God is back, and with a vengeance. Sociologists of religion were surprised by his return. Secularization was the code word. Religion was losing its relevance, slowly but surely, they said. The impact of faith and faith organizations on society was in steady decline. The ‘godfather’ of sociology, Max Weber, had seen it correctly: rationalization had led to a ‘disenchantment of the world’ and thus initiated the process of secularization. Nothing to be done about it. Or to pay tribute to the most famous sociologist of religion of the second half of the last century, Peter Berger: The sacred canopy that had sheltered us from external threats for centuries is broken, gone. Now, we must survive under the open sky, on our own, whether we like it or not. In 1968, Berger had predicted that by the year 2000 religion would be completely marginalized in society. Only in the form of small sectarian groups, which would come together to protect themselves against the evil effects of secularization, it would survive (NY Times, Sunday, February 25, 1968, ‘A Bleak Outlook is Seen for Religion’). 
Well, scientists can be wrong. Berger freely admitted it, long before the year 2000.1

Such an analysis was not only common among scholars looking at things from the outside (sociologists) but also within the church. There, too, ‘secularization’ was the main theme.

Continue reading…

System failure in the roman-catholic church

church operating systems (COS) – helpdesk

On TV (23 september 2023) the Bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bonny, admitted that the never-ending story of sexual abuses in Belgium (and other anomalies) were symptoms (signals) of a ‘systemic error‘ in the Church. What he didn’t realize, however, was the gravity of the situation. He still believes a ‘restart’ (albeit in ‘safe mode’) is still possible. But the ‘error’ does not originate in isolated programs (bugs, software), which can be repaired, but in the ‘church operating system’ itself, called ‘the Roman-Catholic Church’: Some critical elements

  • The dichotomy of the members in ‘clerics’ (priests) and ‘laity’, the latter being totally dependent on the first for access to Gods grace.
  • The ‘hierarchical’ power-structure (priests>bishops), on the top of which resides the pope, ‘who has to answer to no one’ (canon-law).
  • Who controls the judges? Answer: the judges. No divide between lawmakers and lawinforcers.

Cyril of Alexandria, the Song of Solomon and Mary Magdalene

A prefiguration of Easter (chapter 3)

Preparing an Easter sermon about Mary Magdalene wandering about in the garden early in the morning, desperately searching for the Lord, a scene from the Song of Solomon came to mind, in which the bride (the maiden) at night is looking for her beloved. She can’t find him, and – wandering through the city – she addresses the guards, and then – suddenly – she finds him, grabs him and does not want to let go of him anymore… 1600 years ago Cyril of Alexandria saw the same connections as I did (and you, reader). Hypertext. The text in question is Song of Solomon ch. 3:1-4 (translation below). The story of Mary in the garden can be read in John 20:1, 11b-18. I wondered: Did the evangelist use the story from the Song of Solomon as a matrix to tell his story of Mary? A kind of literary device?

Cyril of Alexandria, d. 444

Canticle of canticles (Song of Solomon), chapter 3

Translation of the Vulgata (Douay-Rheims)

1 In my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, and found him not. 2 I will rise, and will go about the city: in the streets and the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, and I found him not. 3 The watchmen who keep the city, found me: Have you seen him, whom my soul loveth? 4 When I had a little passed by them, I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him: and I will not let him go, till I bring him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that bore me.

Commentary of Cyril of Alexandria

Commentary of Cyril on Canticum canticorum ch. 3, 1: On my bed, during the night, I looked for my beloved… Below the original Greek with latin translation and below that a translation of Cyril’s remarks in English, turning Ch 3, 1-4 into a allegoric description of the meeting between Mary of Magdala and her Lord. NB: koitè (cubicule, lectum) denotes not only the bed, but also the room (bedroom, resting place); mnèma (monumentum – both use the same root: “mnm” = rememberance), memorial, tomb.

Patrologia Graeca, vol. 69, column 1285 – works of Cyril of Alexandria – fragments from a commentary on the Song of Solomon, also in PG 87/2, column 1620 (catena in the Song of Songs by Procopus of Gaza), only minor differences.

English translation

Translation of the Greek text. The quotes from Song of songs ch. 3 are underlined. I made the scriptural quotes explicit (adding the reference).

