Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Novena for St. Dominic's Intercession

Today is the day to begin the traditional novena to St. Dominic. This year, please join me in praying for the Canonization of Blessed Fra Angelico, my Dominican patron. (The traditional Dominican Novena starts on July 30, ending August 7, the eve of the feast of St. Dominic. CLICK HERE for the novena text, or if you're short on time, just say 'St. Dominic, Pray for us' 9 days in a row)

FRA ANGELICO, was beatified October 3, 1982 by Pope John Paul II, and in 1984 the Holy Father declared him patron of Catholic artists. Our times are in dire need of his intercession. Ubiquitous is the ugly church/gymnasium/dentist's office; housing hideous, craftless and uninspired painting and sculpture, if any sacred art can be found at all in these iconoclastic blunderlands.

It is fitting that we pray to Fra Angelico, himself a Dominican, in reparation for the crimes committed against art and architecture by another Dominican, Fr. Marie-Alain Couturier. In fact, I like to think Fra Angelico is to Fr. Couturier as the Blessed Virgin Mary is to Eve. You see, art is all about proportion, and we're in need of a miracle ratio.

Why the Eve/New Eve comparison? Because it was through the twisted views of sacred art held by Fr. Couturier that our Church began to throw away the value of Her artistic patrimony. Fr. Couturier was one of the most active patrons of modernist art and architecture in the early 2oth century. An untalented yet trained artist, he sat as editor of 'Art Sacre', which was the propaganda vehicle for reformist opinions in the realm of Church art. Without hesitation, Fr. Couturier stubbornly held the opinion that
"It would of course be ideal if Christian art could be revived by men who are both geniuses and saints. However, if such men do not exist, we believe that it would be much safer in the present circumstances to commission geniuses with no faith to bring about this renaissance, this resurrection, rather than believers with no talent"
It takes neither genius nor talent to look back on the artistic output of the last 100 years and see that this ideology was a complete disaster, however so universally disseminated. Nevertheless, Fr. Couturier supported the most radical of artists and architects, most of whom were atheists. This support patronized Catholic art while patronizing Modernist artists. If you doubt the impact this had on the world of ecclesiastical art and architecture, take a look at who the major commissions have gone to over the last 80 years. While you'd be hard pressed to find a quality architect (save California's Arnold Constable), the reality is that nowadays you pretty much have to be an atheist to be considered for a big Catholic job. And it helps if you're an ex-Catholic. RAFAEL MONEO, SANTIAGO CALATRAVA, CRAIG HARTMAN, STEVEN HOLL,etc.

Moreover, in a supreme twist of history, Fr. Couturier's greatest feat, and Lady Architecture's greatest defeat, was the promotion of those who were aggressive and actively seeking the downfall of Christianity, such as my own arch-nemesis, Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier prospered greatly from both the direct and indirect patronage of Fr. Couturier. Notre Dame du Haut in RONCHAMP, and Sainte Marie de LA TOURETTE stand out as his 'masterpieces'. La Tourette, seen at right, had an iconoclastic chapel, and was a functionally disastrous cloister with cells whose prison-like qualities created high levels of severe depression. Eventually, the compound became a retreat center for Modernist architects. (seriously, I'm not making that up.)

Le Corbusier's vitriol for the Roman Catholic Church was deep rooted: ancestral in both figural and literal senses. Le Corbusier was well aware of his ancestry. He was a Cathar, and vocally enjoyed promoting Manicheist ideas, such as in his book "Le poème de l'angle droit". According to his biographer,
"the monastery of La Tourette can be said to portray a combined symbol of Catharism and Manicheism, as does all of Le Corbusier's work."
What's worse, Le Corbusier, a Manichean, was asked by a Dominican to clarify and represent faith via sacred art to members of the Church, turning on its head the history of the Dominican Order, whose previous 700 years had been dedicated, if to nothing else, to preaching against the Manichean heresy in all of its manifestations. Here a Dominican was asking an atheistic Manichean to use stone to preach of 'True Art'. This is like a Jewish leader asking an active Nazi to design a holocaust memorial.

Le Corbusier's impact can be felt the world over. Inner city slums, single-use zoning and suburbs, iconoclasm in religious structures, tubular steel furniture--they are all so rooted in our lives in large part because of Le Corbusier. And Le Corbusier was in large part because of a Dominican.

So please, please pray for the canonization of Fra Angelico, and perhaps the redemption of Art can come through the Dominicans, just as sin came through Eve, and redemption came through the New Eve.


Chris Renz, O.P. said...

Curious to know about your interest in Arnold Constable. I'm preparing an exhibition of his archtectural prints for display in our gallery at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, and would be interested to learn what you know.

The Vitruvian Duck said...

Fr. Renz,
My mouth dropped when I read your post. I believe Constable to be one of the most underappreciated and certainly unrecognized architects in Californian architectural few people know of him (outside of the O.P. in the Western Province) that it's great to see someone trying to bring his work to a fuller light as you are.

St. Dominic's in San Fran is one of my favorite American buildings, and for me rivals that of Masqueray's works in the Midwest. I have a great memory of attending ordinations there for a couple of my classmates. Beautiful.

I believe he also worked on St. Albert's priory, (of which I'm sure you know much more than I), as well as some rather unfortunately banal buildings on the College of Marin campus, which I believe will be or are now being renovated or replaced.

Because there's so little biographical work on him out there that's the extent of my knowledge, although I wish it were more.

Are you getting the prints from the Berkeley archives? How extensive are they?

Please, please contact me at I want to be of any help I can, and also want to learn anything you can teach me.