PhilosophyPHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY

Encountering the Trinity through a sacramental framing of music: Participation and analogy in Olivier Messiaen’s Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité and Quatour pour la fin du temps Ph.D Thesis in Trinitarian Theology work (in progress)

 

Applications of Trinitarian analogy in contemporary thought and the potential for Eucharistic encounter in Olivier Messiaen’s music - Phronema Journal of St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College (2018 in press)

This paper examines the potential of art (especially music) for providing an experiential Eucharistic illumination of the Divine Trinity, an alternate modality (to language) for Trinitarian encounter and revelation. It ponders the dialectic between Calvin’s sacramental concept that views communion as both participatory and symbolic, in opposition to Karl Barth’s concern that abstract metaphor without concrete links to Christ of the Bible (who is the sole path to salvation) is potentially heretical and distracting from the Gospel and Barth’s criticism of traces of the Divine Trinity evident in human creativity and creation (Vestigia Trinitatis). It is hoped that this clarification preserves a case both for the mysterious illumination and Eucharistic theosis found in Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman thought, together with the Biblical witness of Christ – the true Logos, that the Reformers such as Calvin, and Barth in the C20th, so assiduously wanted to protect.

 

Messiaen’s Quatour pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time)

VISIONS OF THE APOCALYPSE

Messiaen, in a verbal preface to the first performance of the Quatour pour la fin du temp in Paris, said he was directly inspired by chapter 10 of the Book of Revelation, in which the prophesy was given to the Apostle St. John, whom Jesus loved (i.e. the author of the fourth gospel). The mighty angel clothed in a cloud, shrouded in a rainbow, with a face as if it were in the sun, and one foot on each the sea and the land (astride all creation) with feet as pillars of fire, opens the small book to the sound of seven thunders reverberating around him.

Derived from the Greek apokalupsis – with the root apokaluptein to reveal, to discover; apo [negative] kaluptein to cover, to hide – connotes a combination of revealing, uncovering, opening and disclosing, more aptly represented by the German Offenbarung than the French Révélation. The opening of the book with the seven seals is in this sense symbolic of the whole of the Book of Revelation {Richard D.E. Burton (2016) (ed. Roger Nichols) Olivier Messiaen: Texts, Contexts, and Intertexts (1937-1948). Oxford UK: Oxford University Press, 49}. The Christian message is one of hope, justice, restoration, renewal, perfection, and reunion – the end of suffering, sin, Fallen existence, and the end of time – eternity:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Revelation 21:2 (ESV)

Therefore, Messiaen’s Quatour pour la fin du temps is concerned with expectation, hope and glory. Time and eternity would never come together if it were not for Christ’s incarnation, and God’s enabling of human conversion into Eternity. Messiaen’s tension between musical time (rhythm) and the notion of Eternity sharpened and became central to his musical creativity {Richard D.E. Burton (2016) (ed. Roger Nichols) Olivier Messiaen: Texts, Contexts, and Intertexts (1937-1948). Oxford UK: Oxford University Press, 5}. Like other books belonging to the ‘apocalyptic’ genre in the Bible, Revelation is filled with symbolism including sacred geometry, numerical symbolism and numbers of significance in the Judaic Kabbalah. Seven is widely considered to be a sacred number, representative of God’s perfection, holiness and completeness.

On many levels, the form and content of the Book of Revelation is the mirror-image of the Book of Genesis, marking the restoration of the perfection and promises and order set out in Genesis according to God’s intentions. In Messiaen’s work we see instead a direct correlation between the music of the two ‘praise’ movements (of the resurrection and ascension of Christ) and an overall contrast between chaos towards order and eternity. It is not difficult to see why Messiaen was enraptured with the imagery of Revelation and longing for Eternity (perfection).

MESSIAEN'S TIME AND ETERNITY

Far from being absent in the intellectual wrestling over the character of time, Begbie claims that theologians find the root of some of the most intractable problems in relation to time, and especially in relation to divine eternity.59 For Pannenberg especially, in the C20th, this was one of his main projects.

[...] Music, although not providing a magic wand to dispel all the mists of confusion, can offer considerable assistance in the process of exploring temporality, as well as clarifying, interpreting and re-conceptualising its character [...] Music is ‘lived through’ in a time- intensive involvement with time-embedded realities {Jeremy S. Begbie (2000). Theology, Music and Time, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., p. 30}.

