Cover of "Four Cultures of the West"

Cover of Four Cultures of the West

The past few days, David and I have been carting animals to vets and groomers for their maintenance. I’ve also been reading John O’Malley’s, (Society of Jesus) book, Four Cultures of the West, which I completed this morning.

These days, I seldom start a book and find myself unable to put it down, but this book was one of those. I would recommend it to everyone, but if you don’t have my interest in art history, church history, Western history, you might not find this book as appealing as I did. O’Malley’s book certainly compares favorably with Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West and the Rest, in my estimation (recently dramatized on public television). 

I seldom (never these days) find myself reading a book that makes it to the top ten on best seller lists, so I am not your average reader I suppose. Even when books are A-listed in top reviews, such as the New York Review of Books, I seldom buy them. Histories are the exception.

I bought this book because I was familiar with O’Malley. We used his book, The First Jesuits, for a graduate history course I took on the Reformation. I loved that book. I loved the course. Religion fascinates me. All religions.

My pool friend, A and I frequently discuss religion. She is Indian-American from India and Hindu. Her greatest love is playing the harmonium in her temple.

One day we were discussing religious statues. Some religions have much statuary others don’t. People have killed each other over the subject. Some of the conflict in India and elsewhere in Asia and Africa today is over this topic. A and I agreed that for us the purpose of statues or representations of religious entities is for meditation and prayer….they help focus the mind. It’s not about idol worship.

O’Malley discusses the long struggle between the puritanical elements in Christianity and those inspired by religious representative art.

Riveaux Abbey, England

Riveaux Abbey, England (Photo credit: John G Meadows)

As one who spent many hours in various cathedrals, churches and chapels, I appreciate the history and the art associated with each. One of my finest memories involves walking around the ruins of Riveaux Abbey in Yorkshire England and contemplating the Cistercian monks who lived there until the dismantling of the monasteries in the sixteenth century. But Henry wasn’t the only iconoclast. They have always existed in every religion and culture.

O’Malley compares the four cultures to four Gulf Streams coursing through the ocean. They aren’t the ocean but they have had a strong influence on the ocean and are worth noting. One of them includes representative art.


4 thoughts on “Currents

  1. Your thoughts about having statues for meditation and prayer is very intriguing. I never thought about it until you mentioned it. I can really see it in Buddhism. You do stare at Buddha’s statue and try to gain that sense of peace and calm. I agree that it’s not really about idol worship.


  2. Raised a Roman Catholic, I often wondered why we had to kneel, genuflect or bow when a “holy” object passed by. And to this day, I shudder when I remember kissing the bishop’s ring on Confirmation day. Imagine the germs from hundreds of lips! On May Day (May 1), we adorned the statue of the Virgin Mary with colorful flower leis. Well, David and I have not attended Mass since 2004. Lots of reasons.


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