On rigidity

Anything clearly thought can be clearly expressed, according to several of my former teachers. To be clear, I don’t think that’s always true, though I fear it might be, and would not wish to align myself with the naysayers, or with the mad.

My clear idea of the starling that has alighted on my balconata railing strikes me as impossible to convey. Perhaps, had I the talent, he could be drawn or painted. (From his chattering I take him for a male.) And the starling himself has been perfectly expressed in his own actions — conveying an avian personality that does not depend upon specific predictable gestures. Even when he surprises me by a sudden motion, he remains a starling for all that. Apart from, even beyond physical constraints, he embodies a “starlingness,” a sturnidism, a staer (should we wish to retreat into Anglo-Saxon) that he has individuated. I mean this seriously, for another starling has joined him, and the two changed places without fooling me.

And now they are off, bolt straight in flight, and it appears their paired rapidly beating wings are coordinated. They are like synchronized swimmers of the air, they can synchronize, too, within their murmurations, when they fly by their thousands, by their tens of thousands, dipping and rising as a mass, turning and wheeling without instruction, opening and closing their fleeting ranks, breaking and rejoining, scattering and convolving in their aerial topologies — one then many, many then one. And low in the fields beneath them, one may hear then feel the wind with which they brush, as they mix and blend in the inverted bowl of the sky, now near, now far above. Who could describe the intricacy of this mysterious ballet?

Yet by sound and sight in the mind’s attention, it can all be clearly seen and thought.

To be plain, it depends what plane of clarity we seek. There are “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” — each telling and crisp, in Wallace Stevens’ poem — but countless angles of sight within a murmuration of starlings. And we must count them all together, when they are not apart.

But here’s the ontological question: Do the starlings exist?

Once we have a handle on that — on what I count for fundamental sanity — we have some hope of grasping that a thing cannot be, and not be, at the same time. We may know, for instance, that one and one is two, even though two drops may combine into one after the fact (as in a marriage).

There are questions that can be resolved with a yea or nay, as the Four Cardinals recently proposed, giving five examples clear and undisputed for two thousand years, now so utterly slurred in Amoris Laetitia that every priest may have his own “take” on it, like a media pundit. They ask our current pope to clarify; he makes an insulting show of not hearing them. To him black is not necessarily black, white is not necessarily white; and he knows better than all the wise before him. He is above replying to these “rigid” men (whose learning is transparently greater than his own). Instead, as he tells us, he consults “the Spirit.” I begin to wonder, which spirit he has “discerned.”

To me, for all the complexity of this world, every starling is or is not; and though I cannot count them, God can. And specific deeds in specific contexts are permitted or are not permitted — to every Catholic, at any time. We may sin, but we have not the luxury of “updating” our definition of the sin, or otherwise tampering with what Christ has taught, inconvenient as we may sometimes find it. And the mission of every pope, from wherever he came, is to clarify the doctrine, when it is confused, and uphold it, unaltered, against all comers. (That is why, by tradition, popes wore blood-red shoes.)

“For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall not pass of the law.”

Let us make no foolish mistake. Christ was rigid.