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Sigrid Undset: In the Wilderness

(mild spoilers)

This is the third book in the Olav AudunssonMaster of Hestviken tetralogy. (See this for comments on the second book.) It's in two parts, "The Parting of the Ways" and "The Wilderness." The first part is shorter and I take its title to refer primarily to Olav's parting from Ingunn. They were of course parted by death in the previous volume, The Snake Pit, but the separation is made definitive here, with Olav adjusting to life without Ingunn and the state of anxiety and anguish in which he had lived for most of their many years together. As is necessarily the case with the death of someone close, however much the loss may continue to be felt, the shape of day-to-day life re-forms itself, filling in the empty space and becoming normal. 

Olav makes a journey to London and spends (I think) most of a summer there. It's ostensibly a trading voyage but it's at least as much an excuse for Olav to get away from the burdens and sad memories of Hestviken. In London occurs an event which I mentioned in the last post, on The Snake Pit, as one of the few which I remembered vividly from my first reading of the tetralogy. 

At Mass in a London church, he sees a woman who looks uncannily like Ingunn--the young, healthy Ingunn who has not existed for many years. He can't take his eyes off her, can't get her out of his mind; it seems that Ingunn is being offered to him all over again--a new and improved Ingunn, perhaps. A silent flirtation and seduction takes place between them, as they see each other repeatedly at the church. She is married, to a blind man. She arranges, through a servant, a tryst, to take place in the garden of her home, and Olav goes to her. As he takes her in his arms a warning comes to him:

No, this was not [Ingunn]--and it was as though he heard a cry coming from somewhere without; a voice that he heard not with his bodily ears called to him, aloud and wild with fear, trying to warn him. From somewhere, from the ground under his feet, he thought, the cry came--Ingunn, he knew, the real Ingunn, was striving to come to his aid. He could tell that she was in the utmost distress; in bonds of powerlessness or sin she was fighting to be heard by him through the darkness that parted them....

Ingunn called to him, she was afraid he would not understand that this stranger was one who had borrowed her shape, seeking to drag him under.

Well, for the sake of those who haven't read the book but may do so, perhaps I shouldn't quote that. But then you still have to read the book to find out what happens next.

The whole London sequence is especially memorable to me, and I think part of the reason is the essentially minor fact that it is London. It occurs to me now that almost none of the action in Undset's two major works takes place in a city of much size. From time to time someone goes to Oslo, but it isn't portrayed as being very large. London seems clearly to be larger, though much smaller than any contemporary city, with the heart of the city and its waterfront not very far at all from farms and open country, and in fact a certain amount of what we would consider rural life occurring within the city proper. At any rate the somewhat awed perspective on London of Olav and his companions, and perhaps the fact that it's summer and quite a distance south from Norway gives this episode a fresh and almost holiday-ish quality, notwithstanding the fact that not everything that happens there is pleasant. 

One of the decisive spiritual events--and in Undset's vision these are as real as any physical events--is Olav's realization that even many of his sins are less grand than he liked to think. In doing such-and-such, did he sin out of essentially noble motives? Or was he at bottom only driven by the same common, base, and petty appetites that drive men whom he held in contempt? As in Kristin, the process of self-knowledge is at the heart of a lifetime's journey, and one of its essential goals.

Much of the second part, "The Wilderness," involves the gradual shrinking of Olav's life to a joyless routine of managing his estate, Hestiviken. His foster son, Eirik, Ingunn's illegitimate child whom Olav has passed off as his own, now a young man, departs, at least in part because Olav drives him away. Then comes a war which gives him, at least fleetingly, a sense of purpose, a glimpse of a way out of the wilderness. The martial joy with which he plunges into this conflict is something which our time does not readily grasp, except by way of fantasy, as in the Marvel movies and video games. Undset's rendering of the battle in which Olav takes part is remarkable simply as a piece of historical re-creation--I am assuming that she is accurate, and by all accounts that's a safe assumption--and also as a vivid narrative. It's also, I'm sure, accurate with regard to the bigger context of the wars that were taking place in Norway at the time. (In fact the first book of the tetralogy opens with a description of that context.)

But the war ends with Olav gravely wounded, recovering but permanently disfigured. He returns to Hestviken for the last act of his life's drama, in his forties, growing old by the standards of the time, still hiding the sin which he believes will cost him his soul, but which he cannot bring himself to confess.

I've seen a few comments here and there from readers to the effect that this is the least interesting of the four books, and overall they have a fair point. Nevertheless the eighty or so pages of "The Parting of the Ways" remain for me among the most profound and moving of the almost one thousand which make up the whole. 


Sigrid Undset: The Snake Pit

This is the second book in Sigrid Undset's tetralogy which, depending on the translation, is called either The Master of Hestviken or Olav Audunsson. The latter title is from the newer translation by Tiina Nunnally, and is in my opinion a handier title, if only because it creates a justifiable symmetry between Undset's two great works of medieval Norwegian historical fiction, and is convenient when discussing the two.

This is my second reading of the tetralogy. I began this traversal with Nunnally's first volume, Vows (The Axe in the old Chater translation). However, for reasons which I've previously discussed, I've returned to the Chater translation for the remaining three books: I find it, in a word, richer, whatever the arguments about fidelity to the original may be.

