Is Mideo Cruz’s Poleteismo exhibit art? Thoughts on polytheism, iconography, and Lord of the Rings

Here is a description of the Poleteismo exhibit:

When they find it in one of the alcoves of the Main Gallery, they will see multicolored plastic piggy banks stuffed inside a case usually reserved for religious statues; and Christ the King with a bright red clown nose, his right hand replaced by a Mickey Mouse glove, and his head crowned with Mickey Mouse ears made from a Coke can.

Hanging behind a divider is a cross with a bright red penis thrusting out from the vertical bar. And on the walls, a multimedia collage composed of a confusion of images and objects: there are ads, political paraphernalia from Fernando Poe Junior, Gilbert Teodoro, and Barack Obama; there are religious posters of Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, and the Holy Family; there are handouts, pamphlets, and stickers; there are rosaries, penis ashtrays, crucifixes, condoms, and Christmas lights; there’s a lot of stuff.

Polytheism is the worship of many gods.  Even though there are many gods, ancient men has portrayed them always as separate entities.  The depictions of the God’s of Egypt are many, using different man-animal combinations, but you know who is who.   Egyptian art is governed by rules. Ra is depicted with head of falcon and sun disk. Sekhmet is a woman with a lion’s head.  So if you depict Ra with a lion’s head, the rule is broken and it ceases to be art according to Egyptian hieroglyphic rules.

Christian iconography, though not the same as Egyptian art, is also based on rules.  Most of these rules are given based on the Bible.  For the case of the icon of the Sacred Heart, the image is based on the Last Judgment and the promise of Angel Gabriel to Mary:

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32o He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,* and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Lk 1:31-33)

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, 32g and all the nations* will be assembled before him. (Mt 25:31-32)

This is why you see Christ depicted with a crown and sceptre, because they stand for kingship.  The beating heart aflame and pierced is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible:

“Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us? (Road to Emmaus, Lk 24:32)

But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, 34*s but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out (Jn 19:33-34)

My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. 9I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again; For I am God and not a man,g the Holy One present among you; I will not come in wrath. (Hos 11:8-9)

Now, is Poleteismo exhibit of Mideo Cruz based on rules?  Like many modern art, Poleteismo is not based on rules.    Modern poems have freed themselves from the strictures of rhyming and meter resulting to free verses.  Modern paintings in the tradition of Picasso are also not based on rules but on an endless search for the Platonic form stripped of the accidentals–the rules of perspective and the physics of light.  Like a disembodied spirit, you see nothing in modern art but a mirage, an illusion formed in your mind of what could have been–full of potential but achieving nothing.

Classical art, in contrast, do not begin with the Platonic form but with reality, and uses the limitations of reality to convey the Platonic form.  Anguish is an abstraction, but you know it when you see the face of Christ in pain.  Sacrifice is an abstraction, but you know it when you see Christ crucified on the cross.  Modern art fails because it falsely assumes that man is not an embodied spirit whose knowledge of reality is conveyed by the senses.

This leads us to the question: is modern art true art?  As long as it has precise rules for interpreting, then it is art; if not, it is just a plain drawing.  With this definition, I would call Egyptian hieroglyphics, Chinese characters, and Aztec picture writing as true abstract arts.  But modern art of Picasso and Mideo Cruz I shall not call true abstract art.

But there is something else in Mideo Cruz’s Poleteismo: mockery of what is.  In Lord of the Rings, this is a mark of the things bred by evil, for Evil cannot create but can only mock.  As Frodo said to Sam concerning Orcs:

No, they eat and drink, Sam.  The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own.  I don’t think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them; and if they are to live at all, they have to live like other living creatures.  Foul waters and foul meats they’ll take, if they can get no better, but not poison.   (Return of the King p. 201)

The orcs were made in the mockery of elves and men.

So when Mideo Cruz mock not men but the image of Christ, the Son of God, by giving Christ Mickey mouse ears and nose, there is something evil afoot.  Black Masses in Satan worship turn the crucifix upside down, turning salvation inside out, making man as gods, and glorifying all the sins against the Ten Commandments.  The first three commandments has been easily disposed.  The fourth is by rebellion to figures of authority, not only parents, but also the government, the church, and rules of good art.   The fifth is by killing the reputation of a good man–the Man-God Christ–and all those who followed Christianity for more than 2000 years.  The sixth and the ninth are by the promotion of the reproductive health bill and its ills–fornication and adultery–by sticking out the condom in the cross.  The eighth is by using freedom of speech to speak falsehood.  And the seventh and 10th by coveting and forcibly taking the authority of the Catholic Church to declare what is morally good and evil.

Mockery of God is a devilish craft, and Mideo Cruz’s Poleteismo has the mark of the devil’s claw.

