For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Amateurs and Professionals

G.K. Chesterton's name has popped up in some news articles lately, with talk of a cause being opened for his beatification. Several people have called him a prophet, in the sense that his writings contained the warnings against and predictions of what we have become. Since the winter sporting season is about to begin, here is the splendid essay Logic and Lawn Tennis by Chesterton. As it turns out, it was as prophetic as anything he wrote and cuts right across the cult of sport that seems to get sillier and crasser every year.

Although he doesn't tackle this directly in the essay, isn't the term "professional sport" an oxymoron?

In case anyone thinks that popular sport, with vast audiences and intense fanatical support cannot exist in the amateur world, then do visit Ireland to watch Gaelic football, still a strictly amateur sport. There is an annual tournament at county level, the final of which is probably the single biggest sporting event in the year, attended by almost 100,000 partisan supporters cheering on their county. Only Ireland's Six Nations rugby games have anywhere near this following. I don't really know how the skill levels compare, as I don't watch it and couldn't tell even if I did, but I think that it isn't unusual for Gaelic footballers to make the move to "soccer", as they call it, at professional level.

It is difficult to pick a line from Chesterton's essay to lure the reader in, because every line is quotable. Of scholastic philosophers, he writes: "And they might even have suggested, what so many journalists seem to forget, the paradoxical possibility that Tennis was made for Man and not Man for Tennis."

Thursday, 15 August 2013

BBC vs. Daily Mail

Compare and contrast the following: a "news" report from the British Broadcasting Corporation, and a report in the Daily Mail.

The BBC headline ran: "Egypt PM Defends Deadly Crackdown". In the article that follows, it seems that the we are supposed to think that the Egyptian Prime Minister used weasel words to excuse the brutal and murderous intent of armed forces moving into groups of supporters of the [democratically elected but now deposed] President. But does anyone outside Egypt really know what happened on that horrible day, and who was to blame? And what do the BBC suppose would become of Egypt if it fell into the clutches of the Brotherhood? Do they think that the elections in Iran, for example, are conducted freely and fairly, and that it is a shining example of democracy? Do they know the aims of those who are in these camps, what they hope to achieve, and what they would do if unchallenged, climbing back through the windows of government to seize power? Here is a link to a statement by the Patriarch of the Copts, in French but with an English translation below, borne of firsthand experience of the events, and which doesn't fill me with confidence in the BBC's version.

The Daily Mail, on the other hand, published (let us be pseudo-intellectuals for a moment) a "sensationalist" piece about the democratic Egyptian protesters pushing a police van, occupants and all, off a high overhead bridge, apparently with photographs of the dead and dying policemen on the ground afterwards. I don't want to see the pictures, I don't want to look at them, and I don't think it is good journalism to publish this kind of thing. But, compared to the BBC piece, the article was honest news reporting: these are the events in Egypt, and this is the context: the deposed President's supporters attacking and being attacked in return. No ambiguous phrases about Prime Ministers "defending" murder, and no weighted headlines. On this occasion, the Daily Mail published a fairer account.

The BBC still unintentionally crosses my vision sometimes and I see something to get on my nerves. So again this evening, I saw another fairly weighted headline about a female Russian athlete, Isinbayeva Defends Anti-Gay Stance, and discovered from this and other sources what the fuss was about. Someone, a public figure and an athlete, had the temerity to say - in Russia - that she supported Russians law and didn't like it when other athletes flaunted their disagreement with those laws whilst being given Russian hospitality. Yet another reason to love Russians, who are blessed to be one of the last independently minded peoples on this earth, careless of the bleatings of effeminate Europe and virile in the face of American bullying. It gives one great pleasure to think of vast and endless tracts of waving grain, of steppe, mountain, tundra, lake and forest, all that impregnable immensity utterly distant from and heedless of the prissy, squeaky, bossy voices emanating from Broadcasting House.

Wilt Thou See In Her How Thou Art Loved?

In the Daily Prayer for the Ordinariate, the extra-biblical reading for today, 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the Eleventh Revelation of Lady Julian of Norwich, from her Revelations of Divine Love.

