Guest Post by Fra José Maria Barbin, FI: The Beautiful Struggle

I am pleased to post here an essay of one of our friars, Fra José Maria Barbin on the subject of the imagination and Marian Chivalry.  I am thoroughly in accord with his insights and am grateful for his contribution.

In conjunction with I can heartily recommend also the teaser videos of Kevin O’Brien and Joseph Pearce on Tolkien. The ETWN production, and the talents of Kevin and Mr. Pearce, make looks the $10 that they are asking look like robbery.

And now. . . 

The Beautiful Struggle: “Sanctifying the Imagination”

All things come from God; and above all, reason and imagination and the great gifts of the mind. They are good in themselves; and we must not altogether forget their origin even in their perversion.

G.K. Chesterton puts these words on the lips of Father Brown in the detective story The Dagger with Wings. Truly, the priest-investigator was on to something. Benedict XVI denounced what he dubbed the “dictatorship of relativism.” Pope Francis warns us not to fall into the pit of “aesthetic relativism” (Evangelii Gaudium 167). We must never allow the abuse of reason and imagination to make us “forget their origin.” Father Brown was truly on to something—perhaps on to something mysteriously deeper than anything we imagine.

It is crucial to examine the indispensable role that the imagination plays in our gradual maturity in Christ (Col 1:28) and how its use in an un-knightly fashion inevitably places a serious impediment to the attainment of our full “manhood in the Gospel,” to borrow an expression from Bl. John Henry Newman. Thus, we should discover the necessity of undertaking the beautiful struggle of sanctifying the imagination.

I believe we have to sharpen our Catholic sensibility to the widespread epidemic of the misuse of the imagination, because the exploitation of this faculty—expressing itself in “apparent beauty”—has a much more seductive charm than its correct use. The winsome and wayward imagination can wean even the bravest of men from the Cross of Christ. There are two extremes of this misuse, which may be illustrated by two contrasting literary figures. Eustace Clarence Scrubb, from Lewis’ Narnia myth, is charged of imaginative deprivation (defect), while Cervantes’ Don Quixote with imaginative presumption (excess).

Eustace Scrubb: The Dragon of the Mournful Countenance

C.S. Lewis, in his volume from the Narnia series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has marvellously demonstrated a case of imaginative deficiency in the amusing character of Eustace Clarence Scrubb. The Pevensies’ annoying know-it-all cousin is a boy who “liked books [only] if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools” and who neither made things up himself nor enjoyed works of the imagination by others. Indeed, he was “quite incapable of making up anything for himself.” Eustace exemplifies all those who dislike tales, romances or imaginative literature generally. Eustace never dared and was unable to think outside the box because he had a double-layered bubble-wrapped imagination. The result? A rather natural consequence: a cold, dry, arrogant, wooden and boring character. A boy who lived in a rather peculiar “never never land” where boys were only concerned about “matters of consequence” as the Little Prince of Antoine de Saint Exupéry would call it.

Eustace overcomes his aversion to fantasy and his incapacity to properly use the imagination by living what he refused to experience imaginatively: he suddenly becomes a dragon and is enabled to go beyond the restricted, narrow, materialistic and rationalistic world he created for himself. I believe that the “Eustace experience” is but a surreptitious literary personification of the necessity to sanctify the imagination. Authentic imaginative experience possesses an eminently transforming character. The bothersome little boy that nobody likes gradually matures in Narnia; he unlocks his true character because in the engaging imaginative experience he is freed from trite and familiar view of things. He never read of talking animals in his textbooks, but in Narnia he meets them. In regaining a clear view of things, he strengthens his relish for real life.

Lifting the veil of familiarity from ordinary life does not simply consist in seeing what things are (the pre-dragonized Eustace only interested in information) but rather as we were meant to see them (the dragonized boy eventually freed by Aslan.) For certain, Eustace felt morose and glum while he was a dragon. However, putting on the thick rigid scales of a dragon was the only way to soften the heart of this hardheaded rascal. He had to immerse himself in another character in order to draw his real one out. In this way, imaginative engagement was an essential tool in the discovery of his true inner identity. Through the “sanctification of the imagination,” the immature little boy was transformed into a first-class squire, disposed to enrol himself in the knighthood of Aslan.

