Friday, July 18, 2008

Ave Maria

At my first mass a talented lady sang Ave Maria and I couldn't help but admire the beauty of it. At this time in my spiritual journey when I still squinted my eyes at the very sound of the word "Mary", somehow the beauty of this song in this particular context transcended my ignorance and gently moved my soul. I had a feeling of nostalgia listening to the words of that song though I had no reason to. I didn't grow up hearing it, I didn't associate it with anything and I had only heard it once or twice before and never thought anything of it.

But here I was struck with a certain beauty that I doubt I could properly verbalize and it was one foreign to me. My world did not know this beauty whatever it was. There is something mesmerizing about the song even if you don't understand the lyrics. It communicates, by melody and word, not only of one's love for mother but of mother's love. Somewhere inside, I knew simultaneously that this strange element was missing from my faith and that my faith was hindered thereby.

These days we view beauty with suspicion as if it were usually a way for Satan to trick us into doing evil. We have forgotten that Satan is actually ugly and that he hates beautiful things. Good is the most beautiful thing there is and evil is the ugliest thing. What "beauty" Satan displays is always temporal and shallow but after the initial indulgence one finds himself in a world of bitter ugliness. "Ave Maria" is not only beautiful on the surface (as if it were just a catchy melody) - the song itself is deeply beautiful both in tune and lyric. So in a quiet meditation, listen to the song if you haven't lately (I recommend Il Divo's duet) and ask yourself if something so beautiful could be idolatrous.

I'd be interested to hear if anyone has a particular version they recommend.


Kim said...

I always hear Robert Goulet's version at Christmastime. Christmas has been the only time of year we Protestants could indulge in a little Mary adoration without it looking out of place. ;) I yearn for the day when I will join others in year round adoration.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Oh never did I think there'd come a day when I was defending Mariology and even far less did I anticipate this day when I had accepted Mariology and then felt the need to correct a technicality on the issue from one considering Catholicism especially when said correction (given that I had accepted Mariology) is not in the "let's honor her more" but the "let's be careful of our language".

What I mean is this, (and to reiterate this is just a technicality; semantics) we reserve the term "adoration" for God alone as a semantic way of distinguishing that "worship" which his due to God and "praise" / "worship" that may befit other creatures. Protestants tend to use the word "worship" in the way we use "adoration" at least in regards to its distinction from lesser forms of the same basic idea. Remember though, this is all semantics. I am fully confident that you know exactly what you meant when you said it and likewise if we hear someone saying we ought to "praise Mary" we could recognize that in Protestant semantics this sounds downright idolatrous, a level headed Christian would never consider "praising" Mary in the way that Protestants use the word exclusively reserved for God alone.

To that end, I remember my younger sister had learned to do a one handed cartwheel growing up. My mother told me that my sister was going to show it to me and that I should "praise her for it" (my mom wanting me to boost my sister's self esteem). WHAT?! I remember thinking. In my mind, that word was reserved for the action due to God alone and I could not praise another human being much less my bratty little sister who annoys me all the time!

At any rate, I think we use the Greek terms: dulia, hyper-dulia and latria here. Dulia is "honor" as we would honor the king or a president. Latria is "adoration" reserved for God alone. No one is worthy of this type of interaction and to give it to anyone or anything else is idolatry. But for Mary there is something else, (not necessarily in between since if latria is so unique it cannot be measured in mere numbers as if half of latria equaled "hyper-dulia"). That is, "latria" must be something like infinity and "hyper-dulia" is something like "dulia" + 100. You can't just strongly "hyper-dulia" someone and end up being guilty of idolatry. And we know that if a King is worthy of honor (and we have no problem giving him such) then we know that the Queen of Heaven, the very Mother of God though not herself divine, must be worthy of something greater than a king regardless of his personal splendor.

So enough with the semantics. I know what you meant and thanks for chiming in.

Kim said...

lol Okay Tim. I tried not glazing over while reading that, but I did read it. ;D I was thinking of adoration as in "adore" or "love". I guess I need to have these lessons in technicalities so I am careful not to step over the line, at least in other people's minds or according to Church teachings. You're right in that I would never worship Mary.

Amy said...

Andrea Bocelli's version is still my favorite :)

Tim A. Troutman said...

Amy that is another great one.

Thos said...


You said, "ask yourself if something so beautiful could be idolatrous".

I have not listened yet to it (and I will in a minute), but the question itself made me think of 2 Cor 11:13-15: "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness."

Notice I am not saying that such masquerading is occuring with this music or Mary or whatever else. I am only saying that the claim "this is too beautiful to be evil, because evil is ugly" seems to conflict with the passage I just quoted. We must always be wary. The converse would hold, though, as far as I know. Something ugly could not be from God, because God is beautiful. And unlike Satan (and evil), he does not present himself as a lie and a masquerade.

