Quick Hits: Francis & Kasper vs. Ratzinger/Benedict; finding harmony in 20th-century music

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 29, 2017

  • The fear that Pope Francis is deliberately trying to undo the work of his predecessors, and particularly the work of Benedict XVI, is an increasingly common theme for Catholic writers. Matthew Schmitz made an important contribution to that body of analysis last week with his short essay, “Burying Benedict,” for First Things. Schmitz recounts the important theological debate in the 1990s between then-Cardinal Ratzinger and soon-to-be Cardinal Kasper, noting that “Francis has steadily advanced the agenda that Kasper outlined over a decade ago.” The debate will finally be decided, Schmitz argues, according to “who thinks with the mind of a Church that has seen countless heresies come and go.” By that measure, he concludes: “Regardless of who dies first, Benedict will outlive Francis.”
  • On a happier note, Mercatornet recently carried a fascinating interview with my old friend Robert Reilly on 20th-century music. Reilly readily acknowledges the ugliness of much atonal music, and traces that problem to its philosophical underpinnings:
    Much of modern philosophy denied that there is any such thing as natural law or an inbuilt order in nature. This is a logical consequence of the so-called death of God. This spilled over into the arts, including music.
    But he goes on to tour the “largely undiscovered country” of 20th-century music that does not fall into that philosophical trap, and offers some recommendations. Read the interview, and prepare to spend some time listening to YouTube recordings to see whether you agree.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: DrJazz - May. 30, 2017 8:26 AM ET USA

    Reilly suggests listening to "the single most performed American composer of choral music," Morten Lauridsen. I was very fortunate to study freshman music theory with Lauridsen at USC, but I had no knowledge of his works at the time. He went on sabbatical the next semester, and a friend played them for me years later. Lauridsen taught from the Walter Piston harmony book. When I re-read that book years later, I realized just how dry it is. He was a great teacher: He made that book come alive.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - May. 30, 2017 8:16 AM ET USA

    Reilly's article is excellent. It presents ideas that I have tried to get across to my music history and performance students for years: that beauty in music is more than just something that is "in the eye of the beholder," that it mirrors a sense of striving for communion with our Creator and each other, and that musicians mirror the Creator, but by using existing materials (whereas God created out of nothing). A society that doesn't make music is a society that has lost its sense of love.