Karl Barth asserts that finitude and bounded duration is an expression of Triune generosity, grace and creativity.

There is no such thing as absolute time, no immutable law of time [...] there is no time in itself, rivalling God and imposing conditions on him. There is no God called Chronos {Karl Barth (1960), ‘Allotted time’ in Church Dogmatics, translated and edited by G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, III/2: 456}.

For Begbie, there is a further link between temporality and the Lord’s Supper, or what he refers to as liturgical repetition, and more particularly, Eucharistic repetition {Jeremy S. Begbie (2000). Theology, Music and Time, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., p. 165.}. Jean-Luc Marion is especially concerned with this consciousness of the Church {Jean-Luc Marion, God without being}, which he maintains could easily fall into the trapping of primacy of the present in which the sole horizon of the Eucharistic gift is perceived as those presently partaking in the sacrament, without adequate regard for the community’s past and future, of who constitute the Church.

 

Ways of knowing: types of knowledge and epistemology

My research examines the potential of art (especially music) for providing an experiential Eucharistic illumination of the Divine Trinity, an alternate modality (to language) for Trinitarian encounter and revelation. It ponders the dialectic between Calvin’s sacramental concept that views communion as both participatory and symbolic, in opposition to Karl Barth’s concern that abstract metaphor without concrete links to Christ of the Bible (who is the sole path to salvation) is potentially heretical and distracting from the Gospel and Barth’s criticism of traces of the Divine Trinity evident in human creativity and creation (Vestigia Trinitatis). It is hoped that this clarification preserves a case both for the mysterious illumination and Eucharistic theosis found in Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholic thought, together with the Biblical witness of Christ – the true Logos, that the Reformers such as Calvin, and Barth in the C20th, so assiduously wanted to protect.

 

Trinitarian encounter through experience – an unconventional epistemology

Reformed Christians have notoriously distanced iconographic interpretations of Triune relations for fear of idolatrous overtones, while the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions enjoy a rich heritage of icons, symbols, representations and metaphoric tools. My research argues that the precedent for image finds its origin in the Biblical language of the supreme image of the invisible and ineffable, Jesus Christ, the Logos, whose humanity is essential to the salvific economic mission of the Trinity; and in God’s creation of humankind in the image of the Divine, bestowed with intrinsic value due to this relationship. This mirroring is instrumental to personhood that supersedes creaturely limitations. The modality of music lends itself to contemplating the transcendent and ineffable qualities of the Triune Mystery and experiencing theosis – participation in Divine life.

Post-Enlightenment culture is prone only to trust evidence-based scientific approaches to epistemology. In this ethos, Divine revelation of Triune relations through the seismically intrusive incarnation of God, manifesting Himself in humanity within the constraints of time, space and the Fallen reality of sin and suffering, the Son as Logos revealing an image of the invisible, is a countercultural and counterintuitive presence that demands an unconventional epistemology. The human, yet also Divine, Son is the economic or earthly face of the Trinity, always a manifestation of all Three persons, one with the Father and the one who asks the Father to send the Spirit as the paraclete – the advisor, the guide, the intercessor – in his stead when Christ is resurrected and ascended. Knowing God the Father through the Son cannot be grasped logically alone, contingent instead upon both faith and acquiescence to the (as yet) only partially revealed nature of God and eschatological promise of complete restoration after Judgement. Søren Kierkegaard says, "If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe." Jean-Luc Marion speaks of believing in order to see. A practical side of Trinitarian encounter is the relationality of the persons that reveals the nature of God’s perichoretic selfless love and giving coinherence.

Revelation is understood by theologians as a way of knowing, a substitute for knowledge beyond rational knowledge, and hence it gives rise to the idea of different types of knowledge and unconventional epistemology. The narrative of the Bible leads to knowledge that is acquired outside of the normal methods in the Platonist and Aristotelian paradigm. How can there be two ways of knowing, two epistemologies, both rational, but with a different way of knowing? Pascal, in his essay on the Art of Persuasion {Blaise Pascal, ‘The Art of Persuasion’ in The Harvard Classics 1909–14 http://www.bartleby.com/48/3/7.html (last accessed 21/07/2015)} says we have “to love to know” (inverting the proverb), signalling two ways to know. Theological revelation, it will be argued, holds love as a condition to access what you really know.

Jean-Luc Marion compares Pascal’s view with the traditional metaphysical Law of Truth in which one must first know by rational knowledge and then, on that basis, decide to love, or to hate, i.e. to judge in response to rational findings.

