came up to him jumping and laughing, to take him about the neck, and ask him for some sugar candy.’ Day overwhelms him with his bravery, a subset of goodness in so many ways, for the cook found ‘him with a little foil in his hand, with which he was fencing with a great monkey, the child being then only three years of age.’ The Queen, that is Sleeping Beauty, overwhelms him with her love for her children, whom she believed to be dead. Love is, in so many ways, the coming together of truth, beauty, and goodness.

So while her godparents don’t take much of a role in her life after she pricks her finger on a spindle, the spiritual gifts which they gave her protected from all future evil. A human godparent can help raise a child to be proficient in the gifts given to the young princess, but they cannot give them outright, only, it would, a fairy godparent can do so. And so again we see the coming together of the Kingdom of God, since God is the true source of truth, beauty, and goodness; and the realm of Faërie.

Sincerely yours,
David

The Eucharist Is the End of Marriage: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Advice to His Son

David Russell Mosley

Christmastide
Tolkien’s Birthday
3 January 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the birthday for one of my favourite authors, J. R. R. Tolkien. He was born on this day in 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. His works have been guiding lights for most of my life. I have done numerous posts about Tolkien and his works on this blog. Today, I want to look at one of his letters to his middle son, Michael. It is Letter 43 in the Collected Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien collected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter.

The letter begins by treating whether men and women can be friends. Ultimately, Tolkien thinks it a rare occurrence, too often coloured by one or the other of them ‘falling in love’. Though he does note that it can and does happen, two people are so made and have the same interests as to become friends and their gender, in relation to their friendship, is purely incidental (it is not accidental, not in the Aristotelian sense, anyway). This leads Tolkien then to talk of one slightly purer relationship between men and women, that chivalric or courtly love so prevalent in the Middle Ages. It puts women and pedestals as guiding stars or divinities for men to follow after. Courtly love engenders fidelity (even if one of the parties involved are not being faithful themselves). But Tolkien reminds his son, ‘The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. But combined and harmonized with religion (as long ago it was, producing much of the beautiful devotion to Our Lady that has been God’s way of refining so much our gross manly natures and emotions, and also of warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion) it can be very noble. Then it produces what I suppose is still felt, among those who retain even vestigiary Christianity, to be the highest ideal of love between man and woman…it is not perfectly ‘theocentric” (49).

The only way to fully enjoy this love between men snd women is through marriage. But marriage is not self-evident: ‘Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of ‘revealed’ ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh’ (51). And therefore an asceticism, a self-denial is necessary to attain the fulness of marriage and love. Tolkien writes:

‘However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called ‘self-realization’ (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals…. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial’ (51).

Tolkien goes on to say that even with all of this in place are not exactly as they could or should be. He writes: ‘Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to’ (51). He goes on to write about his own relationship with his wife, how they met, the love they shared, the hardships they endured. Tolkien finishes his picture of domestic bliss and hardship in a rather strange place.

He writes, ‘Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament …. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires (53-54). Perhaps, however, this isn’t so strange. The Eucharist is, after all, the font of all our feasts and celebrations. It blesses every table where food is served, above all perhaps, the family table. If we begin from marriage, we will end in that great Eucharistic wedding feast of the Lamb. If we begin from the Eucharist, we spread out to all tables, the primary of which is the family dinner table. Thus marriage and the Eucharist are wed, inextricably and joyfully tied. This is the picture of marriage Tolkien paints for us, one who’s source and end are found in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sincerely yours,
David

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother Renders Her Strange

David Russell Mosley

Christmastide
St Basil and St Gregory of Nazianzus
2 January 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

The first fairy godmother I want to look at is Cinderella’s. The first thing to note is that she does not appear in the Grimm’s version of the tale. I could speculate what that might say about early nineteenth century Germany and the nature of protestantism, or why it is in the more Catholic French version of the story where the godmother appears, but I won’t, not fully anyway. So, it is to the Charles Perrault version of the story I must turn. I must admit upfront, I am using an English translation (my French is so poor, poor is not an appropriate enough term for it), and it is from Andrew Lang’s Fairy Book editions. Now, to the fairy godmother.

She first appears after Cinderella watches her step-family go off to the king’s ball. At first all were told is that her godmother sees her crying and asks why. Cinderella tells her and then Perrault writes, ‘This godmother of hers, who was a fairy, said to her, “You wish that you could go to the ball; is it not so?”‘ Her being a fairy is presented in an incidental way. She’s her godmother, and she’s a fairy. But then another unexpected layer is added.