Don Quixote: The Knight of the Mournful Countenance

In the immortal masterpiece, Don Quixote by the Spanish king of poets, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, we see the complete opposite embodied in the figure of a middle-aged gentleman from the region of La Mancha. Don Quixote befuddles his imagination with the tales of knightly derring-do and fantastic deeds of chivalry. He decides that his world needs such a knight-errant and that he is just the man. Due to his mistreatment of the imagination, Don Quixote too lives in a sort of “never never land,” where he is paradoxically a self-appointed hero who constantly disturbs the peace. We read in chapter 18, that he often saw “in his imagination what he did not see and what did not exist.”

Far from lampooning genuine knighthood, what Cervantes fluently describes and brands with such mordant satire is a degenerated knighthood, stemming from a presumptive use of the imagination—the good old “art for art’s sake.” In consequence, the factor that originally sparks Don Quixote’s wild adventures, namely, an uncontrolled imagination, results in persistent misinterpretations of ordinary events he encounters on the road. The aftermath is only natural. He mistakes the windmills for giants. A funeral procession becomes a troop of devils carrying off a princess. A barber’s basin becomes the miraculous Helmet of Bambrino. We are told of how his unsanctified imagination “immediately conjured all this to him vividly as one of the adventures of his books.” The attempt to live chivalry, while failing to tame the “madman of the house,” only ends in humiliation and suffering.

In all this, the power of the Cervantes’ narrative lies in illustrating the gradual transformation of Don Quixote as he regains the balance of his imagination. In Don Quixote we have an eloquent proof of one thing: reality will always be a salutary kryptonite for those who imagine themselves to be superman.

The Zealotry of the Knight or the Lethargy of the Dragon? That is the question.

Neither. That is the answer.

Genuine knighthood has nothing in common with such aberrations and excrescences. The misuse of the imagination in an un-knightly fashion is but another expression of the modern spiritual tendency of wanting to play God. On the one hand, we have the boundless presumption of giving full reign to the “madman of the house,” to the point of the trampling the dignity of man; on the other hand, the negligence or fear of its legitimate use—the overly bubble-wrapped imagination. Both are a dereliction of duty. In fact, these two phenomena go hand in hand because they both stem from man’s denial of his metaphysical situation and his relation to Christ and the Blessed Virgin, and because man has repressed his awareness of his true nobility as the image and likeness of God.   Indeed, the human soul is God’s image because He gave us the ability to “subcreate,” that is, to “make as we are made” (Tolkien). Thus, we have the right and duty to exercise this gift for His glory.

The Journey of the Imagination to God

When it comes to theories on imagination, there exist several tantalizing fragmentary comments by different authors. In the Stateman’s Manual (1816), I believe Samuel Taylor Coleridge offers one of the clearest and fullest definitions of imagination:

that reconciling and mediatory power, which incorporating the Reason in Images of the Sense . . . gives birth to a system of symbols, harmonious in themselves, and consubstantial with the truths of which they are the conductors.

Likewise, according to C.S. Lewis, imagination can be defined as the mental faculty that puts things into meaningful relationships to form unified wholes.

In terms of theology and spirituality, the Franciscan worldview of exemplarism, or St. Bonaventure’s symbolic theology, affords a framework of beauty for the sanctification of the imagination. Here, the Seraphic Doctor’s primary concern is to explicitly affirm—in contrast with the modern spiritual tendency—the relations of expression between God and creatures. This metaphysical principle is eloquently formulated in Tract. De plantatione paradisi:

It is through mysterious and symbolic figures that the eye of rational intelligence is led to understand the truth of divine wisdom. For the wisdom of God invisible could not have made itself known to us in any other way than by conforming itself through similitude to those forms of visible things which we perceive, and by manifesting to us, in the form of signs, its invisible qualities which we do not perceive (n. 1, v. 575).

God expresses Himself in creation, and so the creature inevitably bears in its ontological structure a certain resemblance to God which is imprinted on it by the very act of creation. In this sense, the journey of the imagination to God, or the “dialectical” use of imagination, is tailored to St. Bonaventure’s exemplaristic end, that is, to discern, beneath the apparent diversity of things, the fine threads of analogy which bind to one another lead to God. “Contuition,” a typically Bonaventurian term, implies exactly this indirect intuition of God through finite realties. This is an ascetical and mystical approach, rather than a purely discursive one.