AND with this same cheer of mirth and joy our good Lord looked down on the right side and brought to my mind where our Lady stood in the time of His Passion; and said: Wilt thou see her? And in this sweet word as if He had said: I wot well that thou wouldst see my blessed Mother: for, after myself, she is the highest joy that I might shew thee, and most pleasance and worship to me; and most she is desired to be seen of my blessed creatures. And for the high, marvellous, singular love that He hath to this sweet Maiden, His blessed Mother, our Lady Saint Mary, He shewed her highly rejoicing, as by the meaning of these sweet words; as if He said: Wilt thou see how I love her, that thou mightest joy with me in the love that I have in her and she in me?

And also (unto more understanding this sweet word) our Lord speaketh to all mankind that shall be saved, as it were all to one person, as if He said: Wilt thou see in her how thou art loved? For thy love I made her so high, so noble and so worthy; and this pleaseth me, and so will I that it doeth thee.

For after Himself she is the most blissful sight.

But hereof am I not learned to long to see her bodily presence while I am here, but the virtues of her blessed soul: her truth, her wisdom, her charity; whereby I may learn to know myself and reverently dread my God. And when our good Lord had shewed this and said this word: Wilt thou see her? I answered and said: Yea, good Lord, I thank Thee; yea, good Lord, if it be Thy will. Oftentimes I prayed this, and I weened to have seen her in bodily presence, but I saw her not so. And Jesus in that word shewed me ghostly sight of her: right as I had seen her afore little and simple, so He shewed her then high and noble and glorious, and pleasing to Him above all creatures.

And He willeth that it be known; that all those that please them in Him should please them in her, and in the pleasance that He hath in her and she in Him. And, to more understanding, He shewed this example: As if a man love a creature singularly, above all creatures, he willeth to make all creatures to love and to have pleasance in that creature that he loveth so greatly. And in this word that Jesus said: Wilt thou see her? methought it was the most pleasing word that He might have given me of her, with that ghostly Shewing that He gave me of her. For our Lord shewed me nothing in special but our Lady Saint Mary; and her He shewed three times. The first was as she was with Child; the second was as she was in her sorrows under the Cross; the third is as she is now in pleasing, worship, and joy.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Should English Be the New Lingua Sacra?

This is a post in which I am not sure if I am serious or not.

One is often struck by the hodge-podge of international liturgical celebration, and wishes it could be done more seamlessly, without a prayer in this language, a lesson in that. I am going to argue that sixteenth century English, the Elizabethan English of Shakespeare, Spenser and the Authorised ("King James") Version of the Bible is the new sacred tongue, and should be the language of a new universal liturgy of the Latin West and its missionary endeavour.

There are all sorts of objections that I shall high-handedly sweep away. (1) Such as "but there already is an English liturgy". Yes, but it isn't in sixteenth century English and is lacking in beauty. (2) Such as "but the language is out of date". This displays a fatal misunderstanding of the nature of poetic never mind sacred language, for no-one in sixteenth century England ever spoke like Hamlet, or like King David in the Authorised Version. Such language is never in date (that is, never trendy) and therefore never dates, for it is not conformed to an ambiguous standard called "current usage". Poetic and liturgical language ought to draw upon poetic and historic inspiration to create a world in which the story, poem or rite lives and becomes a stable and magnetic force for the human spirit. (3) Such as "what about Spanish and Portuguese as a universal language for the liturgy? Numerically, those speaking both of these languages easily outnumber native English speakers, and they can moreover be understood by one another". But they are not languages with the kind of global literary influence that English has, outside South and Central America (how many Chinese and Indian people are learning Spanish or Portuguese?). (4) Such as "what is wrong with Latin: don't we simply need a revival of the Latin liturgy?" And perhaps 150 years ago, the answer might have been, maybe. But not now, when even the so-called educated do not understand it.

Now, blithely confident that I have dealt with all possible objections, a brief resume of why Elizabethan English fulfills all the criteria to be a suitable sacred language for the universal church.

The first reason is very simple: because it already is. People already have this instinct about it, even people with a rudimentary English. I speak from a very little firsthand experience of a mission in a country where most people's English is very poor. Start a mission in the slums of Outer Extremia where most people can say "hay-lo" as you cycle past, and where they watch American TV, fill your church, and then teach them the Lord's Prayer in English. Give them two versions to choose from, one with modern pronouns and one with "thy" etc., and I will tell you which one they will choose.

