Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Trashing Teresa

From The Australian:
The church is facing another onslaught from filmmakers.

After the furore of the controversial account of Jesus in The Da Vinci Code, it is now having to contend with an allegedly blasphemous account of the life of Saint Teresa of Avila.

Geraldine Chaplin heads the cast of Teresa: Death and Life, a feature film about one of the world's greatest Christian figures.

Saint Teresa was a mystic who said that Christ frequently conversed with her, and four centuries after her death her writings are revered as spiritual masterpieces. But filmmakers do not do spirituality as easily as sexuality and, in exploring the saint's sex life and virginity, they now find themselves being accused of treading sacrilegiously.

The film was denounced on Thursday by Benedicta Ward, a nun and reader in the history of Christian spirituality in the theology faculty at Oxford University, who wrote the introduction to a recent edition of the saint's most celebrated work, Life. On being told about the film's content, she said: "It's just imagination.

"The stress on her virginity and her sexuality are entirely modern interests as if she were living now," she said. "That's not fair.

[…] "It seems strange if they're treating her as a saint you pray to, but are inventing things about her."

The film, made by Spanish, French and British companies, has been written and directed by Ray Loriga […]

Asked whether he expected it to be controversial, he said: "There was controversy in the 16th century and I'm sure it can arise now.

[…] "So far, everybody has been careful not to touch on certain uncomfortable subjects - her sexuality, her relationship with God, which was so close, nearly 'skin-to-skin'.

"These subjects were considered scandalous then and have not been studied much.

"They'll probably seem scandalous now, which does not say much for the progress made by the Catholic Church over the past centuries."

He added: "This is the 21st century and I think certain opinions about Saint Teresa, such as the question of her virginity, could change."

He claimed that these questions had to be seen "with a more courageous view".

Benedicta Ward was less than impressed, asking: "What does skin-to-skin with God mean?"

Good question.

Why do we, who live in a minute slice of human history that is strangely obsessed with sexual matters, presume that those who lived (or will live) in other times must have been preoccupied with the same concerns that preoccupy us? There is a certain arrogance involved in the belief that our peculiar societal neuroses are somehow the measuring rod by which all other ages are to be judged, and that the people of those times are obligated to live down to our standards. Any failure on their part to do so might make us look less than wonderful, and that is intolerable because we, after all, are “modern” and they aren’t. C. S. Lewis referred to this attitude as “chronological snobbery.”

Having read some of St. Teresa of Avila’s works, my personal suspicion is that she would be less scandalized by what these jerks want to make of her life than she would be amused by it (and them). I look forward to someday hearing her comments on the matter, assuming we still have both the inclination and capacity to be sarcastic in heaven.