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Sound (continued)


         As regards pitch, we notice immediately that there is an enormous diversity in pitch of sounds, from very low sounds to very high. We know also that man’s ear is limited in its capacity to detect the pitch of sounds, that there are animals which are capable of hearing sounds at a pitch that man cannot hear. It would be interesting to explore how far animals’ sensing of dangers in the physical world that are movements, such as earthquakes and tidal waves etc., is by hearing. We observe a correspondence between the pitch of a sound and the location of its origin in the physical world: deep, low sounds we can associate with the ‘below’ of the earth, higher sounds with the ‘above’ of the sky. (Perhaps the phenomenon of thunder is so alarming precisely because it is a deep, low sound coming from up above us.)

         The pitch of a sound being due to the frequency of the vibrations set in motion by a body resonating due to a movement against it, we notice that there are vibrations that we ‘feel’ throughout our whole body as well as hear, or indeed sometimes that we feel rather than hear. There is a certain touch involved here. This is the case particularly for low sounds. (Animals’ advantage over man for the detection of movements in the physical world perhaps lies in this sensing of movement that is closer to touch, although we should not forget that man is the animal with the most refined sense of touch.) Thanks to the intermediary of the air, a certain contact, therefore, is established between the matter that resonates when struck, and the matter of my body, with the ear being the organ of the body especially designated for the reception of sound, an organ extremely refined for that purpose, even though, as we have noted, it is limited in the range of pitches it can detect.

         The pitch of a sound, then, is fundamentally to do with the matter of a body that resonates, and on the receiving end, with the matter of my own body. If we were to look more closely at how matter is linked to pitch, we would perhaps see that it is to do with the density of that matter – more dense matter resonating at a low pitch, more rarefied matter resonating at a high pitch. (Here again we come across the deep sounds of the earth and the high sounds of the air.) If pitch is to do with matter, it is also to do with quantity: larger bodies make lower sounds; smaller bodies make higher sounds. It is, very basically, the length of a string that determines the pitch of its sound when plucked, (the aspect of tension comes second, and is perhaps more to do with density?); the amount of water in a bottle – or rather the amount of air left in the bottle – that determines the pitch of the sound produced by air being blown across the top.


Types of sound

         We shall begin by considering the different types of sound that exist. There is a basic experience we have of the sounds of the natural, physical world; the sounds of wind, of rain, of an earthquake, of an avalanche, of fire etc. We have seen that sound is caused by movement. The physical world is in constant movement, is constantly changing, constantly being reordered, and the movement proper to the physical world is one of corruption and decomposition: the physical world is fundamentally in corruption. The sounds of the physical world, therefore, are sounds which denote degeneration, the breaking up of an order. They are the sounds of a constant reorganisation that is one of degeneration. This is not to say that they are not pleasant sounds; we enjoy, for example, listening to the sound of breaking waves. But it cannot be denied that in listening to waves breaking upon the shore, we are listening to the slow but sure wearing down of stones to sand – listening for a few moments to the movements of a degenerative process that lasts millions of years.

         It is only with the living world that we meet a movement which is one of regeneration rather than of pure degeneration. It is proper to the living being and what characterises it as living, that it regenerates itself. It has an immanence which allows it to be the source of its own movement. If the physical world ‘is moved’, the living world ‘moves itself’. The living world brings us, therefore, to sounds of growth, rather than decay, of a movement that is vital. We see that all movements of the living world, including local movement, are ultimately for the preservation of the individual by nutrition and of the species by generation. All animal cries and calls are directed to these two ends. The sounds of the living world are sounds of movements which are victorious over the pure degeneration of the physical world.

         If man is the summit of the living world we also find a summit in sound at the human level, with voice and language. With the voice man has a unique way of expressing his reaction to a sensible reality. The voice is the special vehicle of man’s spontaneous expression of the passions that a sensible reality arouses in him: we think, for example, of a scream of fright, a burst of laughter, a gasp of surprise, a sigh of relief. But in addition to these spontaneous expressions, the voice is also mastered by man: he is capable of conveying meaning, in sound, using language. It is thanks to his intelligence, to his ability to make universal relations, that man has language, and that he instrumentalizes his capacity to make sounds, placing those sounds in a conventional arrangement to convey meaning and express thought. Thus man’s capacity to make sound, coupled with the sense of hearing, is at the foundation of a spiritual communication. It is thanks to the voice and to language that I can enter into contact with my fellow man, that a spiritual contact can be made with another. This is what makes education possible. This is what enables me to know the friend: without speech, without discussion, without the sharing of thoughts, ideas, of each one’s experience of reality, expressed in language it becomes more difficult to know who someone is, to know his person. Indeed, the ultimate use of voice and language for communication will be in the ‘I love you’ expressed to the friend. With this we find the summit of man’s expressing his intentional relation as regards the fellow spiritual reality that is the person of the friend, expressing the most profound vital operation he experiences, that of loving another person.

zondag 26 februari 2012 12:02 Geschreven door

WoestijnEerste zondag van de Veertigdagentijd - jaar B

Vastentijd: de woestijn in gaan om Gods trouw aan de lijve te ondervinden.

