On Thu, 7 Mar 1996, Nuala Hallinan wrote:
> I know this opens a whole can of worms, but couldn't we argue that
> all art is a form of manipulation? And if you do believe in miracles,
> then why do you find the one in Suor Angelica tawdry? I'm curious.
> How should the opera end, then? It seems to me that there is a big
> difference between deliberate "sinful" acts and those which are
> committed unintentionally. (Pierre, help me out here!)
Here I am, Nuala.
You are right : the sin is in the intention, not in the act itself. This
has never prevented the Church from labelling a whole series of acts
"sinful", calling some of them "venial" (i.e. easily forgiven), others
"mortal" (in the sense that they put the soul in mortal danger.) It has
often been said (and believed) that, when people die in a state of a
mortal sin, they are condemned to hell or other horrible punishment (see
Hamlet, act I, the dialogue between Hamlet and the ghost of his father),
and this belief is actually based on the Church's doctrine and dogmatic
pronouncements. However, the Church has never claimed to be able to
tell who has actually been condemned to eternal punishment - not even
people who have killed themselves. The Church has always taught that
suicide was a mortal sin, a grave sin in the eyes of divine law, and it
has traditionally refused to bury people who had killed themselves in
consecrated ground, but it has never claimed to know that those people
automatically went to hell. God is all-merciful and who knows what can be
happening in the mysterious recess of the soul in the moment of death?
That has always been the reasoning, considering that, beyond the legal
point of view (acts being considered sinful in and of themselves), sin is
essentially understood as a matter of a personal relationship between a
human being and the personal God who created him/her.
This is what makes the conclusion to SUOR ANGELICA plausible from a
Catholic point of view : she committed a grave act, but her motives were
pure, she committed that act out of love for her child whom she wanted to
see again, and she will be saved by the power of love. That's clearly the
message of the work. Whether or not Puccini was an atheist (or an
agnostic) is irrelevant - only poetry counts here and the "feel-good"
To go back to the Church, her understanding of moral matters has
evolved, of course, and, nowadays, moral theologians and many priests
would not so much condemn suicide as to try to understand what leads
people to such extremities and devise ways to deal with such personal
disasters. As for hell, they still claim that it exists (and the Church
will never waver on this), but no longer insist so much on people being
actually condemned to go there.
I suppose that those development are very good news to believers,
but, on the other hand, the traditional, more "dramatic" understanding
(the one that lies behind Puccini's opera) has given us so many great
works of art... Hamlet, Michelangelo's Final Judgment, Dante's COMMEDIA etc.
Pierre M. Bellemare
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