Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mourning Into Joy, Part 3: Is There a Doctor in the House?

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sin is covered. Blessed is the one to whom
the Lord shall not impute sin.

-- Romans 4:7-8

I'm going back to New York in a couple of days to defend my doctoral dissertation, "Music, Sin, and Redemption in Victorian Visual Culture." It's an exploration of a mostly-forgotten aspect of the portrayal of salvation history in the visual arts -- a trope dating from the patristic era that equates music with sin, and its abandonment with redemption. This trope, or so I contend, for various reasons reapppeared in 1850s England, and can be seen in certain paintings (as well as literary treatments) of fallen women from that time. The preeminent example of the music-sin-redemption conflation, however, as I have discussed in previous posts, is no woman, but rather David, the great musician who became king, the egregious sinner who was nevertheless a man "after God's own heart" (Acts 13:22). David, after being awakened by Nathan from denial of his sinfulness (adultery with Bathsheba, resulting in a son who dies in infancy, and the contrived murder of her husband Uriah on the battlefield), casts down both harp and crown in mourning, or so he was commonly portrayed as doing in medieval illuminated incipits of Psalm 51 (the "Miserere"). David is shown above, in a sixteenth-century painting by Lucas Cranach, spying upon Bathsheba as she bathes; note that he has his harp with him; having not yet seduced Bathsheba, he has not yet discarded it in grief.

I am honored by the presence of Thomas H. Connolly, the authority on Cecilian iconography, on my dissertation committee, especially because his work has been a revelation to me both in my scholarship and in my journey towards God. His book Mourning Into Joy: Music, Raphael, and Saint Cecilia is nothing less than a chronicle of salvation history, and his friendship has been a great gift. I was led to his work by various inexplicable events in my first week of graduate school, and to him personally seemingly by chance by a young woman who'd left the novitiate of the Sisters of Life to become a nurse, whom I met once and never saw again; she had been a member along with Connolly of a Catholic student-faculty consortium at the University of Pennsylvania, where Connolly taught until his retirement.

When I was confirmed, the bishop asked, upon hearing my confirmation name, if I were a musician. When I answered in the affirmative, he instructed me to "pray to Saint Cecilia often." I have often forgotten to do so; Cecilia is so far away from our own time and experience, and my main man these days is Fr. Hermann Cohen, like David a sinner, a Jew, and a musical penitent. But I would like to ask those readers so inclined to please speak to Cecilia about me, even if just one word, between now and October 31. I hope that my defense will not only earn me my degee, but will also afford glory to God, the true author and revealer of all beauty. Please also ask for help for my son, from whom I've never been away before, and his father, who'll be taking care of him solo.


Anonymous said...

Best of luck and many prayers! How exciting!

Pentimento said...

Thanks, RCM! I really need your prayers. I've been under attack on this blog and in my personal life (see the comments on the post entitled "Barck My Vote," below.