Friday, December 29, 2006
I think other people have noted that there is some deep meaning in the feasts of the martyrs coming so soon after the joy of Christmas. I think the churches have failed in promoting this as part of the Christmas season. Everyone has bemoaned the materialistic aspects of the season, these feasts serve to bring a holy balance to the festivities, much like Chesterton's view of hope.
I have thought often of the martyrs, even though they are seldom mentioned from the pulpits. I think that many of our contemporary problems are bound up in our awkwardness in dealing with them, and celebrating their sainthood. In the US, we live in a society where we barely have to face inconvenience, the idea of discomfort is shocking enough, much less martyrdom. We are educated in a system that breeds sophism and muddling issues, and having such devotion to a cause or an idea is seen as a type of unhealthy fanaticism.
There are two things that I have mulled over that I have not seen extensively discussed:
1-Many of the Roman martyrs basically died for refusal to worship the state. In many of the stories, the crime of the martyr-to-be is merely to refuse to burn incense to Caesar. This is actually quite spooky given the Church/state relations of our own day.
2-The government and culture which persecuted the Christians ended up being the vehicle for the evangelization of Europe. Latin became the language of the Church, and you know the rest of the story.
This second item strikes me as an apologetic for the existence of the Holy Spirit. This doesnt happen normally, or naturally. Many people reading this blog are probably those who take notice of the decline of Christian culture, and its capitualation to secularism on one side, and Islamic incursion on the other. Within the course of one lifetime, the early Christians went from being persecuted by Rome, to being the bearers of Roman culture which traveled with the Faith.
What we so obviously see today isnt this miraculous evangelization and baptism of the good in a culture, but rather a capitulation to the forces of the day, an emasculation of truth, and deeply felt embarrassment about an imagined past.
We hear so much of inclusiveness and accepting other cultures that we are numbed to the best example of how Christianity dialogued with Roman culture. The early Christians didnt bemoan their Greek and Hebrew roots and how they didnt fit with progressive Roman ideas. They didnt see worshipping in the catacombs as abandoning the public square. From the blood and ashes of the martyrs, the Church arose like a Phoenix and took the language and the best of the philosophy of her persecutors, and left the Caesars to the shadows of history.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Yet the very next day, we marked the death of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.
And today we remember the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, those victims of Herod's fears and ambition.
It seems strange to mix birth and death, but from a human point of view, the two are inextricably mixed. The moment we are conceived, we are a moment closer to death.
Life and death are simply part of the circle of being.
From a Christian perspective, life and death are also mingled. Even among those gifts the Magi brought is a reminder of death: the myrrh, the sacred ointment used among other things for anointing the dead and for burning at funerals.
And that Holy Child was born to die for us all.
But the Christian message is that though we are in that cycle of life and death - a cycle in which even the innocent suffer - we are called to eternal life. The eternal life now enjoyed by Stephen and those Holy Innocents.
That was the gift that the Child brought to us - far outstripping the gifs of the Magi, and which imparts a joy that outweighs even the tragic sorrow of all those innocent lives lost.
"The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why." – GKC - "On Christmas," Generally Speaking
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
"The wizards at Google have changed the log-in procedures for this site. I've fully complied (I think), but they're still not letting me post. Until I figure out this dastardly plot, I guess I'll be off-line. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all (except the folks at Google)."
Friday, December 22, 2006
Well, I finally got my Gilbert "Sword Issue." Have read most of it at this point, but I have to say that one of the things that really stands out is the artwork. GKC is underestimated as a cartoonist and an illustrator. There are some fabulous drawings of duellists throughout the magazine. They range from comical characters, to figures impeccably rendered in the midst of dynamic physical exertion. Along this same theme, would like to add that my current Chesterton reading is the GKC Sherlock Holmes edition that came out a couple years ago. I grew up loving those stories with the Paget illustrations, it should be a fun read to see and study the GKC sketches for the Holmsian canon.
Above is a (poorly done) example of the art of the medieval and renaissance fencing manuals which I alluded to in my article. In clockwise order, they come from MS I.33 (13th century), Albrecht Durer(15th cent), Capo Ferro (16th Century), and Girard Thibault (17th centure). I include them mostly for those of you with an interest can google them, as well as the fact that the sword issue was visually gorgeous to look at it seemed right to continue the theme.
Have a great weekend.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
A Christmas Poem
On this the day to celebrate
the birth of our great King,
we gather `round and share a feast,
and later we will sing.
And this morn we opened gifts
we bought with thoughts of love -
but of course our gifts all pale
compared to the one from above.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Friday, December 15, 2006
In other news.......final thoughts on Ballad of the White Horse. I just finished reading it this week.
I love this book, Its one of the things I will probably end up re-reading every year at least. I spoke before about the rhythm of the language, and imagery, and how it all comes together to create a work of true beauty and genius. One thing I think we fail to remember is how this era, the time period of BWH is a true Golden Age of the Church. I remember years ago in Gilbert, BWH was being reviewed, and it was noted how treacherous this era was with Popes being assassinated and being replaced by morally unworthy men.
