Father Rutler is Pastor of the Church of Saint Michael in New York City. He is the author of twenty-five books and many essays, and has lectured widely at home and abroad.
When a mathematical problem stumped Professor Einstein, he played Mozart on his violin to put him “in touch with the harmony of the cosmos,” and often the solution followed. It does not require genius to sense that all relations in the creation are harmonious. Only because of celestial harmony is there a human intuition that wrong is wrong and right is right.
“Music” first meant being charmed by what Greeks like Hesiod called the Muses. To climb up to their mount, Helicon or Olympus, was to be “amused,” and to return from that peak was to bring happy harmony to a dissonant world. Wanting to be amused is a desire to become part of the cosmic harmony. In physics six centuries before the Incarnation, Pythagoras discovered how harmonies issue from the ratios of vibrating strings, concluding that music, based on ratios of numbers, is the definitive principle ordering the world. Two centuries later, Aristotle figured out that the planets and stars, arranged in harmonic ratios, produce the “music of the spheres.”
The Eternal Ratio, or Logos, is Christ, and the noisy darkness, to paraphrase St. John, has never overcome him. Union with Christ is, in reality and not myth, like climbing the mount to meet the Muses: “But you are come to Mount Sion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22).
Although Plato did not think in terms of evil, he did think of ignorance and confusion as the opposites of harmony. In the sixth century after the Resurrection, Boethius said in Platonic terms that morality is harmony with the music of the spheres. In the Eucharist, as the Second Vatican Council taught, the song of the Heavenly Jerusalem is brought to our earthly altars, like the singing angels ascending and descending Jacob’s ladder (Sulam Yaakov). Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Liturgy presupposes . . . that the heavens have been opened . . . If the heavens are not open, then whatever liturgy was is reduced to role playing and, in the end, to a trivial pursuit of congregational self-fulfillment in which nothing really happens.”
Last week as we celebrated the feast of our patron, Saint Michael the Archangel, in the Hammerstein Ballroom just a two-minute walk east of our church, a “Heavy Metal Anti-Christ Superstar” who calls himself a “Priest of the Church of Satan,” screamed noise, for which the audience paid up to four hundred dollars to be amused. Now a bit long in the tooth, he said in 1996: “Hopefully, I’ll be remembered as the person who brought an end to Christianity.” A collapsing stage set ended his performance by knocking him unconscious.
I do not play the violin as well as Einstein, but as a priest, in contrast to the “Honorary Priest of Satan,” even my faltering voice can bring the song of the Heavenly Jerusalem to our altar in Hell’s Kitchen.