Peace in Christ,

Tim A. Troutman said...

I had a feeling that verse was going to come up. Satan cannot be beautiful though, he can only appear so. So I'm not saying here that any catchy melody must be good but instead anything which is this deeply beautiful cannot be evil.

If you can name anything which is deeply beautiful on all levels that is evil then my point is refuted but I don't think such a thing exists. I think beautiful evil is as contradictory in terms as a square circle is.

Thos said...


Well, I didn't mean to be "that guy", but the post sort of begged for it.

I agree that Satan is NOT beautiful in fact, but that he can masquerade as such (assuming we agree that an angel of light is beautiful).

You said, "So I'm not saying here that any catchy melody must be good but instead anything which is this deeply beautiful cannot be evil." I'd like to dwell on "this deeply beautiful" for a moment. How would you distinguish your observation that a piece of music is sufficiently deeply beautiful enough to be unmistakably not a masquerade of beauty, from an observation that an alleged angel of light is deeply beautiful? Would you say that the prudent observer will see that an alleged angel of light is actually just evil in masquerade? I'm curious.

My understanding has been that I would know a false 'angel of light' "by its fruit." I suppose I tend to be inclined to use the same analysis about music, but would also be wary that masquerading texts could be applied to (truly) beautiful melody.

You said, "I think beautiful evil is as contradictory in terms as a square circle is." I agree, but the issue in discussion is evil masquerading as beauty. I don't think 'it's *really* beautiful' is a sufficient test to determine whether one has encountered the angel or the imitation.

Peace in Christ,

Tim A. Troutman said...

How would you distinguish your observation that a piece of music is sufficiently deeply beautiful enough to be unmistakably not a masquerade of beauty, from an observation that an alleged angel of light is deeply beautiful? Would you say that the prudent observer will see that an alleged angel of light is actually just evil in masquerade?

That's a good question. Well let's suppose we took the lyrics of your average gangster rap and put it to the tune of Ave Maria. Then I think we'd have something similar to Satan masquerading as an angel. Now Satan is a little more clever than that so we wouldn't expect it to be so obvious as putting the words "@##@&! ##@& your mother @#@#*" to a nice tune. It might be something closer to putting an idolatrous message with lots of 'churchly' sounding words to the tune of a beautiful song.

But I don't think thats what we have with Ave Maria. Now my argument here is more experiential than scientific (not that I mean it's completely subjective). The "deep beauty" I'm talking about is a beauty that transcends the melody and even transcends the text alone. There is a third element and that is that the fact that the melody and the text match - i.e. that both are beautiful and that fact in itself is beautiful.

But one would need to agree that the very words of the song are beautiful in order to agree with me at all. If one thought the words of Gabriel as recorded in Luke "Hail Mary full of grace" were idolatrous (I know, loaded proposition here) then they wouldn't think the song is "deeply beautiful".

I don't know if I can qualify my argument much more though. As I said, there is a certain experiential factor at work which I am not able to verbalize the way I'd like.

But could I be mistaken? Would, as you ask, a prudent onlooker necessarily be able to see through Satan's disguise? I think there must be some way or else why would the Scriptures warn us? If we were unable to see through the disguise a warning wouldn't be helpful. We'd be better off not even knowing it.

The shallow man cannot see through Satan's disguise - he is carnally minded. When he sees an attractive woman he thinks he found a good woman (or vice versa when the woman sees an attractive man or a man with a great personality she thinks she found a good man). But there is some way to tell in both cases and I think there is a way to tell in the case of "Ave Maria" as well.

Did you listen to it (in quiet meditation)?

Gotta go, my wife, who is both beautiful and good :), wants the computer.

Joseph said...

As Catholics, I would think that we are assured that "Ave Maria" is not a masquerade of beauty because the lyrics are more than just lyrics to a song, they are words of a prayer that, according to the Church, is a theologically correct prayer. In fact, the first half of it is completely Scriptural and it is a prayer that is one of the most commonly used by Catholics.

Once a Catholic has faith that the Church has Apostolic Authority, then one trusts that the Church will protect them from false doctrines and masquerades of beauty. Seeing as the Church does not prevent Catholics from listening to or singing "Ave Maria", I'm confident that it is not from the Devil. But, of course, that is a comfort that isn't felt outside of the Church, and I can understand that. I suppose, without the Church, one is left with only their own private judgment of what is truly beautiful and what is a masquerade of beauty. That, unfortunately, has led to thousands upon thousands of scandalous schisms and heresies.

Thos, I didn't want to be "that guy" either. But, your comment sort of begged for it.