I would draw our attention away from the Italian peninsula during this period, and focus on the Northlands of Europe. It was during this time that the Rule of St. Benedict was baptising the land mile by mile. It was during this time that the Church, both in the hierarchy and in the laity, came together and stopped the slave trafficing which was one of the negative remaining vestiges of the Roman Empire. Go to NewAdvent.org to the Catholic Encyclopedia, pick any letter, and click on the unfamiliar names. Many of them were abbots, scholars, and missionaries of these times who braved the barbarian wilds, brought Christ and civilization, and performed miracles. I wonder how our time compares to this?
Often, we look back on history as a conglomeration of "The Past," even though there are many distinct periods, and many events which closed some doors and opened others. Our contemporary struggles with Islam make us look back to the Crusades and similar times. If we look back just a little farther, I think there are things in that era which should bring us to awe.
Chesterton again reminding us about the debilitating slavery of being a child of our age.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
We were watching a Christmas special - a remake - the other day.
We turned it off long before it ended.
And a day later, my wife was watching another special.
She turned that one off, also.
Now, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a big fan of Christmas.
But what I love is the true spirit of Christmas. The love. The gift. The foreshadowing of sacrifice.
Each generation tries to give its own spin to Christmas - at least what it can understand of it.
Sometimes the truth is enough to overcome the modern spin. Sometimes not (as in the caes of these two specials).
Ah, but then there are the classics. They let the truth of Christmas hold sway. So we return to them again and again.
"The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why."
God bless us, everyone.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Looking for a good Christmas present for your daughter? Buy her this:
In April of 1924, the Queen's Doll House was unveiled at the British Empire Exhibit, complete with crown jewels, wine cellar, a working gramophone, pianos, and a two-thousand book library. A number of authors, including Chesterton, Maugham, Housman, and others, contributed handwritten volumes, each the size of a postage stamp. [Ted Morgan,
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I recommend going over to the American Chesterton Society's blog, where they are celebrating their first anniversary online and have a sort of social meme they'd like people to help with. Give it a try. I may post answers to their questions later on myself, but I'd also invite any of you to do it too.
Have a nice Monday, if such a thing is even possible. Those of you in southern Ontario should look out for slick roads and freezing rain, as we're on the verge of one of those weird hesitant melts that comes about when the temperature hovers just above zero for a few days. These things can get dangerous, so be safe.
Friday, December 08, 2006
The things Im pretty sure didnt get into the magazine:
I got to see the eyes pop out of the head of the normally cool and collected Dale Ahlquist: Craig Johnson had us put on those now infamous white gloves and handle some of the old swords while he told us about the history of each one. Dale's son, Adrian was holding the sword at the far right of the table. Craig mentioned, "This weapon comes from probably the 9th century in Northern Europe. See the carved fingers raised in a benedictus gestures? This was probably owned by one of the first Christian Cheiftans of the era." Dale's response? "PUT DOWN THAT THOUSAND YEAR OLD ANTIQUE!" Lots of fun, learned so much at that place.
I doubt some of the deeper thoughts and writings from Ewart Oakeshott got into the magazine, but a couple things I found fascinating were some facts which fill in many gaps in understanding English literature.
Ex: Beowulf --Hrothgar is a "ring-giver." These are not LOTR finger rings, but a ring that went around the pommel of a Viking's sword to denote a type of captaincy or leadership.
Arthur -- The Lady in the Lake - In Northern Europe, the Vikings, Danes, etc. got to be very good at making swords, but not at preserving metals. During times of peace, it was fairly common practice to throw weapons into bogs, or buried in lake bottoms. The lack of oxygen preserved the metal, so that when a period of conflict came, the people would dredge the bog and pull out and clean off the still sharp swords. It was not uncommon to post a guard at the bog to prevent weapons from being stolen. This was exclusive to the north. Thus, the idea of a hero being given a sword from underneath a lake becomes much more understandable. Remember a couple years ago a mummified body was pulled out of one of these bogs? A couple months ago an old Psalter was found as well. Its like these bogs were the Walmarts of the migration era North.
Where is my magazine? Its like I need to rattle a saber or something..........
Have a great weekend everybody.
From Chesterton's "English Literature and the Latin Tradition," as collected in Chesterton on Shakespeare:
The Latin culture lives in Britain in the uncultured people. It is not a question of English scholars who know Latin. Kamchatkan scholars know Latin; and if there are any Esquimaux scholars, of course they know Latin. They know the Latin scientific word for blubber; and possibly write Latin odes to the walrus, addressing him in the vocative as "walre."This made my night, so there you go.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I took a book out from the library the other day.
When I got home and opened it, I found a folded piece of paper sticking between two pages, like a bookmark.
On the front of the paper was:
Curious (okay, nosey), I opened it. Inside was the word “Mom” written in a childish scrawl, and in another hand, "Thank you for taking me to the splashpad."
Maybe Colin's mom had been reading the book that day and stuck the note in the book, promptly forgetting it. Maybe she put it in the book for safekeeping, then without thinking returned it to the library.