I don't mean that missions should insist on the performance of the liturgy in English or any foreign tongue, simply that people will automatically plump for the sixteenth century version of English as the perceived sacred tongue, over the modern. I suspect it has a lot to do with rhythms of speech, and what sensible people with normal traditions perceive to be necessary in sacred speech.

The people of Outer Extremia will take to Elizabethan English as a sacred tongue, but not Latin, because the vast majority of the globe's inhabitants do not have even a slight familiarity with Romance languages. Outside the Mediterranean and South America, the lingua franca is English. Two centuries of British Empire, followed by the cultural imperialism and vast reach of America for the last 80 years have guaranteed this for the foreseeable future. And it just so happens that the language with the greatest acceleration of cultural change and philosophical ferment within its utterances is English, not to speak of its literary wealth.

Of course, if one looks merely at literary history, certainly the German tongue has had greater philosophers and a poetic tradition at least the equal of the English: but then Germany did not have an Empire to spread its influence. And most of the major schools of German philosophy have a counterpart in some English movement - for German Romanticism there is Coleridge to stand in, for example. These cultural and philosophical currents have not washed through Italy, Spain and Portugal in quite the same manner: their literary heritage is not caught up in the current of what has made the modern world the place that it is. France had an Empire, and a strong literary and philosophical tradition that carries a great deal of modern thought, but French nowadays does not have the global reach of English. And so we are left with English.

The reasons for making sixteenth century English the sacred tongue, the universal liturgical language, are therefore: the worldwide knowledge of English, which is increasing rather than waning; its fitness for a sacred role, and the instant recognition of this fitness (even among those with little knowledge of it); and the assumption and absorption into the English language of the cultural and philosophical heritage that has been the making of the modern world in contrast to the more conservative languages of the Mediterranean (rather as Latin absorbed the cultural shifts of late antiquity, but Greek did not).

One needn't throw out Latin, just as there are vestiges of Greek (the Kyrie, for example) in the Western rite. The Gloria, Credo, Benedictus and Agnus Dei could remain in the ancient and hieratic tongue, a living witness to the faith of the Roman martyrs. And there would be no difficulty in having Greek, Latin and English exist alongside one another as equal witnesses to the catholic nature of the church in the same liturgy. But where one has people meeting of with disparate nationalities, in cities across the world, in international events, is there not a case for the common sacred tongue being English, perhaps some kind of translation of the Sarum rite heavily influenced by the language (not the theological revisions) of the Book of Common Prayer?

A benefit, apart from those mentioned above, is that it would give the "advanced" world a jolt. It is accustomed to an increasingly ugly form of universal English, with all the desacralisation of culture and imagination that this form of speech implies. It is becoming a secular language, and there is little in the rhythm and diction of the modern English rite to claim back its words for God consciousness, being too much on a par with current usage, and not deep enough within the tradition and past of the language to awaken the soul of the casual hearer. The casual watcher of television says "Latin, or Italian or Spanish - yes, yes, they are different, we hear and see all those religious rites going on in those languages, but then they are different kind of people, aren't they? Not quite so forward in science and all that. Still a bit in the shadow and not in the broad stream of progress and modernity". But what if they were to hear English, the tongue of not just Shakespeare and Coverdale, but also the tongue of Bacon, Newton, Locke and Hume utter the words of the liturgy, carrying within them a sacramental theology explicit and unashamed, and proclaimed in this way to the world at an international gathering as the tongue of the church catholic (just as they have grown to expect English to be used in international conferences)? Wouldn't there be a disorientating sense that their progressive and shiny steel and glass English-speaking world - with its few museum piece villages with their village greens and spires - was being invaded? Wouldn't they sit up, and listen? And maybe even think?