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Fr. Victor Badillo, S.J.: There is a waterfall near the Jesuit San Jose Seminary

I

Last Thursday, I talked with Fr. Victor Badillo, S.J. in his room at the Jesuit residence infirmary.  I always visit him once or twice a week for a 15 minute chat.  He is 79 years old.  His scientific mind is still sharp, though his body has been weakened by several surgeries.  He asked me to buy him a flash disk to transfer his files in his computer at the Ionosphere building to his computer in his room.  He asked about the recent floods.  I told him that Katipunan Avenue was flooded weeks ago during Typhoon Ondoy.  A hapless car was sucked into a building construction pit and drowned.  Terrible.

“Have you seen the the creek near the Ionosphere Building?  What happened to it?” he asked.

“I don’t know, Father.  Is there a creek there?” I asked.

“The creek is between the Ionosphere building and the San Jose Seminary.  The creek leads to a pond, then to a waterfalls.”   His eyes twinkled.

“Is there a waterfalls there, Father?”  I asked.

“You should go to see it.  Go to San Jose Seminary.  Tell the porter that you want to see the waterfalls.  Tell them I sent you,”  he said.

I bade him goodbye and left.

II

I passed by the Church of Gesu to my left, then the college to my right.  I walked some more until I reached a forked road in front of the Observatory.  Straight ahead is a road towards the Blue Eagle Gym where the UAAP games are held.  To my left is the road to the Loyola House of Studies.  I turned left.

The road curves to the left.  To my left are the College Covered Courts and the Arrupe International Residence of the Jesuit seminarians and priests.  To my right are the forests that separate the road from the Manila Observatory.  I found the little creek.  The waters snaked its way among the dead leaves and old trees.  The falls should not be far, I thought.

I walked some more and took the right road to the the San Jose Seminary.  The seminary  is a white rectangular building.  Its windows are framed with a series of narrow arches.  At the entrance porch is a statue of St. Joseph the Worker against the background of the Marikina valley.  There is a narrow road to the left that leads to Marian grotto, with Mary in white and the grotto in blue.  My friend and I were here before.  Yes, we were here before.

I entered.  To my left is the seminary’s chapel.  It is a beautiful church.  Traditional. I went straight to the porter.

“I am Quirino Sugon from the Manila Observatory.  Fr. Badillo sent me here to check the creek and the waterfalls.  He wants to know what happened to it when flood came.”

The porter looked at me.  Then he called out to an old man with a student.

“Fr. Vic.  Somebody here from the Manila Observatory wants to look at the creek to assess the flood.”

“You want to see the Marikina river?  You can see it from the fifth floor.  I’ll accompany you in a moment.”  His name is Fr. Victor C. de Jesus, S.J., the rector of the seminary.  Many homes near the Marikina river were submerged in the flood.  Some homes were even swept away. The flood left thick layers of mud.

I explained to the porter that I do not wish to see the Marikina river.  I only wish to see the waterfalls near the pond.

“Fr. Vic,” he called out.  “He only wants to visit the pond and the waterfalls.  Can he go there?”

“Oh, I thought you wish to see the extent of the flood,” Fr. Vic spoke to me.  Then he turned to the porter.  “Just send a person to accompany him.”

III

The person who accompanied me was Jodie.  He and his friend were drinking coffee.  He offered me some.  “No, thank you,” I said.  It is customary for Filipinos to invite other people to join them for a meal or drink.  You are not obliged to accept.  A second offer means that the man is serious in inviting you.

“Are you a seminarian or a priest?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “I only work at the Manila Observatory.  Fr. Badillo sent me to look at the creek and the waterfalls.”

“The creek should be just over there,” he said.

We walked through a narrow and winding trail.  It is easy to get lost there.  Forest, forest everywhere.  I felt like I was in the Fangorn Forest surrounded giant trees, talking and whispering to each other, wondering what strange new creature this hobbit is.

“These are made of adobe,” he said and pointed to the trail.  “A Jesuit priest wanted to make this a place for prayer and  retreat.  So he made that pond and made a trail of rough-hewn adobe around and leading to it.”

“This place has to be well-kept, lest it becomes overgrown with weeds and becomes a home of snakes.  Years ago, a large snake entered the rooms of the seminarians.  It was ten feet long.  Its body was as big as my two fists.  The snake was turned over to the Environmental Science Department, I think.”

I nodded.

“There is the waterfalls.” he said and pointed it with his finger.   I could not see it.  So we walked around the pond, and went closer.

Out from the pond is a small waterfalls, like a bucket of water continously poured.  There is a creek about ten feet below.  Wading through the creek is a little white heron.  It flapped its wings and left.  Marvelous.  It was my first time to see a real heron.

“That’s the “tagak,” he said.  “These birds can still be seen here.  The forest facing the Marikina valley is still untouched.”