Eustace preferred not to use his imagination. Don Quixote used it too much. As St. Bonaventure writes in his Collationes in Hexaemeron: Christus tenens medium in omnibus. “Christ holds the central place in all things”—even in the use of our imagination. Christus unus omnium magister. “Christ is the one true Master.”

The inner pattern of the “vestige,” that is, the visible creature, is primarily its relation to God. For St. Bonaventure, as for St. Augustine, beauty is aequalitas numerosa, an ordered proportion of the parts to the whole. Hence, to see a thing as it is truly is—through the sanctification of the imagination—means to see its external beauty in relation to its Exemplar, the Word Incarnate, the fairest of the sons of men (Ps 44:2). In the last analysis, putting things in meaningful relationships, as C.S. Lewis puts it, ultimately consists in bringing the panoramic beauty of the world, in its multiplicity and variety of creatures, together into unity and in relation to the Word, the Eternal Beauty, or what Bonaventure called Eternal Art.

It’s not easy. But it’s a beautiful struggle.

St. Francis of Assisi, “the most valiant knight of Christ,” sanctified the imagination through the inversion of the chivalric culture into which he was born. St. Maximilian M. Kolbe, the “knight of the Immaculate,” sanctified his, by unlimitedly consecrating himself to the Tota Pulchra, the One who is All Fair (Song 4:7). So, let’s ask ourselves: the conversion and sanctification of souls; the building a Catholic culture; Marian Chivalry; what’s the imagination got to do with these? Perhaps, just perhaps, more than we imagine.

Roman Communiqué

This is just to let those who might be interested that I am still here.  I am studying for my licentiate in theology at the Angelicum and have taken a pretty heavy load.  I just don’t have time or mental energy to blog right now.

Please keep me in your prayers and I will pray for all of you.

Read Kevin O’Brien’s reflections on Don Quixote.  They are right up the Mary Victrix alley.

God bless.

Mary Victrix, Our Fortress and Defense

A blessed Feast of Our Lady of Victory.

On the Solemnity of St. Francis the seminarians and I went to the prayer vigil of the Holy Father in preparation for the synod, which has now begun.  Afterward, we moved into the new building that the Holy Father has provided us.  I can walk to the Angelicum in a half hour.

Here are a couple of photos of our new surroundings.  More to come.  Click on photos for larger view.  There is a bit of distortion due to my use of the pan setting.

The gate you are looking at is Porta Tiburtina, after which our street is named, otherwise know as Porta San Lorenzo.  The gate was constructed to commemorate a Roman victory.  But our victory is found in the Gate of Heaven.

I post my yearly tribute to Mary Victrix:

I cast myself before Thee, Thy bondsman and fool;
Thy patronage is freedom, Thy slavery my school.
I offer Thee my sword hilt and wait for Thy command
To serve among Thy servants who pledge to take a stand.
That I might die in battle, a victim of Thy love:
My wish, my prayer, my promise, thus written in my blood.

I saw the bark of Peter ride dark into the sun,
But darker still the marking of crescent, hoard and gun.
Her sails lay flat and mellow, Her men had pledged their troth,
Left hand on beaded psalter, the right to keep their oath.
The haughty fiend had counted on fear to win the day,
But Thine own breath has countered to turn the wind their way.

My Queen, to Thee be honor and praise through all Thy knights
Who toiled and bled and parted Thy martyrs robed in white.
All courtesy and prowess, all strength and gentleness,
Thy heart a pyx of virtue, Thy face all loveliness.
Then at the hour of judgment my colors Thou may see,
Thy Son upon His white steed, Thou pray to come for me.


Queen of the May

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

Bring Flowers of the Rarest” is an extra-liturgical May crowning hymn that seems to be a rather sentimental nod to the ambiguity of modern May “devotion,” and perhaps (or perhaps not) an assault upon it.  It is a preconciliar hymn that I have often heard characterized as “schmaltzy” and inappropriate for the liturgy, though I have heard it many times used in traditional circles for Holy Mass.

What interests me here is its relation to the pagan or neopagan celebrations associated with May Day, the spring festival.  The “Queen of the May” or “May Queen” is a personification of Spring which is ritualized in May Day celebrations by the selection of a young girl dressed in white and crowned with flowers who leads the May Day parade. British folklore has it that of old the ritual ended with the blood sacrifice of the May Queen. Continue reading

Mary Victrix Rebooted

As you can see MaryVictrix has been modified. It may change a bit more over the next week, but nothing drastic.