Friday, 9 August 2013

On a Book for a Restless Mood

Most people who like to read must have days when they think of starting a new book, but a strange restlessness of mind or spirit makes the choice difficult. Normally, in a position to plump for a new book, they savour the delights of the five or six most pressing titles before choosing. But there are some days and moods when nothing will do, not even one's favourite authors. Days like these are perhaps more common in late August or September, when there is a sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction that everything must begin again: school, the closing in of the days, the pressure of things that must be done, forgotten long long ago in the balmy days of June. When such a mood seizes me, which it does perhaps once a year, there is one book to which invariably springs to my mind unsought, after musing in vain to think of something to satisfy me. It is a book without peers - for like an angel it is a single species and is without any class or imitators - and it is Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.

Here is my penny's worth literary critique. It is perhaps no accident that this is the book that the soul seizes in such a mood, because the pivot upon which the book turns is neither Mole's yearning for home (for Mole is too much of a lover of the simple domestic pleasures, and a follower of other's bright ideas to provide the moment upon which the story is balanced); nor is it the climax of the storming of Toad Hall (for this, while a moment of martial glory is hardly the point for which the story exists). Rather, it is the strange desire that comes upon Rat, the Wanderlust that carries him bodily out of home and onto the highroad after his meeting with the Sea Rat and his tales of adventure. This episode tries Rat's stedfastness to his friend, and his scarcely willing resignation of the glamour of danger and the wine dark seas of the South is the backdrop to Mole's and Rat's subsequent heroics. It questions the ease of the idyll that had gone before that moment, which is then redeemed it in the hard-fought valour of the climax.

Part of the glory of the book is also in its unnecessary plot diversions, like the vision of Pan, which I should think is one of the few persuasive pieces of post-pagan paganism, and possibly one of the most beautiful written since the gods forsook "their Temples dim".

It was in the grip of such a restlessness that I picked up the Wind in the Willows today, and casually read the introduction, to find that The Golden Age and Dream Days, Grahame's two other books, which are worth reading although not at all masterly pieces like it is, were early works. (I had assumed that they were a late falling away of a youthful genius, for they seem to view childhood at a greater remove: quite the contrary. They were his youthful attempts.) But what I read of the book's writing was very poignant. It grew from nursery stories told to his only and much beloved son Alistair; and was then continued in his letters to his son at school. Kenneth saw his son pass from Eton to Oxford, where, in 1920, Alistair was killed at a level crossing. In the following twelve years that were left to him, he did not write again.

I suppose one has to wonder if he did well to leave off, having written such a book (which I would defend, without any irony, as a great literary work). One doubts if he could have bettered this tale. A father's love for his son had - all unknowingly - already shaped an immortal tribute.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Nexus Between Ordination and Marriage

During a late and leisurely conversation with a friend last week (a rare and pleasurable event after one has become a parent), he offered an observation. For him, whether the Church should "marry" two people of the same sex, and whether there should be woman ordained to the priesthood was in essence the same question, which was in the end a questioning of the sacramental vision of reality. If there are to be female priests, homosexual marriage ought logically to follow. I admit that at the time the connection wasn't quite clear to me. Forgive me if - to those versed in the debate about female ordination in a way that I am not - this is an old piece of thinking that has been rehearsed endlessly, but I chanced on this article that sets out the nuptial aspect of the theology of priesthood very clearly and succinctly, with the subtle and diplomatic title Why Women Can't Be Priests

The interesting point isn't just that the article is saying that there is an analogy between the priestly role and marriage - as a kind of bolstering argument - but rather that these two sacraments are diverse enactments in the world of the same divine act. (Exactly what I dully failed to pick up on at the weekend.)

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Hidden with Christ

Whilst on a recent holiday in Italy my family and I were taken by our host to visit a lively family of four girls. The eldest, a girl with an intelligent and gentle face, looked about ten years old. She had a series of epileptic crises about two or three years ago, and after months of hospital, and trekking to and fro to neurology clinics the length of Italy, her parents brought her home to look after her. She sits in a wheelchair, and has been unable to talk or eat or move by herself since the crises, and is fed through a tube into the stomach, a P.E.G. tube. It is difficult to know how much she takes in of what is passing around her.

My wife's cousin, a young priest, visits the family when he can, and we had the privilege of joining him to celebrate the Eucharist at their home. It was brief, simple and reverent, with the sounds of the little ones playing in the garden drifting in. We had a short and pointed homily on the reading about Moses going out of the camp to the Tabernacle where the Divine Cloud of God's presence descended, and where Moses spoke to God as his friend - and how we must leave our daily round to enter into the place of holy and quiet in the presence of God, where we are brought in a hidden way into Heaven's inner court, the Sacred Heart of Christ.

