Neoplatonism and the rose/pink question

Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., takes on the rose/pink distinction that pops up in the Catholic blogosphere, especially the priestly blogosphere, oh, about twice a year. Some bloggers insist that the rose vestments worn on Gaudete Sunday and Laetare Sunday are not pink. But Pater Waldstein ventures through etymology— Antonio Telesio’s short treatise De coloribus, in fact—and historical examples to counter this notion that rose is not now and never has been pink. That’s simply not the case. And he comes to the point: some folks may prefer rose because pink has, well, effeminate connotations that rose doesn’t have. Don’t ask us why, though. If we’re judging things by American notions of masculinity, neither rose nor pink are especially masculine.

We write simply to note a (James) Burkean connection here. Pater Waldstein says this,

Indeed, as soon as one begins to think about the naming of colors, one’s native Platonism begins to give way, and one begins to suspect that there is something to the structuralist argument for the division of reality by naming as being a bit arbitrary. One doesn’t have to swallow de Saussure’s theories whole to see that the imposition of color names involves a certain amount of arbitrary choice. To Homer, after all, the sea was the color of wine.

However, Pater Waldstein strikes an apparent blow for “one’s native Platonism.” As we noted above, he cites the Renaissance poet Antonio Telesio’s De coloribus in support of the argument that rose is simply the mixture of red and white, just like pink. One may note, furthermore, that Telesio’s De coloribus cites, on the cover page no less, Marsilio Ficino’s commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, which, of course, includes a theory of colors. Now, Ficino was a Florentine priest and a driving force behind the resurgence of Neoplatonism during the Renaissance. Ficino prepared, in addition to his enormous Platonic Theology and commentaries on Platonic dialogues, an interesting translation and commentary (in elegant Latin) on Dionysius the Areopagite’s Mystical Theology and Divine Names. (The I Tatti Renaissance Library, an imprint of Harvard University Press, has, one suspects out of a spirit of altruism that ignores one’s bottom line, brought out a bunch of Ficino works, in handsome bilingual editions. They’re available on Amazon.) Thus, while the shock of the rose/pink debate may shake one’s Platonism, Pater Waldstein’s road back passes through some very heavy hitters, so to speak, in Neoplatonic circles.

Just one of those connections.