Hieronder kunt u de preek van pater Thomas beluisteren.


Our brother, Fr. Marie-Dominique Goutierre's latest book is on the first letter of Saint John. Here is the introduction, translated to English. How is it possible for what John writes about God to be given to us as the Word of God? While the Gospels offer us the words and gestures of Christ Himself, the letters come to us from the Church's first theologians. How does the Holy Spirit, given to us by Jesus that we might enter more fully into His Revelation, enable us to unfold and truly discover, beyond a modern perspective on interpretation, the mysteries of what God said and who He is?
Thank you, father!

God is light, God is love
A theological reading of the first letter of St. John
By Marie-Dominique Goutierre
(Editions Parole et Silence, 2012)

         After the Last Supper Jesus promised to His Apostles that He would send them the Paraclete. And He does so through the Cross, by fully becoming the Lamb of God: “I am telling you the truth: it is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16,7); Jesus’ departure, the offering of His life in love, is the sine qua non condition for sending the Paraclete. Now, Jesus surrenders His life, lays down His soul, at the Cross. Because He had promised, and because it was a promise of love, Jesus could not delay in sending the Paraclete to those He had said He would send Him to, and first of all, in love’s haste, to His Mother and His beloved disciple.

        The last priestly act of Christ is to entrust His soul into the hands of the Father, an offering of love of His human life, performed in this ultimate initiative: “After Jesus had taken the wine he said, 'It is fulfilled'; and bowing his head he gave up His spirit.” (Jn 19,30) What Jesus had taught when He revealed Himself as the Good Shepherd is fully accomplished here: “The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again; and this is the command I have received from my Father.” (Jn 10,17-18) And Jesus becomes the instrument for the sending of the Holy Spirit Paraclete after His death, after He has become the Lamb who was as though slain (Ap. 5,6), the victim of love par excellence.

The sense of hearing and the passions (continued)

Sensible knowledge and the passions

         We observe first of all that all forms of sensible knowledge give rise to affective tendencies or emotions in us. We experience emotion when we see someone we love; the smell of baking bread or brewing coffee gives rise to a desire in us. These affective tendencies are a certain tension in us whereby we are turned towards, inclined to the sensible reality that attracts us, or on the other hand we are repelled by it and want to flee it if it is an evil rather than a good for us. These emotions I experience necessarily presuppose a sensitive knowledge of the reality, obviously, and yet sensible knowledge of itself does not involve my being drawn towards the object known. The sensible knowledge I have of a reality comes from the reality itself, but the emotion I experience comes from within me; it links me to the reality that attracts me, in a link that is not a physical corporal link (implied in my being drawn towards it is precisely a distance between myself and the reality) but is an intentional, affective link – a spiritual and sensible link.

         If we consider very carefully, we see that the reality I am drawn towards is not desired for its particular qualities – its colours, its shape, etc. – but is desired in as much as it is a good for me, i.e. capable of bringing me a certain perfection, a certain fullness, a pleasure. (It is thanks to the internal sense we call the cogitative faculty that a reality is grasped in as much as it suits me, is good for me, is connatural to me.) And thus we see that whereas sensible knowledge is an intentional assimilation of a reality’s qualities, and that the presence of that reality is thus a necessary condition for that assimilation, these affective tendencies or emotions are not an assimilation but a tendency towards a reality in as much as it is good for us, and therefore do not require the physical presence of the reality in question; just thinking of the person we love is enough to experience the affective link whereby we are drawn towards him. Indeed we ‘suffer’ under sensible realities more profoundly in our affective tendencies than in our sensible knowledge because in these affective tendencies we are drawn to realities as they exist in themselves which is not the case with sensible knowledge, where it is only the sensible qualities of a reality that we ‘suffer’ or receive.

The sense of hearing and the passions

Auditive sensible knowledge
         Each of the five senses gives me a different knowledge of any given reality. Thanks to each sense I have a knowledge of certain sensible qualities of a reality, qualities that no other sense perceives. The reality itself remains completely unaffected by my reception of its sensible qualities; it is I who am changed by the qualities of that reality. The knowledge I have is thanks to an intentional assimilation of the reality’s sensible qualities. In a certain way, I become the qualities that I receive through my senses, as I know them. It is clear that a certain physical change occurs in the organ that receives sensitive qualities: light touches and acts upon the retina of the eye, sound on the inner ear etc. But, except in the case of touch, I am not conscious of this physical change and alone it does not explain how this physical contact becomes a knowledge I possess. It is the vital power of, for example, seeing or hearing, linked to the relevant physical sensory organ, that makes those sensible qualities I receive a knowledge that I can live of.