Meant are the women who, very early in the morning on Sabbath, went to the tomb of Jesus, and did not find him. – ‘On the bed’ or ‘from the bedroom’; ‘her bedroom’ is what she calls the tomb of the Lord in which we are buried with him. (Rom 6:4) But she did not find him, but instead heard, “He is not here, for he is risen.” (Lk 24,6) And the angels/guards found her, whom she addressed, “Where have you put the Lord?” (Jn 20,15). And as she passed by the men whom she was addressing, the Lord appeared, saying: “Greetings” (Mt 28:9). That is why she says: “No sooner had I passed by them than I found him, and I did not let go of him” (Canticum 3:3,4). For she caught hold of his feet, and he said, “Do not hold me.” (Jn 20,17 – feet = conflation with Jn 12,3). And the ‘house of the mother‘ (= Canticum 3:4) is what he calls the assembly (synagogue in Greek) of the apostles, where he sent her in order to bring the gospel of Christ’s resurrection. (Jn 20,18)

Understanding Bach’s Saint Matthew’s Passion: three clues

Three classic typologies one has to know, to understand the opening Chorus of the SMP, and the role of the dramatis personae in the Passion. All three are neatly presented to the attentive listener in the Opening Chorus. They refer to Christ and suggest an interpretation of the events that will be told in the ‘Passion’:
The Lamb
the Groom (+ Bride[smaids], the daughters of Sion)
Isaac, Abraham’s son.

Come, ye daughters, help me lament,
Behold! Whom? The Bridegroom.
Behold him! How? Like a lamb.
O lamb of God, innocent
slaughtered on the stem of the cross,
Behold! What? Behold his patience.
always found patient,
although you were despised.
Behold! Where? Behold our guilt.
you have borne all sin,
otherwise we would have to despair.
Behold Him, out of love and graciousness,
Himself carrying the wood of the cross.
Have mercy on us, o Jesus!
Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen,
Sehet – Wen? – den Bräutigam,
Seht ihn – Wie? – als wie ein Lamm!
O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig
Am Stamm des Kreuzes geschlachtet,
Sehet, – Was? – seht die Geduld,
Allzeit erfunden geduldig,
Wiewohl du warest verachtet.
Seht – Wohin? – auf unsre Schuld;
All Sünd hast du getragen,
Sonst müßten wir verzagen.
Sehet ihn aus Lieb und Huld
Holz zum Kreuze [selber] tragen!
Erbarm dich unser, o Jesu!
  1. the Paschal Lamb, sacrificial animal, slaughtered at Pesach. Its blood rescued the Israelites from the Angel of Death, ushering in the Exodus. In Christian theology this imagery is incorporated in Christ when he is called the Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi (German choral: O Lamm Gottes unschuldig).
  2. Jesus as the Bridegroom, whose fate is bemoaned by the women along the road (Gospel of Matthew). These women are addressed by Jesus as the Daughters of Sion/Jerusalem. They are invited to help telling the story of Jesus’ passion correctly. It’s a reference to the friends of the girl/Bride, the bridesmaids from the Song of Songs, The allegorical reading of this Bible Book was quintessential to the Spirituality of the (Lutheran) Church. There is also a reference to the parables of the bridesmaids waiting for the Groom to arrive. The Bride has a twofold reference:
    A. Community of Believers (collectivum), the Church;
    B. The Soul of the believer (individual)
  3. Isaac, Abraham’s son, carrying the ‘wood’ for his own sacrifice (typos of Christ carrying his cross), also quoted for his willingness to comply with his F(f)ather’s command, to be sacrificed.

Two birds with one stone…

A song for Christmas and Easter by Samuel Scheidt

Samuel Scheidt must have thought: why not publish a simple ‘Hallelujah’ that can be used for the two main celebrations of Christianity, Easter and Christmas, alike. Above the Easter version ‘Surrexit Christus hodie – Humano pro consolamine’ (‘Christ is risen to comfort human kind’). The Christmas version sings ‘Puer natus in Bethlehem’ – ‘Unde gaudet Jerusalem’. When you teach/learn this by heart, you kill two birds with one stone: a festive opening chorus for both feasts.