Not only is she a godmother and a fairy, but she apparently has a chamber either in the house or on the grounds, ‘Then she took her into her chamber, and said to her, “Run into the garden, and bring me a pumpkin.”‘ Now this need for Cinderella to go into her godmother’s chamber before going into the garden suggests to me that the godmother’s chamber serves as a kind of threshold into Faërie. It is from a garden accessible from her godmother’s chamber that she must go to to get the pumpkin which will become her chariot as well as the lizards who become her footmen.. It is from a mousetrap in her chamber that the mice who become horses are collected as well as the rat who becomes her coachman. Aside from the prohibition necessary to a fairy tale according to Tolkien (the midnight curfew), the only other role she plays in the story is to transform Cinderella’s clothes when the prince finds her showing to her step-family the true beauty she has always had.

Following on Pickstock’s discussion of godparenthood, we do see some fairly standard godparent duties being discharged. Pickstock writes of godparenthood, ‘It represented the creation of a formal ritual friendship, symbolized by gifts and festivals, to which natural kinship could only aspire.’ Cinderella’s godmother is most certainly a gift-giver and the gifts she gives are to allow Cinderella to attend a great festival. Now it is likely this is not the kind of festival Pickstock had in mind, but there is nevertheless an inherent relationship between giving gifts and festivals cementing Cinderella’s relationship to her godmother. Also, there is certainly a compaternitas here, as the godmother is a better kin/parent than those closest to her, her step-mother and step-sisters. And then there is the psuchic, or spiritual/soulish nature of the care that is meant to be provided by a godparent. It is easy to pass over, but when Cinderella tells her godmother that she does wish she could attend the ball, her godmother says, ‘”be but a good girl, and I will contrive that you shall go.”‘ Cinderella has already proved herself a good girl. We are told about Cinderella that she was ‘of unparalleled goodness and sweetness of temper, which she took from her mother, who was the best creature in the world.’ That her stepmother ‘could not bear the good qualities of this pretty girl, and the less because they made her own daughters appear the more odious.’ But what is more, Cinderella herself is more than beautiful, she is truly good and shows it in the way she handles her abuse, ‘The poor girl bore it all patiently, and dared not tell her father, who would have scolded her; for his wife governed him entirely.’ Also, the stepsisters, in their preparations for the ball, which Cinderella will not attend, ‘They also consulted Cinderella in all these matters, for she had excellent ideas, and her advice was always good. Indeed, she even offered her services to fix their hair, which they very willingly accepted.’ Even at the Ball where she might rub her newfound clothing and situation in her step-sisters faces, rather ‘She went and sat down by her sisters, showing them a thousand civilities, giving them part of the oranges and citrons which the prince had presented her with, which very much surprised them, for they did not know her.’ It seems clear that Perrault’s Cinderella is the unification of truth, goodness, and beauty and it is her godmother who helps bring this out and make it evident both to herself and to her step-family. And this leads to the spiritual uplifting of the step-sisters as much as it does to the change in station of Cinderella. Clearly, then we can say that the fairy godmother was not godmother only to Cinderella, but to her whole family, again as Pickstock suggests, ‘Its principle was that of compaternitas, which affirmed that a godparent was kin not only to the child, but to his natural family as well.’

This leads me finally to observe what role Faërie plays in all of this as well. Clearly, if all we see the godmother as doing is providing Cinderella with a ride and beautiful clothes, then a rich aunt or grandmother or human godmother [or a famous Renaissance painter as the demythologised version starring Drew Barrymore had it] might have served just as well. Yet it is a fairy godmother and the riches she provides are not initially lasting. As she returns from the second day of the ball she is dressed in rags having only one glass slipper left from her previous magnificence. So it is more than the finery, the ornamentation that she provides. It is, as I said above, the spiritual or psuchic parenting that she provides and in a way befitting Faërie, which isn’t simply to say the magic. Yes, the fairy godmother uses a wand and performs magic, but it is so much more than this. What she does is what, I have argued, Faërie/Fantasy in general do, she rendered Cinderella strange in order for others––the Prince, her step-family––to see her for who she truly is: beautiful, good, and true. This is why she must be a fairy godmother, for only in this way, in this marriage of the Kingdom of God and the realm of Faërie can we see the coincidence of truth, beauty, and goodness in a world that is often dressed in the rags of familiarity and even fallenness.

Sincerely yours,

David