         What, then, is the particular sensible quality of a reality that I know from the sense of hearing? My sense of hearing lets me know the sound that a reality makes, and here we must make a distinction: I know the sound that a reality makes when in contact with another reality, but in the case of living realities, I know the sound that it is capable of making alone, either bringing different parts of its body into contact with each other, or by an internal movement which produces a ‘voice’. This being the case, it is still true, strictly speaking, that a sound always involves two realities; it is one reality coming into contact with another that produces sound; water splashing onto rocks, the soles of my shoes touching the ground, the air passing over the vocal chords etc. Aristotle affirms this when he says:

‘Actual sound is always of something in relation to something and in something; for it is a blow which produces it. For this reason it is impossible for there to be sound when there is only one thing; for the striker and the thing struck are different. Hence the thing which makes the sound does so in relation to something; and a blow cannot occur without movement.’ (De Anima II, 8, 419 b 9 ff.)

So the sensible quality of sound gives me a knowledge in fact, either of two realities, or of a living reality.

"If music be the food of love, play on" - William Shakespeare
          What is this power that music has to ‘move’ us? Why should music affect how we feel? What is the link between music and our emotions? We set out to answer these questions with a basic grasp of the rudiments of music theory and a lifelong and progressively more attentive experience of listening to music. There will be many questions left unanswered, but we hope at least to glimpse something of what constitutes this relation that we observe between music and the human passions, and to start to understand it.

The experience of being ‘moved’ by music

         We do not have to look far in our experience to see that the power of music to move our emotions is both well and universally recognised, and even exploited. The lullaby is perhaps one of the most universal and time honoured examples of music’s power to play on the emotions; why should the particular qualities of a melody or rhythm so affect us as to send us to sleep? The twentieth century has seen the arrival of the rock genre, music which specialises in communicating feelings of angst and violence to the listener. Why should music have the power to do this with such effect? In the same century we have also observed that the same series of visual images accompanied by different music produces very different emotions in the viewer (we think of the importance accorded to the soundtrack by film directors). Why should it be the music that affects our emotions more than the image?

         In all cultures, different types of music have always been considered appropriate for different occasions – for a funeral, for example, or a coronation. How is it that particular music can suit the feelings of a specific occasion? Or even of a time of day? Grieg’s Morning Suite, for example, is well named for the sense of freshness and burgeoning hope it conveys, whereas a Chopin Nocturne creates an atmosphere of pensive solitude and calm. How do they manage to do this? We think also of how different types of music have been developed in different cultures – the particular musical modes adopted in China or India for example, or the highly developed rhythms and harmonies on the African continent; what is the link between the temperament or character of a people and its music?

I'd like to recomend the following book, The Silent Struggle. A remarkable story of triumph over abuse and anorexia, by Sr Marie-Therese of the Cross. (Redemptorist Publications, 2008)
In this book the author, an English carmelite living in London, offers the quite extraordinary witness of her battle with anorexia which, as far as exemples go, must rank as one of longest and most comprehensive. I found it extremely enlightening with regards to the way in which this illness can begin and develop, and how it's influence upon the person is so subtle and profound - both difficult to detect and to admit. Her 50 years of suffering also spanned a period when the medical art attempted multiple treatments based on very varied, and often frighteningly erroneous, understandings of anorexia and bulimia... she saw it all, so to speak, and witnesses to how a true understanding of the roots of this problem are so necessary yet so difficult to reach, uncover and establish as such in the understanding of the sufferer themselves. In short, this book seems to me to be a kind of manual for understanding this illness.

Sister also offers powerful explanations of why the last recovery program she tried worked and the personal steps that preceded it and paved the way to it. Through her narrative and her insightful observations and reflexions the reader learns much about the human person in the complexity of heavily damaged conditioning and how a human understanding of that is needed. One also sees how her Faith in Christ was the deepest answer to the suffering and the ultimate reason to recover her true self, though she experienced no miracle cure (rather, the love and intelligence of a few people who helped her). It's an easily readable book, written in a very personal style, and the author remains discreet in her explanations of the abuse she suffered.

Annorexia is a powerful illness and one which is often overlooked or misunderstood... this book has for me been an essential deepening of my understanding of it and what one can sometimes do to help those suffering with it. Above all, it's a rare witness to a very real and full recovery from such a devastating condition and the suffering that it veils; a recovery she made with her fellow sisters, priests and doctors... a powerful exemple of how Faith and intelligence need to work together in the setting of friendship - friendship with Christ and with brothers and sisters on the Way!