Here you can download the PDF:

A Song for Prince William

The Dutch national Anthem restored

  • Musicians:
    Piet Stryckers (gamba), Willem Ceuleers (composer, vocals, recorder ), Patrick Denecker (recorder)
  • Recording : Dick Wursten – Production: Procant vzw. commanded by Stadtverwaltung Worms (Luther-commemoration and exhibition 2021)

The Dutch national anthem, the ‘Wilhelmus’, is originally a protestant poem (an acrostic), dedicated to Prince William of Orange (count of Nassou). It’s one of the more sophisticated battle songs from the beginning of the Dutch Revolt. In it William claims leadership over the Dutch revolution. It’s legitimate (“It looks like a revolt, but it’s not. It’s obedience to the Highest Majesty), and William’s commitment cannot be disputed. The first battles in this war took place in 1568, and were not quite successful – they are mentioned in the song, stanzas 11-12. Apparently the conquest of Den Briel (1st of April 1572) had not yet taken place. It’s not mentioned and the tone is quite subdued. The one but last stanza is a ‘farewell’ stanza. William leaves ‘his country’ and temporarily withdraws (to his German native castle: the Dillenburg?). This gives us a perfect terminus post/ante quem, and provides us with an approximate date: ca. 1570.

In the first text edition we know of, there are no music notes, only a tune indication: to the tune of ‘Chartres’. This refers to the a French ballad about the protestant Siege of Chartres by the Prince of Condé (de Bourbon): French War of Religions: a debacle, 1568. The first line of the ballad is telling: Oh la folle Enterprise du Prince de Condé (Oh, what a silly enterprise of the Duke of Condé, trying to conquer Chartres). The songbook used for the video above is the ‘Geuzenliedboek’ of 1576, printed in Antwerp: (“geuzen”, ‘les gueux’ (Dutch revolutionaries): beggars song book).

Oh la folle enterprise (Camerata Trajectina), tune = 1574 (Chartres)

The tune used in this recording dates from 1607 (later than Oh la folle enterprise, which is boringly simple in its scansion ). The 1607 version accompanies a German song for the Count of Braunschweig – on the tune of Wilhelmus von Nassawen (see below). Apparently this melody was quite wellknown in the German lands, and had taken a little more challenging form. More info, and music examples at the website (in Dutch) of Procant vzw : . For those interested in the development of the melody between 1574 and 1626 (the tune use nowadays, first published in Valerius’ Gedenck-clanck’), see F. Noske, ‘Early Sources of the Dutch National Anthem (1574—1626)’, in Fontes Artis Musicae , 1966/13, No. 1, pp. 87-94. Finally: The recording we made, using the melody of 1607: prelude, stanzas 1 and 6.

Wilhelmus van Nassouwe
Ben ick van Duytschen bloet
Den Vaderlant getrouwe
Blyf ick tot in den doot:
Een Prince van Oraengien
Ben ick vry onverveert,
Den Coninck van Hispaengien
Heb ick altijt gheeert.
Mijn Schilt en mijn betrouwen
Sijt ghy o Godt mijn Heer,
Op u so wil ick bouwen
Verlaet mij nemmermeer:
Dat ick toch vroom mach blijven
U dienaer taller stondt,
Die Tyranny verdrijven,
Die my mijn hert doorwont.

Title of the Plano print from 1607:

Ein Lied von dem Hochwürdigen Durchl. hochgeb. Fürsten und Herren Heinrichen Julio postulirten Bisschoffe des Stiffts Halberstadt und Herzogen zu Braunschweig und Lüneburgk. In der Melodey: Wilhelmus von Nassawen bin ich von Teutschem Blut, (plano 1607). Set for four voices. Incipit: „Aus Braunschweigischen stammen / ich Hein rich Julius.” … 66 strophen. Berlin, Deutsche Staatsbibliothek.

Dick Wursten, 7 February 2022

Academic Humility (Umberto Eco)

Chapter 4.2.4 from Umberto Eco, How to write a thesis (1977, 1985, obsolete as a technical guide, but still relevant with regard to the attitude of a scholar). In this subchapter he recounts the ‘story of the Abbot Vallet’, to which he returns in the foreword of the second edition. There it becomes even more wonderful.