I tried to see if there is a cave beneath the falls, but I can’t.  I remembered Ithilien, the Garden of Gondor.  Behind the falls is a cave of Faramir and his men.  And these lines of Faramir is what Monk’s Hobbit modified for its epigraph:

We look westward to Numenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be. (Two Towers, p. 320)

We look westward to the West that was.  We look eastward to the Catholic Church that is.  We look downward in sadness.  We look upward in hope. (Monk’s Hobbit)

Jodie and I went back.  And I looked back.  And I remembered a poem I read in a student literary journal, the Heights magazine, when I was still in college at the Ateneo:

I may never see this sight again
And forget the caress of its waters.
But like a pebble fleeting over its surface
You’ve rippled it, found its mark and lain
And changed the river’s course forever.

Enbrethiliel of Sancta Sanctis blog: the art of Catholic prose

Sancta Sanctis blog is a written by a professional freelance writer and traditionally-minded Catholic.  The blog’s author is Enbrethiliel and her icon is a young lady playing a classical guitar.   I do not know Enbrethiliel personally, but I read a few of her posts, and from them I learned who she is.

Enbrethiliel

The name Enbrethiliel is probably a shortened form of Elbereth Gilthoniel in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  Elbereth is one of Middle Earth’s “gods” who sang the world to existence, based on their knowledge of the Music in the Mind of Illuvatar  (Almighty God).  She is named in Silmarrillion as Varda, the Lady of the Stars, who sits at the right hand of  Manwe–a sitting position similar to that of Christ the King and Mary the Queen in the Union of the Two Hearts of Jesus and Mary:

When Manwe there ascends his throne and looks forth, if Varda is beside him, he sees further than all other eyes, through mist, and through darkness, and over the leagues of the sea.  And if Manwe is with her, Varda hears more clearly than all other ears the sound of voices that cry from east to west, from the hills and the valleys, and from the dark places that Melkor has made upon Earth.  Of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world the Elves hold Varda most in reverence and love.  Elbereth they name her, and they call upon her name out of the shadows of Middle-earth, and uplift it in song at the rising of the stars.

So what does the name Enbrethiliel tell us about the lady behind the blog?  She is a literature major and a Tolkien fan.  Her posts are replete with references to Greek tragedies and English epics.  She says she also loves the prose of Chesterton–those long sentences built from words upon words, phrases upon phrases, and clauses upon clauses, until you reach the end of the paradox, and see truth expressed in a single line, in a single DOGMA OF FAITH.  Tolkien does this too at times when he wants to slowly narrate the coming of the dawn on the fields of Rohan or the sudden fall of Baradur, the fortress of Sauron.

Enbrethiliel’s prose has the hallmarks of the writers she admires, but she is her own style–humorous, briliant, frank, sincere.  I love to read her posts, not only to know more about our Catholic Faith in the Philippines, but also to study her prose as a specimen of good blogging.  If she she writes well enough for 30-minute posts, how much more wondrous must it have been to read her more finely crafted pieces, not necessarily those she was paid to write, but those she herself admires and enjoys reading again and again.

Enbrethiliel has a devotion to Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Indeed, one of her posts is about the Lady of the Philippines; the others are on St. Faustina and the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Just as the blogger loves music, she also loves the harmony of the truths of the Catholic Faith.  When she hears a discordant note, as when the Archbishop of Manila recommends the communion by the hand and not on the tongue, she cries out loud.

Sancta Sanctis

I do not know how to translate Sancta Sanctis.  My Latin is still poor.  But Sancta is probably the root of Santa or Saint and Sanctis is the root of sanctity.  So the probable translation is “from holiness to holiness,” a growth in holiness.

What does the name Sancta Sanctis say about the author?  The author loves Latin.  She says she always have the Latin Grammar book at her side.  So probably she speaks and writes well in Latin, which is handy for a literature major who would never be satisfied until she reads the original, untranslated texts: Dante’s Purgatorio in Italian and San Juan de la Cruz’s poems in Spanish.

I haven’t read her post about the traditional mass, though, since she appears  to go only to a Novus Ordo mass; for otherwise, the communion by the hand would not be an issue for her.  But I am sure, she would love to be in a Latin mass if it is in her parish.

Holiness to holiness.  Enbrethieliel wants to grow in holiness.  Many of her posts are about saints, our models for holiness.  Her favorite saint is St. Therese of Liseux.  She also once posted about her devotion to St. Thomas More: she asked him to treat her like one of his daughters, and help her become a literature major.  Her prayer was granted, but she admitted that her fervor has waned.  She wants to bring it back.

I enjoyed reading Enbrethiliel’s Sancta Sanctis blog.  I am still reading her older posts: they never grow stale, for they are not news to be read today and forgotten tomorrow; her posts are ever new.  Like Wordsworth watching daffodils, I read and read but little thought, what wealth this blog to me had brought.