An excerpt from the book L'homme face a sa mort, by Fr. Marie-Dominique Goutierre.

...When we look at the question of man's ultimate destiny we immediately touch upon the problem of the relation between myth and philosophy. The religious traditions constantly convey three types of myth: the myths about the gods; the myths about Creation and the origins of the world; and lastly, the myths about man's destiny beyond death. Philosophy was born and developed in Greece within the context of religious traditions and of art, and by emerging progressively from these myths through a search for the truth1: the search for a truth about God beyond the imaginative representations already present with Hesiodus in Theogony, then in Xenophane of Colophon's works; the search for the origine of things, in particular with the philosophers from Milet's school whom Aristotle was to call the “physicians”: Thales, Anaximandre, Anaximene; the search for destiny and meaning, for the finality of human life, first of all with the pythagorian school.

From a historical point of view it is a fact that the mythical discourse preceded the philosophical. Yet is it not the same search, the same concern in man's heart that presides over these two realisations? One is symbolic, closer to our human sensibility and psychology, keeping all the freshness of an artist’s spontaneous sketch. The other is more refined, more precise, closer to the finality which it touches in a way proper to itself and true when it reaches wisdom. But in both cases it is a question of man evoking or saying something about a reality which he does not immediately experience. Either he imagines it and represents it to himself through a myth, or he actually manages to discover it, asserting its existence as something that is evident and saying something true about it through wisdom. Aristotle thus considered that “the love of myth is in a certain way philosophical, since a myth is composed of wonders2” and provokes the surprise and questioning of the intelligence.

In a very particular way man's confrontation with death and with the unknown that the beyond represents, gives rise within him to the search for the truth, or at least to the search for something to hold on to in order to confront it, if not serenely, then at least with the encouragement offered by a glimpse of light in the midst of darkness. It is therefore not surprising that the problem of death and of immortality lies at the heart of all the arts, of all the religious traditions and of all cultures.

On this topic see, among others, W. Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers
2 Metaphysics, A, 2, 982 b 18.

An extract from A Question of Life and Death, by Marie-Dominique Goutierre, ch.1, “Man and Wisdom”



donderdag 02 februari 2012 12:23 Geschreven door Aristoteles
Volmaakte vriendschap is vriendschap tussen goede mensen, dat wil zeggen, tussen mensen die elkaars gelijken zijn op het stuk van voortreffelijkheid. Die wensen elkaar namelijk op dezelfde wijze het goede toe in zoverre zij goed zijn; en ze zijn goed op zichzelf. Mensen nu die hun vrienden het goede toewensen omwille van henzelf zijn vrienden bij uitstek; zij houden immers van een ander in zoverre hij is wie hij is en niet om een bijkomstige eigenschap. Hun vriendschap duurt dan ook voort zolang zij goed zijn; en voortreffelijkheid is duurzaam. Verder is ieder van beiden goed zonder meer en goed voor zijn vriend: goede mensen zijn zowel goed zonder meer als nuttig voor elkaar. En op dezelfde wijze zijn zij ook aangenaam: goede mensen zijn zowel aangenaam zonder meer als aangenaam voor elkaar. Elk schept immers genoegen in de handelingen die hem eigen zijn en dus ook in soortgelijke handelingen van anderen; en goede mensen handelen op dezelfde of op soortgelijke manier. Zo’n vriendschap is vanzelfsprekend duurzaam, want daarin zijn alle kenmerken verenigd die vrienden moeten hebben. (…) Daardoor bestaan liefhebben en vriendschap bij goede mensen in de hoogste mate en op de beste manier.

Zulke vriendschappen zijn natuurlijk maar zeldzaam; zulke mensen zijn immers niet talrijk. Bovendien vergt zo’n vriendschap tijd en wederzijdse vertrouwdheid. Want zoals het spreekwoord zegt is het onmogelijk ‘met elkaar bekend te worden’ voordat men de bekende ‘schepel zout’ met elkaar gegeten heeft. Twee mensen kunnen elkaar dus ook niet accepteren of echte vrienden zijn voordat elk van beide heeft aangetoond dat hij de vriendschap van de ander waard is en zij elkaars vertrouwen gewonnen hebben. Mensen die elkaar vlug blijken van vriendschap geven hebben zeker de wens vrienden te zijn, maar zijn het daardoor nog niet: zij moeten elkaars vriendschap ook waard zijn en elkaars gevoelens kennen. De wil tot vriendschap komt snel maar vriendschap zelf niet.

Ethica Nicomachea, VIII, 4, 1156 a 6 – 1156 b 30

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