 

Saturated Phenomenology

Jean-Luc Marion’s concept of Saturated Phenomena articulates a concentrated phenomenology, (i.e. embodied and sensed experience), in which the giving of a ‘thing’ (an object or person or idea, a phenomenon) gives far more than its appearance because it is richly imbued with meaning with potential to influence and transform objects and persons outside of itself. There is an excess [le surcroît] {Émille Littré “Surcroît: 1. That which, added to something, increases in it the force, the number, the quality […] loc. adv. Extra.” Dictionaire de la langue francaise (1875), vol. 4, Paris 2096. } of intuition over concept, in which the saturated phenomenon gives beyond the norm. This gives rise to the possibility of saturated phenomena par excellence, which are revelation {Jean-Luc Marion, In Excess: Studies of Saturated Phenomena, transl. Robyn Horner and Vincent Berraud (2002) in Series: Perspectives of Continental Philosophy (New York: Fordham University Press, 2001) xxii.}.

Apprehending music is a phenomenological, i.e. embodied and sensed experience, in which the body’s sensory capacity mediates reception. Therefore, to apply embodied analogies to the project of knowledge of the Triune Godhead, also makes sense in light of (a) the creaturely embodiment and perception of Immanence; (b) embodied, incarnate Sonship as Economic revelation of Immanent Triunity; and (c) the embodied incarnate Christ and embodied, indwelling Holy Spirit mediating creaturely experience of God eternal and Immanent. Embodied experience and analogy are integral to the way in which we form knowledge and respond to revelation. Lakoff and Johnson significantly progressed the idea of the embodied mind, contradicting the Cartesian isolation of the reasoning thinking cognitive self, arguing that reason is not independent of perception and bodily movement. The locus of reason is in the body. Spiritual experience is also embodied.

 

Calvin's clarification of The Lord’s Supper as participation and symbol, and musical application

The Fountain of Life {Ed. Joseph Murphy} explains how Calvin’s metaphorical theology of Trinity, Word and Sacrament fits into a long lineage of metaphoric and analogical theology, from Aristotle via Greek and Roman rhetoric to the cognitive function of metaphor in modern linguistics. Calvin’s Treatise on the Sacrament of The Lord’s Supper explains the Eucharistic act in terms of both phenomenological (embodied, somatic, sensory, experiential) and symbolic (metaphoric) terms of participation. It is an experiential and analogical (cognitive metaphoric) participation in the loving sacrifice of God’s gift and His relational nature that, if properly understood according to Calvin’s explanation, is a form of sacrament and theosis. Alister McGrath writes that Triunity "allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a 'community of being,' in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them" {McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Blackwell, 2001), p. 325}. Creaturely partaking in communion is an expression of thanksgiving and acceptance of the grace of Triune action, an outward earthly sign and acknowledgement of the grace of Christ’s work completed. (It is not a ‘sacrificial’ sacrament by humans, or an outward sign of a human promise – cf. marriage – rather it is an outward sign of Christ’s sacrifice and promise).
Calvin defined sacrament as an earthly sign associated with a promise from God.

It is Gunton’s idea of unity in diversity, of unity that does not flatten plurality and particularity, that is of greatest congruence when examining Olivier Messiaen’s work, Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time, 1941). Its analysis demonstrates unifying structures of harmonic and rhythmic organisation, as well as ‘eccentric’ highly particular elements such as the ‘birdsong’, the epitome of God’s glorious creation, tuneful but ‘out of time’ with any established meter, offsetting controlled or organised gestures representing the Holy Ascension – comparable with sustained ascents in Messiaen’s organ works, a heterogeneous group of instruments (piano, clarinet, violin and cello as compared with a homogenous [similar-sounding] ensemble such as a string quartet), both an obsession with time – evident through rhythmic modes and metric relations, and a sense of timelessness – palpable in the arcane birdsong, extreme spaciousness of slow tempos and pauses, and unpredictable irregularity of Messiaen’s additive meters. Irregularity of meter and additive meters create a sense of syncopation and suspended accentuations that is somewhat ‘otherworldly’ or alienating and unusual. Messiaen’s particular combination of harmonic sonorities and ethereal timbres (tone colours) also give the ensemble a sound quality that is not typical of the included instruments, at time sound like the high pipes of the organ or flute-like and voice-like. This kind of estrangement comes through Messiaen’s utility of extreme registers on the piano in the Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps, artificial harmonics on the cello that produce a very high pitch, sul tasto or sotto voce veiled sounds in the sustained cello and violin melodies of the movements describing the eternity and immortality of Jesus.

