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The rantings and ravings of superstar theologian, Joe Vee


Art Bell and the Transverberation of the Soul

(Apologia pro Arturus Bell III)

As the tag-line in the column reads, I'm a theologian. I've learned four ancient languages and I'm working on another three. I've digest countless centuries of mythology, religion, philosophy and theology, spending the past six years so doing and investing in another six...maybe even seven. As such, now and again, perhaps in coming ventures more now as opposed to again given the work of my thesis, my writing for this column may or may not discuss matters related to theology directly or indirectly, perhaps also more mainline or speculative. How's that for noncommittal?

As with most everyone who listened to Art Bell's second broadcast from the Philippines, ill fated though the broadcast turned to be, I heard Bell's very open confession of his leanings toward a conversion to Roman Catholicism. This of course incited no small amount of whining in various quadrants, oddly enough from people posing as the religiously open minded. Although, conventional occurrence should tell us the people who scream about being open minded the most tend to be staunch rigorists-"we're open minded to everything....except that!"

Art Bell sounded positively enraptured when he spoke of his first Catholic Mass. Indeed, I wish the feed hadn't cut out, as I think we would have received a most poetic description of things. The Philippines may not be Rome, but you can be assured, so far as the drama of adoration is concerned, they're second only to Rome. For what we heard there was an obvious enthrall resonant in Bell's voice and Bell, like other famous converts to the church of Rome, seemed to make the famous declaration of Augustine, "how late have I loved you." Art Bell has reached a point none too few have reached and more will reach after him.

Art Bell, as should have been readily obvious, experienced nothing of the sort of "repent! repent! repent!" conversion commonly parodied in culture. We heard nothing resembling a lamentation of his life of sin, nor do I ever suspect we're likely do. Art Bell's only words, apart from confiding this was not a new question in his life, were, in regards the Catholic Mass, "the most beautiful thing" he has ever seen. Art Bell is under going the distinctly Roman Catholic conversion. Justin of Rome experienced it, so to Augustine of Hippo. Both men were philosophers of the classical schools, both men converted not upon seeing their own sinfulness but upon seeing an eternal truth so potent they could do no other, leading Augustine to declare this Truth, "the beauty ever ancient, ever new." Indeed, Augustine's relation of the encounter with the Catholic Church led him to write of God, "with ever breathe I pant for you O God." The Roman Catholic conversion rests upon the encounter of the individual with, in philosophical terms, the beauty inherent in eternal truth.

Teresa of Avila, though not a convert, describes, in relating her ecstacies, encountering Jesus variously as her "love", her "good", and her "sweetness." Such that when reflecting upon Teresa's life, most sculptors and painters were struck by the sheer eroticism. She describes the her mystical phenomenon, phenomenon tied intimately with the liturgical life of the Catholic Church, as beginning in a state of most vivid sensuality. Teresa then conveys the impression that at some point the sensuality is shattered, as though the most sensual of senses cannot contain the religious experience, and in the denuding of the senses flows union with God.

John of the Cross, Teresa's younger contemporary and confessor, wrote in language equally as inciting as Augustine in his Dark Night of the Soul, "O guiding night/O night more lovely than the dawn/O night uniting the Lover with his beloved/Transforming the beloved in her Lover/ Upon my flowering breast/Which I kept for wholly him alone/There he lay sleeping/And I caressing him/There in a breeze from the fanning cedars." More blatant than Teresa of Avila, in John of the Cross, the divine beauty assails the soul. During the night of purgation, "the senses are purged and accommodated to the spirit; and the other night or purgation is spiritual, by which the spirit is purged and denuded as well as accommodated and prepared for union with God."

There is then, within Catholicism, a qualification for one to experience the religion, that being the encounter with divine beauty. Justin Martyr began describing the phenomenon in the philosophical terms of the ancient world, whilst Augustine breached with the strictly philosophical language and appropriated the language of eroticism. The erotic re-action to the encounter with divine beauty encompasses Catholic spirituality, in the form of the Catholic Mass and divine office.

While I wouldn't necessarily say we should expect Art Bell to one night broadcast he's attained purgation and union with God, although, perhaps given some of he's antics early in his career such would be distinctly possible. Nevertheless, his conversion or possibility thereof ought not shock anyone. Throughout its history, the religious experience of Roman Catholicism founds itself predominately upon the experience of the individual with a divine beauty. Indeed, this element of Roman Catholicism is discernible with an elementary knowledge of Latin. The prayers constituting the Catholic liturgy are oriented toward adoratio as opposed to "worship", adoratio being derived from the Latin verb meaning "to kiss".

Art Bell, whatever one should so think of his announcement his first Sunday back on the air, has seen what Augustine termed "the beauty that bears witness to God." One can either begrudge him it, or simply accept whatever one's view of Roman Catholicism it has a spirituality singularly its own, a spirituality often imperceptible to a hostile party, though open and inviting to those who so wish to explore it.

One more thing, to Will "no credentials" Henry, I trump your "we become beings of light" BS with the dictim of Athansius of Alexandria, written in response to both Arianism and gnosticism, "God became man that man will become God." Bite me, flake.

Shouting from the rooftops, this has been The Wrath of Joe.