Pope Benedict was his usual humble, profound self as he addressed an audience of about seven hundred of France’s brightest sparks this afternoon.
The theme of the Pope’s lecture was the origins of western theology and the roots of European culture. The College des Bernardins was the ideal setting for a talk which began with a reflection on the role of monasticism in the development of European culture. The monk’s aim of quaerere Deum (seeking God) was the key notion which the Holy Father used to bring together the teaching of Scripture and the challenges of our contemporary world, particularly in Europe.
He concluded by affirming:
…Just as in the past, when behind the many images of God the question concerning the unknown God was hidden and present, so too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning him. Quaerere Deum – to seek God and to let oneself be found by him, that is today no less necessary than in former times. A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe’s culture its foundation – the search for God and the readiness to listen to him – remains today the basis of any genuine culture.
In the middle of his theological reflection, there was a warning from this most musical of Popes about the dangers of poor singing. The Holy Father referred to Saint Bernard (whose Abbey of Clairvaux had built the College des Bernardins) who, he said, describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the “zone of dissimilarity” – the regio dissimilitudinis. He went on:
Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man’s falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter. It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty. This intrinsic requirement of speaking with God and singing of him with words he himself has given, is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music. It was not a form of private “creativity”, in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion. Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the “ears of the heart” the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men, and thus discovering music that is worthy of God, and at the same time truly worthy of man, music whose worthiness resounds in purity.
-Let this serve as a warning to all those who are inclined to be a bit off-key when they chant (-I’m not naming names here, Charlie).