Chapter 4.2.4 Academic Humility

Do not let this subsection’s title frighten you. It is not an ethical disquisition. It concerns reading and filing methods.
You may have noticed that on one of the cards, as a young scholar, I teased the author Biondolillo by dismissing him in a few words. I am still convinced that I was justified in doing so, because the author attempted to explain the important topic of the aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas in only 18 lines. This case was extreme, but I filed the card on the book, and I noted the author’s opinion anyway. I did this not only because we must record all the opinions expressed on our topic, but also because the best ideas may not come from the major authors. And now, to prove this, I will tell you the story of the abbot Vallet.
To fully understand this story, I should explain the question that my thesis posed, and the interpretive stumbling block that obstructed my work for about a year. Since this problem is not of general interest, let us say succinctly that for contemporary aesthetics, the moment of the perception of beauty is generally an intuitive moment, but for St. Thomas the category of intuition did not exist. Many contemporary interpreters have striven to demonstrate that he had somehow talked about intuition, and in the process they did violence to his work. On the other hand, St. Thomas’s moment of the perception of objects was so rapid and instantaneous that it did not explain the enjoyment of complex aesthetic qualities, such as the contrast of proportions, the relationship between the essence of a thing and the way in which this essence organizes matter, etc. The solution was (and I arrived at it only a month before completing my thesis) in the discovery that aesthetic contemplation lay in the much more complex act of judgment. But St. Thomas did not explicitly say this. Nevertheless, the way in which he spoke of the contemplation of beauty could only lead to this conclusion. Often this is precisely the scope of interpretive research: to bring an author to say explicitly what he did not say, but that he could not have avoided saying had the question been posed to him. In other words, to show how, by comparing the various statements, that answer must emerge, in the terms of the author’s scrutinized thought. Maybe the author did not give the answer because he thought it obvious, or because—as in the case of St. Thomas—he had never organically treated the question of aesthetics, but always discussed it incidentally, taking the matter for granted.
Therefore, I had a problem, and none of the authors I was reading helped me solve it (although if there was anything original in my thesis, it was precisely this question, with the answer that was to come out of it). And one day, while I was wandering disconsolate and looking for texts to aid me, I found at a stand in Paris a little book that attracted me at first for its beautiful binding. I opened it and found that it was a book by a certain abbot Vallet, titled L’idée du Beau dans la philosophie de Saint Thomas d’Aquin (The idea of beauty in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas) (Louvain, 1887). I had not found it in any bibliography. It was the work of a minor nineteenth-century author. Naturally I purchased it (and it was even inexpensive). I began to read it, and I realized that the abbot Vallet was a poor fellow who repeated preconceived ideas and did not discover anything new. If I continued to read him, it was not for “academic humility,” but for pure stubbornness, and to recoup the money I had spent. (I did not know such humility yet, and in fact I learned it reading that book. The abbot Vallet was to become my great mentor.) I continued reading, and at a certain point—almost in parentheses, said probably unintentionally, the abbot not realizing his statement’s significance—I found a reference to the theory of judgment linked to that of beauty. Eureka!
I had found the key, provided by the poor abbot Vallet, who had died a hundred years before, who was long since forgotten, and yet who still had something to teach to someone willing to listen.
This is academic humility: the knowledge that anyone can teach us something. Perhaps this is because we are so clever that we succeed in having someone less skilled than us teach us something; or because even someone who does not seem very clever to us has some hidden skills; or also because someone who inspires us may not inspire others. The reasons are many. The point is that we must listen with respect to anyone, without this exempting us from pronouncing our value judgments; or from the knowledge that an author’s opinion is very different from ours, and that he is ideologically very distant from us. But even the sternest opponent can suggest some ideas to us. It may depend on the weather, the season, and the hour of the day. Perhaps, had I read the abbot Vallet a year before, I would not have caught the hint. And who knows how many people more capable than I had read him without finding anything interesting. But I learned from that episode that if I wanted to do research, as a matter of principle I should not exclude any source. This is what I call academic humility. Maybe this is hypocritical because it actually requires pride rather than humility, but do not linger on moral questions: whether pride or humility, practice it.