The translators also disagree about the naming of the individual books, neither's names tracking the original Norwegian edition as far as I can tell, which was published in two volumes. Nunnally's Providence strikes me as less apt than The Snake Pit. The first book tells the story of Olav Audunsson's efforts to marry Ingunn Steinfinnsdatter, the woman to whom he believes himself to be betrothed (a dispute about that is at the heart of the story), in spite of major obstacles put in their way by various kin and by consequences of their own actions. In The Snake Pit they are married and able at last to return to Olav's ancestral manor, Hestviken. It is of course not going to be happily ever after, not even very often happy at all. Ingunn is sickly and not generally very capable as the mistress of a substantial estate. Olav often refers to her, tenderly and pityingly, as being almost useless, and soon ill health makes her even less capable. Both she and Olav are tormented in various ways, both practical and emotional, by the mistakes and sins of their earlier years. In the early pages of the book Olav, arriving at Hestviken, which he has not seen since he was a child, encounters a thing he had forgotten:

Olav Audunsson knew it again the moment he stepped into his own house, which he had not seen since he was a child of seven years. Never had he thought of this carving or known that he remembered it--but the moment his eye fell upon it, recognition came like a gust of wind that passes over the surface of a lake and darkens it: 'twas the doorpost of his childhood. The image of a man was carven upon it surrounded by snakes; they filled the whole surface with their windings and twistings, coiling about the man's limbs and body, while one bit him to the heart. A harp lay trampled under his feet--it was surely Gunnar Gjukesson in the snake pit.

A footnote explains:

This is Gunnar of the Volsunga Saga, the husband of Brynhild. Gunnar was thrown into the snake pit by Atle (Attila); his sister Gudrun, Sigurd's widow and Atle's wife, secretly sent him a harp, and by his playing he charmed all the snakes save one, which bit him to the heart.

That's pretty much Olav's situation. He is a solid and honorable man, and has charmed all the snakes save one, and it has bitten him almost fatally: the guilt he bears for a murder committed in the first book. . He knows that he must confess it, but if he does so he will be required to do public penance, and that will involve Ingunn and all their kin, more or less ruining his life, and Ingunn's.

Toward the end of the book Ingunn lies dying after long suffering, her always-frail body broken in some unspecified way by childbirth. (I suppose the people of the time had no way of knowing exactly what was wrong.) Olav is away from home, and when he gets the news that Ingunn is near death he is helped on his way by a young couple, Lavrans Bjorgulfsson and his wife Rangfrid. Those who have read Kristin will recognize these as Kristin's parents, still young, strong, and cheerful; it is a poignant moment.

In a profound and powerful scene, Olav's night journey through bitter cold brings him to a sort of epiphany in which he sees his situation and resolves to clear his conscience and live with whatever follows. But this resolution falters when he gets home, as he believes Ingunn to be begging him inarticulately not to expose them.

And so we are halfway through the story, and Olav has been married, then widowed, and still the serpent is biting at his heart. As I write this I'm well into the next book, and though I recall the end of the tetralogy I didn't retain many specific events from the third volume, except for one, which if my memory had not become so unreliable I would say is now permanently sealed there. More about that in a few weeks, maybe.

There are works of art that make me feel, among other emotions, a strong sense of gratitude for their existence, and toward their creators. This is one. Sigrid Undset was in her early forties when she wrote this, and already had the wisdom of a long life., no doubt born of some bitter experiences. Moreover, she was still new to the Church, but she understood the faith deeply, and the wisdom she puts into the mouths and minds of some of her characters is deep and mature. Here is Olav talking to his friend Arnvid about the murder, committed while he travelled alone with the man he would kill:

"And then it all came about as easily as if it had been laid out for me--he begged me to take him on that journey; no man was aware that we set out together. But had God or my patron or Mary Virgin directed our way to some man's house that evening and not to those deserted saeters under Luraas--you know it would have fallen out otherwise."

"I scarce think you had prayed God and the saints to watch over your journey, ere you set out?"

"I am not so sure that I did not--nay, prayed I had not truly. But all that Easter I had done nothing but pray--and I was so loath to kill him, all the time. But it was as though all things favoured me, so that I was driven to do it--and tempted to conceal it afterwards. And God, who knows all, He knew how this must turn out, better than I--why could not He have checked me nevertheless, without my prayers--?"

"So say we all, Olav, when we have accomplished our purpose and then seen that it would have been better if we had not."

Fortunate, or blessed, are those who have no similar accomplishments. Elsewhere, in a sentence which I can't locate at the moment and so will quote as best I remember, Olav recalls the wisdom of a priest:

He who follows only his own will discovers in time that he has done that which he did not will.

Among the relatively small group of people who have read both Kristin and Olav, there seems to be a preference for the former. If that's indeed the general view, I dissent. I won't necessarily say that Olav is better, but it's every bit as good. In any case I'm more certain than ever that Undset is among the truly great novelists.

