Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What does the typical Hypergeek download?

Recently I learned that I was a hypergeek. I like that word. A friend of mine called recently and related that among various magazines that regular people read, she also hides professional journals that she really finds more interesting. I thought that was funny, since shuffled among my Southern Livings and Tastes of Home, there are The Diapason, The American Organist, and the Phi Beta Kappa Reporter. After checking out the write-up’s on Florida’s grooviest vacation beaches in SL and tasty new recipes in ToH when company’s comin’, I become easily and willingly engrossed in a multi-part article on Helmut Walcha, repertoire discussions, registration suggestions, stylistic interpretation discussions and the like, not to mention updates on fellow Phi Beta Kappans and excellent book reviews. Meat and potatoes to the hypergeek, that. Lately, I’ve been enjoying walking the track at the local city park. Instead of watching re-runs of Crossing Jordan and sending out resumes, I set aside a bit of time for walking before I go off to play voice lessons. Recently I discovered a whole world of podcasts – yes indeed, Christus Vincit offers such programming hosted by my colleague Brian, but I never actually realized what a wide variety of podcasts existed. As a hypergeek, I prefer to hunt down interesting lecture podcasts. Nothing like a bit of continuing education while shedding the pounds. I have discovered a whole world of German-language podcasts that last about as long as half of my walking time. Perfect! Two lectures, and it’s time to drive home (and catch up on Crossing Jordan). Yesterday I listened to part two of a very interesting lecture broadcast on the German Southwest Radio (SWR2) delivered by Professor Hubert Wolf on “Archeology in the Vatican: Catholic Book Censorship”. Fascinating! The famous “Index of banned books” was finally made public by John Paul II who allowed researchers a first-time look into what actually was on this list and gave a pretty good idea regarding how books and authors came to be included in it, since the transcripts of the cases were also opened to researchers. The reason there was a list, so Prof. Wolf, was because, with the invention of the printing press, a machine considered by the Church to be able both to do God’s work and the Devil’s work, there no longer was a controllable monopoly on knowledge. Previously, books were very costly and had to be copied by hand, usually by religious, who then meticulously shelved their copies in monastery libraries. The printing press made books available to everyone, or at least to a broader audience of people at relatively low cost. With knowledge now a commodity, the Church was spooked. Enter book censorship and enter Inquisition. Also, enter Martin Luther and big problems for Mater Ecclesia. You see, 1517 wasn’t such a good year for Rome, poor Leo X. Wolf indicates that the Pope and his advisors were hoping that Chuck V, a nasty Hapsburg, wouldn’t become the Holy Roman Emperor. He would be distracted by goings on elsewhere, and even worse, this would mean that the eternal city would be surrounded by rude German-speaking Hapsburgs, who controlled just about everything, or at least almost everything. At any rate, Charles assumed the throne and all hell broke loose. The German nobles all made their own rules whether to reform or not, and Rome fumbled the ball. Oops. So much part one of Wolf’s lecture. Part two was even groovier. Why did certain books make the hit parade, yet others didn’t? Why did Galileo’s writings not make it, yet Copernicus’ did? Why wasn’t Darwin on the list, but Uncle Tom’s Cabin was? Why didn’t Hitler’s Mein Kampf make the list? Fascinating politics. We learn that Galileo found himself in hot water because he claimed that through empirical means, he had determined that planet Earth rotated around the sun. That wasn’t kosher to the red hats on the peninsula. So, he was called in to recant. We would have thought that such a heresy was a shoe-in for the list. Not so. A bit of quick talking got big G. out of a crispy end. It was explained to him that if he would claim his writings were an actual thesis, that is, fact, he’d be dipped in tar and set ablaze to light a Papal cocktail party. But, mincing words and saving the third degree burns, if he’d claim his writings were just hypothesis, that is, conjecture, then he’d be safe and could use the flames just to roast smores. So, Galileo’s writings were just hypothesis, not actual fact. Good thing. Copernicus on the other hand, presented thesis, and ergo, the black list. There was also that passage in the Old Testament about the sun standing still in the sky that left the red hats baffled how some upstart astronomer could be so bold as to postulate the earth had an orbit. Galileo’s findings would upset the Catholic world construct, but since they were merely deemed hypothesis, the scientist was safe. One of my personal favorites is the case of author Heinrich Heine, a German-speaking