Tam docte Venerem divinus pinxit Apelles
Illi ut credatur visa fuisse Venus.
At tantam sapiunt Venerem tua scripta, Marote,
Ut tibi credatur cognita tota Venus.

Translation by John Weever, also 16th Century, who suppressed the reference to Clément Marot, in whose praise this quatrain is composed:
Apelles did so paint faire Venus Queene,
That most suppos’de he had faire Venus seene,
But thy bald rimes of Venus savour so.
That I dare sweare thou dost all Venus know.

The Latin poem is by Théodore de Bèze (indeed, the successor of John Calvin in Geneva). He wrote it in his youth and published it in his Iuvenilia. He wrote this poem impressed by a rondeau by Clément Marot about the daughter of a painter. The reference to Apelles is – of course – to his legendary painting of Venus arising from the sea…

Interested? Read more…



16th C. paintings of Muhammed

To show them or not, that’s the question

In a special edition of the French magazine Sciences et Avenir two illustrations of Mohammed are included in an article about the Coran. Neither does show his face (it is erased), both belong to the muslim tradition (16th century). Still the government of Marocco prohibited its sale, because they considered it ‘provocative’. Below the article from Le Monde (16 jan. 2016)

« Sciences et avenir » montre le Prophète, le Maroc censure

L’information est venue de la rédaction de Sciences et avenir, mensuel français de vulgarisation scientifique, mardi 12 janvier : son hors-série, intitulé « Dieu et la science », sorti en kiosque mi-décembre 2015, a été interdit au  Maroc par le ministère de la communication au motif qu’il portait atteinte à l’image du Prophète. « Stupéfaction et tristesse », a réagi Dominique Leglu, la directrice de la rédaction, dans une lettre ouverte publiée ce mardi sur le site Internet du magazine. A l’origine de cette décision : deux miniatures publiées en pages 30 et 31 du hors-série et tirées d’une biographie ancienne  du prophète Mahomet.


Interrogé par Le Monde, mercredi 13 janvier, le ministre de la communication marocain, Mustapha – El Khalfi, confirme une « non-autorisation de distribution » prise le 17 décembre 2015. Le ministre explique se baser sur l’article 29 de la loi marocaine sur la presse (qui stipule que les publications étrangères peuvent être interdites, notamment pour atteinte à la religion islamique) et sur la résolution 224-65 de l’ONU relative à la lutte contre la diffamation des religions. Le magazine contient « une reproduction graphique de miniatures qui représentent le Prophète d’une manière négative », avance Mustapha El Khalfi, qui évoque une  « provocation contre le sentiment religieux au Maroc ».
Dominique Leglu s’élève contre cette représentation. « Les deux miniatures sont éminemment respectueuses », souligne-t-elle, rappelant que les deux dessins ont été réalisés au XVIe siècle par le célèbre calligraphe Lutfi Abdullah – dont l’œuvre est notamment exposée au musée du palais Topkapi à Istanbul – après une commande du sultan ottoman Mourad III.

One of the contested images: Mohammed receives first verse of the Coran.
16th C. illustration, Topkapi museum Istanbul

« Le contenu n’est pas un problème »

Dans le hors-série visé, ils illustrent un cahier pédagogique sur  les textes sacrés. La première miniature montre Mahomet nouveau-né, présenté aux habitants de La Mecque. La deuxième  image est celle du Prophète – dont le visage a été gommé – recevant la révélation par l’archange Gabriel sur le mont Hira.
Cette censure « nous semble d’autant plus inappropriée, poursuit Dominique Leglu, que la période actuelle réclame plus que jamais une compréhension approfondie de la science, des cultures et des croyances ». Le hors-série « Dieu et la science » est le prolongement d’un colloque organisé début 2015 au collège des Bernardins, à Paris, sur le même thème et auquel avaient participé d’éminents scientifiques, philosophes et religieux. « Le contenu n’est pas un problème, il est même très intéressant », reconnaît Mustapha El Khalfi. Dominique Leglu, elle, ne masque pas sa déception ni son incompréhension : « Un seul souci a présidé à ce travail : favoriser le dialogue à l’heure où les discours extrémistes le détruisent. »

Charlotte Bozonnet