Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Never hope in any other

Tallis, from Wikimedia Commons

Lots of driving this weekend resulted in multiple listenings to Thomas Tallis’s great motet “Spem in alium”. Calling for a minimum of 40 singers, it’s considered a pinnacle of Renaissance polyphonic choral music (which as far as I’m concerned is already a pinnacle).

I wish the dial on the car radio would go up to 11. As it was I was afraid I would blow out my speakers, not to mention my eardrums. Tallis (1505-1585) was possibly a recusant Catholic, a dangerous critter to be in Elizabethan England. But thank goodness she must not have objected to setting Latin texts, and so we have this work for 8 choirs of 5 voices each – soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass in modern arrangements.

I have recordings by the Tallis Scholars and King’s College Cambridge. Based on a rave review in the Gramophone, I bought a recording by the group Magnificat. Here’s a link to possibly the largest performance in history — over 700 singers in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, recorded by the BBC in 2006. What’s missing, at least on my laptop, is a sense of the extraordinary effects big stereo speakers can bring. But it’s fun to watch, and now there are even flash mobs performing it.

Man, would I love to see that. It will be performed on March 28th at St. Ignatius Loyola in New York.

Spem in alium nunquam habui praeter in te
Deus Israel
qui irasceris
et propitius eris
et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis
Domine Deus
Creator coeli et terrae
respice humilitatem nostram
I have never put my hope in any other but in You,
O God of Israel
who can show both anger
and graciousness,
and who absolves all the sins of suffering man
Lord God,
Creator of Heaven and Earth
be mindful of our lowliness
(original and translation from Wikipedia)

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I was reading an article about Occam’s Razor (and how’s that for an attention-grabber, sports fans) that defined it along the lines of “Of two possible explanations for something, the simplest one is probably correct.” That’s been bothering me ever since. It rather seriously mis-states what Occam’s Razor is all about. It has nothing to do with probability and is not a predictor.

The logical principle elucidated by the Franciscan friar William of Occam (or Ockham), c. 1285-1349, is sometimes given as Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate. “Entities are no to be feigned without necessity” is one translation. Let’s say we had theory A (simple) and theory B (complex). If we relied just on the formulation above and new evidence came to light that theory A can’t explain, then wouldn’t that prove Occam’s Razor (OR) wrong?

Not at all. In fact OR demands that the simpler explanation that accounts for all the observed phenomena is to be accepted as correct. It can’t be proved or disproved; it’s an axiom or heuristic principle. We don’t say that in Euclidean space “parellel lines probably never meet.” By definition, they can’t.

For much of the Middle Ages the Ptolemaic system was capable of explaining the motion of the stars and planets. It was based on the notion that they had to move in circles (because, as we know from Aristotle, circles are the perfect shape). To explain observed irregularities astronomers had to add circles on top of circles (epicycles) in ever more complex patterns.

Now, of course, we “know” that the movement of Earth around the sun (Copernicus) and the elliptical nature of planetary orbits (Kepler) explain the  motions we see. But how do we know that we know this? In theory epicycles could multiply and be refined endlessly to account for new observations; but eventually OR caused that monstrously complex system to collapse under its own weight.

Here’s the ironic part: probably many today would use OR to argue against the idea of a supernatural Creator. But for Occam himself, his principle was a grand demonstration of God, the one entity who exists by necessity and whose marvelous economy is to be found throughout the plenitude of created world.

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October 23, 4004 BC (or BCE) was the day the earth was created, according to the eminent scientist Church of Ireland Bishop James Ussher (1581 – 1656).

Today only fringe groups like Young Earth Creationists would take this literally, but as his Wikipedia article notes, “… in Ussher’s time such a calculation was still regarded as an important task, one previously attempted by many Post-Reformation scholars, such as Joseph Justus Scaliger and physicist Isaac Newton.”

So hoist a beverage and sing Happy Birthday today.

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The Sacred Harp community of Cincinnati has lost one of our dearest friends. Christine Cox died last Wednesday at 87, following a serious stroke in March of this year. Singer Eloise Clark was with her when she died, singing some of her favorite hymns. John Bealle has a wonderful tribute to Chris on his website.

The Cincinnati singers will sing at her visitation this Sunday night and her funeral Monday morning. Isaac Watts’ lyrics to “China,” which we will sing, read in part:

Why do we mourn departing friends,
Or shake at death’s alarms?
‘Tis but the voice that Jesus sends,
To call them to His arms.

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These graphs were sent to me by the good folks at the national office of Interfaith Power and Light (I’m the Executive Director of the Ohio affiliate).

Enough said.

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from Wikimedia Commons

As usual on Trinity Sunday, we sang “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” at Holy Trinity Oxford today. It’s a terrific hymn, both in words and music.

According to Wikipedia, although the Old Irish poem is traditionally ascribed to Patrick of Ireland (4th century), it probably dates from the 8th century. The English translation by Cecil Frances Alexander powerfully captures the incantatory power of Celtic nature poetry:

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

And the equally great music is by Charles Villiers Stanford, with Ralph Vaughan Willams contributing one stanza.

Old Irish is a quirky language, no doubt about it. I had the privilege of studying it under the great Murray Fowler at Wisconsin. It’s the only language I know where the word for 7 literally means “large 6.”

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just about the most amazing graph ever

I recently saw a LinkedIn discussion about how to define the South. Think there’s no such thing? Think again.

This graph from the ASARB in 2002, available from the Glenmary Research Center in Nashville, shows the distribution of church membership. The different colors signify the predominant religious denomination in each county in the U.S. Black dots signify that there is an absolute majority of that denomination in the county. Click on the map to enlarge.

Care to guess what the red counties mean?

Southern Baptist, of course. If like me you grew up in the South you know intuitively what this means. I found this map while researching a course on Faulkner I taught for Miami’s Institute for Learning in Retirement in 2007 (you can find a PDF of my PowerPoint on my Presentations).

Oh, and there is one other way. I can’t locate it now, but I remember reading about a study that looked in Yellow Pages to find occurrences of the word “Dixie” in business names. Not surprisingly, as I recall, the percentage was highest in Alabama and Mississippi. But I don’t think the results were as striking as this.

I can only think of one other graphic I have ever seen that so effectively captures meaning. (Sorry to be mysterious, but I’ll have to blog about that later).

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