I have many such pieces of my daughters' childhood tucked away. Notes, drawings, puzzle-piece jewelry, painted bottles, and so on. I have many of them stored in boxes. I periodically rediscover others as I search in drawers for the mates of socks, or when rummaging though my old receipts and bills and papers.
Whenever I find such forgotten treasures, I smile. I try to guess when they were created. I think of the love that went into writing or making them.
That's the value of such things. They are little patches of love. Together with the hugs and smiles, and, yes, tears, they are part of the quilt of love stitched together by our family over the years.
And now that the girls are gone to their own homes or college, that loving memory quilt keeps me warm.
Perhaps Colin's mom also has a collection of such things.
I plan to stick the note back in the book. I like to imagine that maybe Colin's mom will take out the book again and rediscover it, feeling the same flash of remembered happiness I experience when I find one of the girls' forgotten little gifts (even if I never do find that missing sock).
And even if Colin's mom never sees it again, perhaps some other book borrower will, and will be similarly inspired to remember all the gifts of love he or she has received.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I also liked this quote: "Truth is a two-edged sword, and we must always let it cut both ways." A person could cogitate on that one for hours (heck, a lifetime).
On airline security: "the pocket-knife is a secret sword." I just wish my boys could carry a pocket knife. There's something boyishly ennobling about it, but it's distinctly degrading to get expelled from school for it.
On modern marriage: "When men have left off wearing swords, women shall begin to wave them."
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Monday, December 04, 2006
I will attempt to provide some material on Wednesday, perhaps, but for now I'm simply going to have to apologize as usual and wish you the best.
In the meantime, I encourage you to check out the comic art of W. Heath Robinson, an early twentieth-century artist of considerable skill and wit. Like my favourite, Gustave Dore, Robinson produced an illustrated edition of the works of Rabelais that met with notable acclaim. They are not represented in the link provided, unfortunately, but I felt it worth mentioning anyhow.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
On Monday, I was indulging one of my hobbies, looking around at a local library's sellout rack. I spend alot of time waiting in lines for different things, and I have a bit of down time during the day between client meetings. Im always looking for things to read during this time, and at the library sale, I found a collection of essays of Seneca. For $.25, of course I bought it.
On Tuesday, I was looking for something in my "book closet", when I ran across one of my beat up copies of The Everlasting Man. I took a few moments to page through it, looking for my favorites. Having just gotten into Seneca, I found the following ELM quote meaningful;
"First, a man reading the Gospel sayings would not find platitudes. If he had read even in the most respectful spirit the majority of ancient philosophers and of modem moralists, he would appreciate the unique importance of saying that he did not find platitudes. It is more than can be said even of Plato. It is much more than can be said of Epictetus or 'Seneca or Marcus Aurelius or Apollonius of Tyana. And it is immeasurably more than can be said of most of the agnostic moralists and the preachers of the ethical societies; with their songs of service and their religion of brotherhood. The moral of most moralists, ancient and modern, has been one solid and polished cataract of platitudes flowing forever and ever. That would certainly not be the impression of the imaginary independent outsider studying the New Testament. " The Riddles of the Gospel
This is true, and much like CS Lewis wrote, that the good-guy sage Jesus just cannot be found in scripture. The message is far more engaging.
On Wednesday, I found an interesting footnote in the Seneca collection, "The legend of Seneca's acquaintance and correspondence with St. Paul, and the possibility of his having been directly influenced by Christian teaching, are discussed in CT Crutwell's A History of Roman Literature (Griffen, 1877)
Hmm, interesting.... During my free time on Thursday and Friday, I dug around looking to see if this work was in the public domain....
And there we find:
Chapter II --"The problem is by no means so simple as it appears. It involves twoseparate questions: first, a historical one which has only an antiquarianinterest, Did the philosopher know the Apostle? secondly, a more importantone for the history of religious thought, Do Seneca's writings containmatter which could have come from no source but the teaching of the firstChristians.As regards the first question, the arguments on both sides are asfollows:--On the one hand, Gallio, who saw Paul at Corinth, was Seneca'sbrother, and Burrus, the captain of the praetorian cohort, before whom hewas brought at Rome, was Seneca's most intimate friend. What so likely asthat these men should have introduced their prisoner to one whose chiefobject was to find out truth? Again, there is a well authenticated tradition that Acte, once the concubine of Nero,  and the only personwho was found to bury him, was a convert to the Christian faith; and ifconverted, who so likely to have been her converter as the great Apostle?Moreover, in the Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul salutes "them thatare of Caesar's household," and it is thought that Seneca may here bespecially intended.."
Admittedly, this is hardly conclusive, but it is something I had never heard of before. I think coupling this with the ideas of The Everlasting Man does something that is very unpopular in our day. Christ, St. Paul, and others seem to inhabit a "Bibleland" not much different from Valhalla or the Elysian Fields. GKC's point in ELM reminds us that these figures and bound to a time and a place, and inhabit the same world we live in. I thought it very interesting that the Apostles brushed so closely with the figures of late antiquity.