According to Congdon, “Barth recognizes that analogy is not only necessary but indispensable to the theological expression of revelation, yet in his analysis of analogy he has one overarching rule which is normative for all theological language: God must come to speech as God" {John H. McNassor, Revelation and Phenomenology in the Christologies of Karl Barth and Jean-Luc Marion}. Barth vociferously preserves the ultimacy of God in disallowing created order to affect the way in which He reveals Himself, and by prohibiting creaturely projections upon the Divine. Just as allowing created ‘trinities’ found in nature to dictate doctrine about Divine Triunity (e.g. in Vestigia Trinitatis), would be to diminish God, so too musical symbols of threeness are not in themselves revelatory, merely analogical. If language is commandeered by God’s revelation, inappropriate gain is given to language and therefore Barth insists that God must come to speech as God. And if language is used to confine or define God, there is a loss of revelation.

Hart says “We must be acutely conscious of the analogical interval within those words – such as “person” – that we apply to both God and creatures, and always recall that the moral and ontological categories in which human personality are properly described are appropriate only to the finite and composite.{David Bentley Hart (2002). ‘The Mirror of the Infinite: Gregory of Nyssa on the Vestigia Trinitatis’ in Modern Theology 18:4 October, ISSN 0266-7177 Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford U.K. & MA, USA, p. 545}.

There is an established paradigm for evoking the Divine, specifically the Triune (a respectful mimesis that maintains the authority of the Son as true exegete of the Father – John1:18; Colossians 1:15-17) through musical symbolism, e.g. in music of Messiaen, Bach, and Beethoven, described by Begbie and Guthrie, Chua, Bruhn, Maas, Del Nevo and Heaney.

Music is inescapably bodily, and has recognised connections with emotional life.

Music has an irreducible role to play in coming to terms with the world, in exploring and negotiating the constraints of our environment and the networks of relationships with others, and thus in forming human identity. This has ramifications for many disciplines, not least for theology: music has its own distinctive contribution to make to theology precisely because it is a distinctive human practice. {Jeremy S. Begbie (2000). Theology, Music and Time, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., p. 15}.

srawberryJeremy S. Begbie (2000). Theology, Music and Time, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., p. 20.
John Shepherd and Peter Wicke. Music and Cultural Theory, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997.
Roger Scruton. The Aesthetic Understanding, London: Methuen, 1983.
Roger Scruton. The Aesthetics of Music, Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.
John Sloboda. The Musical Mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Richard Norton. Tonality in Western Culture: A Critical and Historical Perspective. University Park and London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1984.
Calvin Brown. Music and Literature: A Comparison of the Arts. Hanover, New Hampshire and London: University Press of New England, 1987.
Stephen Davies. Musical Meaning and Expression. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994.
Wayne D. Bowman. Philosophical Perspectives on Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 3.

 

Pastoral Theology Research Group - Redeeming the Biblical Foundation of Pastoral Theology: the Christian underpinning for humanitarian pastoral care, compassion and flourishing

This collaboration draws together a cluster of pastoral theology disciplines, united by Biblical underpinnings, to produce a substantial explication of resources for compassionate and flourishing pastoral care. Evidence and exegesis relating to the full human lifecycle (palliative and end of life care, dementia care, healthy ageing, Christian happiness, responding to domestic violence and healthy marriage, disability support, Christian parenting, and mental health) – forms a pioneering body of research work supporting the practice of pastoral care. Pastoral theology works across metaphysical, situational and experiential encounters towards spiritual, physical and mental wellbeing. Science has proven that medical care alone cannot provide the complete solution to human flourishing: society needs new approaches to whole person care that address meaning and purpose contingent on the confluence of spiritual, mental, psychosocial and physical wellness. This project redeems the theological underpinnings that complement the current psychological emphasis of pastoral care because autonomous anthropocentric reliance on self-actualisation and self-support are inadequate in times of change and crisis. The Biblically grounded model of pastoral care draws on strengths outside of the individual: reinstating the importance of church, community, compassionate social structures, God, and hope, which remain resilient when an individual’s spiritual, mental or physical capacity is diminished.