Letter to Luis de Camoes (eng) – M° Aurelio Porfiri

Dear Sir,

I feel strange writing to you and I want to explain you why. All the people I am addressing letters to have two characteristics: they already have passed away and they stayed in Macau for some time.

About the first characteristic you are OK (sorry for that) and indeed I have also visited your tomb in Lisbon, in a very beautiful church. About the second characteristic we may have problems because, according many scholars, your stay in Macau is just legendary. Now, not having really a high respect for scholars, especially after my 7 years here in Macau, I will consider their studies legendary, mythological and for the sake of my column I will accept the fact that you were in Macau, not being sure if this pleases you or not.

In your poems The Lusiad (translated from Portuguese by William Julius Mickle) there are some lines that captured my attention: “sublime and dreadful on his regal throne, that glow’d with starts, and bright as lightning shone, Th’immortal Sire, who darts the thunder, sat, the crown and scepter added solemn state.” I find them very nice and I think this idea of the sublime and the dreadful as united deserves some attention.

The 18th century thinker Edmund Burke, as quoted by the musicologist David Huron, has said that sublime are emotions that mix pleasure with an element of fear. David Huron argues that this is why we get skin frissons (or goose-bumps). Indeed this kind of feeling is what we associate with some music we like but is provoked by a  mechanism that regulates fear in our organism. This indeed, to talk about something maybe unrelated but not so much, because lots of liturgical music used today is not sublime, it is just sugary. There is no splendor without the dreadful, no glory without pain, not happiness without sadness. This is not a problem related just with liturgical music.

I remember my beloved philosophy teacher, the Passionist Father Enrico Zoffoli, complaining that in today’s liturgies there is a strong emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus but not on His Passion. This switch is not meaningless but has deep consequences for the way of being of the Church. Regality demands sublimity and dreadfulness together. Real church music has to come for broken hearts. Oscar Wildes say it so well: “Ah! Happy they whose hearts can break/ and peace of pardon win!/ How else may man make straight his plan/ and cleanse his soul from Sin?/ How else but through a broken heart/ May Lord Christ enter in?”  (Ballad of Reading Gaol). Christ can enter only in that heart that is broken, that feels the sufferance and the limitations of his or her weakness. Only the blood coming from a heart like this can be transformed into notes, harmonies and melodies – notes, harmonies and melodies with the scent of truth, authenticity and virility.

From O Clarim