The girl who sat in the wheelchair, Caterina by name, is loved by her younger sisters who do not behave as if there is anything odd or embarrassing about her being there in that way. They talk to, shout at, caress her in the most natural and unfussy way. It was impossible not to come away happier, humbler and with a sense of grace received in that place; perhaps even from that girl. What stuck with me was the sense - and I think the behaviour of her rowdy sisters had something to do with it - that there could be not be the shadow of a doubt in one's soul that Caterina was a person, no less than you or I.

It set me thinking. An idea for an argument has been stirring in my head for a few years, which I have never quite been able to articulate. The simple and theological truth behind it, as I was reminded by a friend recently, is that "your life is hid with Christ in God". What follows might be a valid rationalising of that simple truth, and if it isn't, then you can always disregard what I will say and keep the words of St. Paul who spoke through the Holy Spirit.

There are two common notions of what a person is - one I will call performative, the other socially objective.

The performative notion says being a person is acting like one. The actions we normally expect from a person, the inner life of thinking and feeling, the outer life of communicating and willing, are what makes us who we are. If something does not perform these activities, it cannot be a person. In its crudest form this kind of philosophy would seem to say that we cease to be persons when we fall asleep, so it is usually modified by some kind of appeal to the notion of our potential capabilities. If I fall asleep I am still a person because I am still capable of waking up and doing things: if I were in a coma, i.e. utterly unable to wake or be awakened ever again, well, that would be a different story. One can see, if this is the only kind of philosophy around, where the twilight will fall: on the very old, especially those who have lost their mind; on those badly injured or incapable of communicating; and on those so young that they appear not to have any capabilities at all. There is, I think, something somewhat Cartesian and dualistic about this way of thinking: the body (apart from the inner life of thinking and willing) can be discarded from considerations about the person. Rather like a computer which won't load up anymore - once one has extracted the information from the hard disk, the husk of metal and plastic had better be dumped - a person is really just the bit that processes and communicates information, and the machinery of the body (if it doesn't do its job) is so much rubbish. Respect due to someone e.g. with profound dementia, in this philosophy, is a kind indulgence to their relatives' sentimentality.

The socially objective notion, often a noble and valid reaction against the apparently cruel logic of the performative notion, is that every human being is a person, because of the kind of thing that human beings are together. We are objectively and en masse beings who feel, think and communicate, and are at bottom social beings. Part of the fact of being a person is to bear the responsibility of looking after others. If someone - at a certain stage of their life, or due to a lack of the usual human capabilities - is unable to think or act they are nevertheless part of human society, and we ought to look after them. The appeal in this notion is mostly, I suppose, to the Aristotelian notion of man as a social animal, and therefore an animal with social responsibilities. While one wouldn't object to the conclusion, I think that there is a step missing in this kind of argument. It isn't immediately obvious why every human being is a person, if by a person one means someone who thinks, feels etc. Surely the argument works by sleight of hand, concealing the fact that "person" and "member of the human species" do not have the same definition, but pretending that they do? We may or may not, says the critic, have a duty to all our fellow humans, but do we have a duty to respect every human as a person specifically?

The answer, I believe, lies in the definition of person, thrashed out in twelve centuries of theological dispute over the doctrine of the Trinity and the unity of human and divine in Christ, and present largely in its modern form when St. Thomas Aquinas laid down his quill for the last time. One of the greatest contributions, however, was made a generation before Aquinas, by Richard of St. Victor in his De Trinitate. There are three points from that seminal work that I would like to pick up on.

His first contribution was profoundly simple: when we think of things, we ask the question "what?" (e.g. what kind of thing is this?) When we speak of a person, we ask the question "who?" (e.g. who was that man?) The unique name of a person cannot be given to someone else: they are who they are, and who they are is - in his technical terminology - incommunicabilitas: their personhood cannot be someone else's, for they are themselves and no-one else. I think this makes a great deal of intuitive sense, for even if dementia or madness can be a frightening and alienating thing for the family of a sufferer, there is never a point at which the relatives say, "No, this is not a person any more". They may say "I have lost the person that he was", but that is something quite different: it is a loss of remembered characteristics (personality) of which they feel so bereaved, but the sense that this is a "who" is distinguishably a different matter.