You can always get back to the stream of blog posts by clicking “blog” in the man menu. The recent comments widget can be found in the blog stream for your convenience. Clicking on the header image or on the site title will take you back to the “showcase” page that has the featured article header, recent post links, et al.

Check out the new pages under the main menu Marian Chivalry, The Spirit of Lepanto and the Inversion of Chivalry.  They are relatively short (for my writing), and give a good summary of what Mary Victrix is about.

Merry Christmas.

Doomsday Announcement (Updated)

Update:  Didn’t happen.  Surprise, surprise.

I thought I would mark the end of the world as we know it with a reboot of Mary Victrix.

I will be changing the WordPress theme and modifying the site over the next few days.  It might look clunky and change back and forth a bit, but that should be over soon.

Check out the new pages under the main menu when they become available shortly: Marian Chivalry, The Spirit of Lepanto and the Inversion of Chivalry.

Let me take this opportunity to rebuke the spirit of paranoia and reaffirm hope in Our Lady.

Second Templar Secrets Video: Standing Fast

Part 1:  The Temple of the Order

Posted on AirMaria and found on this blog in the sidebar.

For the introduction, in case you missed it, you will also find it in the side bar, or follow this link.

Templar Secrets Video Series on Standing Fast

My introductory video is up on AirMaria as promised.  It also appears here on MaryVictrix in the side bar.  Look for the next episodes over the next few weeks.

Happy Feast of Mary Victrix

Lepanto New

The Feast of the Holy Rosary is a feast of prayer and recourse to the Blessed Mother. It is also a feast of the action of brave men who were men of prayer. That is why it is also the Feast of Our Lady of Victory.  On this day we pray for the Spirit of Lepanto.

In the current postcommunion oration for the Mass we find the closest thing in the current formulary to reference to Our Lady of Victory:

May we be helped we beseech Thee, O Lord, by the prayers of Thy most holy Mother, whose Rosary we celebrate; that we may draw strength from the Mysteries which we commemorate, and likewise obtain the fruit of the Sacraments which we have received: Who livest and reignest with the God Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.  Amen.

We are to draw strength from the paschal mystery, the mystery of the sacrificial love of Christ for all men.  The mysteries of which the oration speaks are the death and resurrection of the Lord.  But the feast integrates into these mysteries the mystery of Our Lady’s victorious mediation, and the “strength” which we draw from our participation in the Mysteries of Christ through Her mediation.

On this occasion I have returned to vlogging my series Standing Fast which you will be able find each week in the side bar on the right.  (It should be up momentarily.) Well I guess the widget won’t fly yet, so here is the video:

Here is the link to The Soul of the Apostolate that I mention in the video. And a Google Books version here.

You will also be able to find it on AirMaria as a regular post in a larger format.  I have delayed my post today due to the learning curve with some new video software.  My apologies for not posting sooner on Our Lady’s feast day.

The above painting was created by Tony Stafki and is available in various kinds of prints.  Tony sent my some information about the painting:

  • The battle formation of the ships just before the main clash.
  • The Catholic ships form a cross and the Muslim ships form a cresent.
  • The standard of the Holy Cross which was blessed by Pope Pius V can be seen on Don Juan of Austria’s ship which is leading the charge
  • Papal ships (St. Peter’s keys)
  • The miracle of the wind: just before the armies met the wind completely switched in favor of the Catholic ships.
  • Devils can be seen amongst the Muslim ships (they were summoned from hell by the Muslim leader).  The devils have peacock feathers as swords, a manifestation of their pride.
  • Our Lady of Victory with a sword in one hand ready to crush the devils and the other hand outstretched to the Muslim souls.
  • St. Michael leading the Angels
  • There are small white lights by the oars on the Muslim ships representing the souls of the Catholic prisoners.

The image of Our Lady with the sword reminds me of this:

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

One instant in a still light
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was a queen most womanly—
But she was a queen of men.

Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand,
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart—
But one was in her hand.

I have always been a little put off that the image of Our Lady of Victory does not have a sword:


Nor images of our Lady at Lepanto, such as this:


Hats off to Tony.