writer from the 19th century. He commented in one of his books that he found Catholicism to be a good summertime religion, since one can rest and cool off really well in large Catholic cathedrals. Good enough. But then, he went on to notice the confession box over in the corner and called it the “outhouse of the conscience”. A fabulously humorous observation, and a very earthy one at that. I personally don’t have a problem with that name, it is, actually, where Romans dump their sins. Then, on the other hand, neo-traditionalists call confession “giving your sins to Jesus”, so in that sense, I suppose the term could be seen as questionable, since by association in Heine’s metaphor, Jesus could be considered either the toilet seat or the honey bucket underneath it. Heine got listed, poor sot. BUT, he was listed not because he called the confession box the soul’s shit house, but because the text in question had been translated into French, and all good Catholics speak Romance languages and not the barbarian languages like German and English. You see, other German-language writers (all of whom were turned in by Metternich) were tattled on at the same time, none of whom were listed, since their work was never translated into a Romance language. So, learn a lesson: say what you will about the Papa and the Ecclesia, as long as you use a barbaric tongue! So what about Darwin? Darwin’s work was hypothesis and as a scientific hypothesis could be seen to coexist with Creationism. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was on the list for a while. Then it was taken off. The first red hat to read to the book and to list it found it to be socially revolutionary, and he feared that it carried a latent message to Europeans that it would be groovy and swell to overthrow the authority of the Church and the Pope. Slaves in the American South storming Rome to steal the triple tiara. Sheesh! That’s what some fellow red hats also said: “Sheesh!” (Or a good Latin “Eheu!” or its Italian equivalent). A few of the inquisitors stood up and announced they had also read the book and substantiated that it indeed was about the abolition of slavery in the U.S., and that was ok, since slavery isn’t a good thing. Ok, fine. So what of Hitler and Mein Kampf? Not on the list. There was great crying and gnashing of teeth in the Vatican when it came to Hitler’s magnum opus. A whole lot of arguing and postulating and talking and more discussion and more argument. Wolf reports that there is a large file on the book, but that the book never was listed. Why? Get this: because, since all civil authority comes from God, and Hitler was then the German civil authority, it was really beyond the purview of the Church really to say anything against the book as a whole. Nifty syllogism, there, fellas: Power comes from God. Hitler has power. Hitler comes from God. That opens up a big can of worms. At any rate, the Papal encyclical of 1937 “Mit brennender Sorge” (“with burning concern”) dealt with the issue of Hitler and his mess. So indirectly, the Church tried to ban the ideas, but, according the Epistle to the Romans, she (the Church) couldn’t actually ban the book. My thought: way to go, Hitler. Convince the red hats the final solution was just a hypothesis. Neat how we learn from history! Prof Wolf indicated that more research of course would be necessary regarding the Hitler question, since the Vatican opened its censorship files only up to 1939. This means the Pius XII documents are still secret. Wolf hopes that the actions between 1939 and 1958 might be revealed soon so that researchers and historians might soon be able to find out what the outcome of the whole Hitler mess really was, as far as the Church is concerned. John Paul II did much to try to reveal secrets and work for reconciliation. Opening up the Vatican archives on book censorship has given historians a glimpse into composition of the Index and has helped shed light on issues whose facts could heretofore only be guessed. So there you have it: loose weight and learn about esoteric things. Download groovy podcasts and they can make an hour’s walk seem like only 5 minutes. By the way, the program is on SWR2 and is called “Aula”, new each Sunday. It’s worth a download, even if you’re not a hypergeek.


Brian Michael Page said...

And if you ever get time to actually park your arse for a bit - creating a podcast is fairly cheap too.

Jason Pennington: Hypergeek or Ubersnark? (teehee)

RC said...

For more info: an article about Fr. Wolf's book appeared in America magazine. The Index has been the subject of previous books too: handbooks for seminarians and clergy, technical works for canonists, and even a few general-audience works such as Redmond Burke's "What is the Index?" (1952, Bruce).

It's still possible to find old published editions of the Index in libraries, and individual additions to it were announced through notices in the Osservatore Romano.

Jason Pennington said...

Thanks, RC, for the follow up info and where to find Wolf's book. I found the topic very fascinating.