The second point that Richard makes is that the persons of the Trinity are distinguished wholly by their relation to each other. Because the Father, Son and Spirit are eternal, they are not distinguished by any of the generic distinctions by which we tell each other apart - our height, the colour of our hair, etc. - but by the relation each has to the other. The Son is not the Father because the Son is begotten of the Father, and is filled by the Spirit which "is not given in measure [is not given partially, but utterly] unto him". While we are indeed partly who we are because of the colour of our hair etc., I think it is worth considering how little of our own person is a matter of our own making, and how completely our existence is found relation to others. Like the Son, we receive our existence from another. In fact, the conscious exercise of our will and thought depends utterly upon the datum or the gift of what we already are when the exercise of that will and thought is awakened in us. What we are in our freedom is what we do with the life given to us ultimately by our parents, the food they fed us, and what was fostered in us. We are, from head to toe, from each atom and cell to total organism, from inmost desire to the blinking of our eyelid, relational beings embedded within our inheritance and the cosmos. Within this radical relation that is our existence, there is freedom and will, yes: but even that turns out to be exercised by virtue of the others around us. Because there are other talking beings who taught us to speak, we are free to talk to them - and only then to talk to ourselves (i.e. to think). We are only free to act as "social beings" because there are other social beings with which to act. In fact therefore, both our will and our inner life and its imaginative apparatus is parasitic on relation: our inflated notions of solitary selfhood are largely illusory projections. The only freedom to be ourselves is not actually to live in isolation, but to be a self in relation to others, and whether we like it or not that is our identity as person and the very seat of our individuality.

A pertinent moral lesson flows from the radically relative nature of our personhood, which is that the capabilities we think of as most central to us as persons are in fact not our primary reality. Having an "inner life" of thought and will is secondary to having been conceived and nourished and spoken to by others. Our reality as persons is in operation firstly by the gift of our existence, not by our self-awareness. The intuitive sense of a mother that their child, though so injured that they cannot move or speak, is a person, is rooted in this truth. The question about the personhood of embryos is also subtly shifted when this truth is accepted. It is no longer an argument about when an embryo attains sentience, or about the possession of the genetic material and potential of human development. For an embryo is not merely an abstract thing of science, it is something with two parents, and it is therefore a person through its relation to them. Their responsibility is continuous with their knowledge of the formation of that embryo.

The third and final point that I want to draw from Richard of St. Victor is that he sees the Holy Spirit as fully personal Love. "Relation" is a somewhat abstract and colourless term and does not describe something that exists at all: rather like Newtonian empty "space" (although Newton saw space as "location" to be fair to him, and as fact because of God's omnipresence). We would do better to speak instead with Dante of l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle, the love that moves the sun and the other stars. There are fathers and sons, mothers and children, lovers and spouses, friends and enemies, all in some way or other entering into Love, or seeking to frustrate it. Our acts are not mere flailing around in a vacuum-like space called relation, but are either like light, beams pregnant with the energy of creation, or they are like darkness, horrible black holes of destructive self-imprisonment.

The philosophy of the person is in its form and import Trinitarian, partly because the formation of Trinitarian dogma and clarity about the philosophy of person came in tandem in the thirteenth century. One is a person because of one's relation to God: or, translated by Richard, one is a person because one is loved into existence by God. Whether waking or sleeping, whether one has lost one's mind or is sane, whether one cell or billions, the Holy Trinity is the centre and guarantee of one's personhood. Caterina is a person, I suppose, as are her sisters, because they exist in the life of the Holy Trinity. They are begotten by the Father in Christ, by the Spirit of Love. The difference between her and her sisters is that Caterina's will is more deeply hidden in Christ - like Moses in the tabernacle, she talks to God as a friend, and her dwelling is in the Shechinah, the Divine Glory of God's inner chamber. But one glimpses the Love in which she dwells by the way that girl is loved in that house.

Warren’s Sarum Missal in English