Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Problem of Modesty

Today I will be presenting on Augustine's Christology. Thus, I am making use of one of my favourite books: his Unfinished Work Against Julian. Julian was a Pelagian heretic who believed that essentially we save ourselves. Christ contributes a good example, but that's about it. So you see that when it comes to arguing about these things the question revolves around, how good are we, anyway?

Augustine: Not very.

Julian: A-okay.

The relevant section from this massive work (721 pages in the most recent English edition - and remember the title is Unfinished Work Again Julian. Augustine died before completing it) is found in its fourth book (roughly sections 45-87). Here they are fighting over what Christ's experience of sexuality was. Good question, but bordering on the indelicate. Now, even despite the fact that these guys were only writing for well educated men, they were aware that talking about sex was problematic from a moral standpoint. For instance, Augustine resorting to calling it 'your darling,' because Julian was insistent that there was good sex and bad sex. This was Augustine's attempt to both be modest and to insult his opponent.

When my wife and I discuss sexuality with our friends we are constantly walking that tightrope between immodesty and prudish, unhelpful vagueness. Should the rule be don't talk about sex in mixed company? A little strong, I think. It is, nevertheless, important to be extra careful in mixed company.

I also have the problem of how to treat of this in the classroom. Periodically it becomes a problem. Occasionally  it is that some do not share my few of modesty, and so you have to kind of look at it and say, is the problem with me or with them? Sometimes Column A, sometimes Column B. I'm naturally silly and irreverent, and some - it is even true - are radically un-integrated and/or have lived in a cave most of their lives.

But theology needs to deal with these issues, I must hasten to add. We can condemn each other with these titles 'prudish' and 'improper', but this does not cast light on matters deeply important to human healthiness and holiness. So we must proceed. Failing to do so causes problems - dysfunctions.

So I guess the mean is supplied by the intention in many ways. Is you goal to teach and to make healthy, or to amuse and, perhaps, titillate? This is not fool-proof, but takes us a long way.

Don't get me started on art, of course, 'Catholic art'. Why did the Renaissance master paint and sculpt naked people? Does it matter what their intentions were? I grant that art is about beauty and delight, even. But there are licit delights and illicit ones. The form is signified by the intention of the good artist, to a significant extent, and so I think that the artist's original intention does matter. Chastity cannot be found in the products of an impure agent. Who was pure and who was not? What makes for the Catholic litmus-test for art? Some of the most 'carnal' of famous art comes from Michaelangelo, who very apparently struggled with his sexuality. Are his works deformed because his soul struggled against serious psycho-sexual deformity? I don't think it's so simple a matter. He tried to be pure - does that make all the difference? How can we compare the rather gruesome sexuality of his Dawn with the absolute perfection of the sexual delicacy of the Pieta, or the amazingly realistic humanity of the 'Firenze Pieta? (Pictured in order here.)

Anyway, I'm getting a little side-tracked here. Pray for me!

Maybe I'll pick up this theme again after class...


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