The_Master_of_Hestviken

This seems to be the cover of the original English translation (source: biblio.com). It's the cover of my copy, which somehow came to me from a parish library in Falls Church, Virginia.


Kind Words for Some Unpopular Christians

Very early in my life as an adult Christian I realized that I had to come to terms with the fact that a lot of my fellow Christians were really Not My Sort. More significantly, they held views, or at least expressed them in ways, with which I disagreed significantly. I have in mind a particular incident: it was around 1979, and I had a friend who, like me, had recently joined the Episcopal Church. He mentioned that he had just heard on the radio a hick preacher who denounced homosexuality in terms that to say the least showed no charity or kindness.

My friend was outraged. I remember him saying vehemently "I have nothing whatsoever in common with that guy. Nothing." As far as I can remember I didn't make any reply, but I remember thinking that as unpleasant and just plain wrong as the preacher was in his approach to that particular subject, I almost certainly agreed with him on the basic tenets of the Creed (though he probably disavowed creeds in principle), and even on the fundamental question of the morality of homosexual acts, and that I had to accept the fact that in becoming a Christian I was joining myself to him and others whose company I didn't especially want. I now had more of the most important things in common with him than I did with my non-Christian friends.

The Gospel, unfortunately, is like that. It's the one thing needful, and those who accept it are united to each other in a way that they can't be with non-believers. Often over the years I've found myself defending people whom I find unsympathetic in one way or another, saying "Well, he or she or they are wrong about that, but right about the One Big Thing."

I still feel that way about fundamentalist Protestantism, though, now, forty years later, a majority of Americans are more of my friend's mind than of mine. It is certainly despised by our upper classes. And there are a lot of people out there who grew up in that culture who now despise it and blame it for their problems.

More or less the same goes for those who are sometimes called fundamentalist Catholics, who are zealous in their commitment to orthodoxy and swim hard upstream against the secular culture which is ever more hostile to them. Since the '70s and '80s there have been a fair number of Catholic families in this mold, and now many of their children are grown, and as with the Protestants some (many) are now ex-Catholics who are bitter about various things that were wrong with that subculture. Sometimes it's personal, some particular situation that was really unhealthy. Sometimes it's a general rejection of the whole mindset. Sometimes it's justified, sometimes not.

EWTN is one of the central institutions of these Catholics, and it is much despised by progressive Catholics. Pope Francis even went so far recently as to say the devil is at work in it (which is true enough, just as he's at work in the Vatican). I have to admit, with a twinge of guilt, that I've never really cared much for EWTN. I'll leave it at that, because I don't want to write a thousand words on the subject. Suffice to say that it's really not my cup of tea, and I would agree with some of the criticisms of it. But I have seen it work real good in the lives of real people, and I think it's much more a good thing than not.

So I was glad to read, a week or two ago, two pieces that came out pretty close together, by relatively young people defending these unpopular Christians. One is a Catholic convert writing in National Review. She's an instance of what I was just saying, someone on whom EWTN exercised a significant influence for the good.  The other is a Protestant (Anglican) writing in The American Conservative. I found them heartening, especially the Protestant, because the milieu he describes is the one I grew up in. Here's the Catholic: "In Defense Of EWTN", and here's the Protestant: "I Survived (Because Of) Bible-Belt Religion".

By the way, here is what the pope actually said:

There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope. I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil.

This was, all too predictably, reported as "Pope Francis says EWTN is the work of the devil." Obviously the antecedent of "They" in the third sentence is "attacks and insults." I don't know what these attacks and insults are so am not expressing an opinion on whether his complaint is justified.


Some Ominous Words

"We live in times when the very composition of man is changing."

The remark was made sometime in the 1980s by Fr. John Krestiankin, a Russian Orthodox monk, and is quoted in a long piece called "The New Martyrs and Confessors: A Personal Memoir of Russia's Orthodox Clergy & Elders Under Communism," written by Fr. Vladimir Vorbyev and appearing in the September/October issue of Touchstone.

(This link may take you to the article; I think it's subscriber-only but this link is supposed to allow me to share it.)

Many years ago--maybe in the late '70s or early '80s, maybe even earlier--I read someone's conjecture, based on some esoteric spirituality that included reincarnation, that there is only a certain amount of human spiritual "matter," and that the ever-growing population of the world, especially its growth in the past couple of centuries, means that this essence is being spread ever thinner among the living. I didn't believe it, but it was one of those eccentric theories that make you think "Well, it would explain a few things." 

I have often, over the years, going back to my acquaintance with the literature of the past when I was young, felt that the writers (and other artists) seemed to be made of...well, "sterner stuff" is the phrase that comes to mind after "made of," and that's probably part of it, but there's more to it than that. And anyway it's not only sterner; it's also in a way softer, more sensitive. In general it seems richer and stronger. I wouldn't really defend those observations as truth, but they are, as I say, something that has passed through my mind. I thought of it again a couple of years ago when I was looking through a trove of family records going back into the late 19th century. There were, for instance, poems written more or less casually in letters or published in the local paper that were remarkably well-crafted, certainly beyond what an ordinary person of ordinary education would be likely to produce today. And I guess we've all seen and heard of the McGuffey Readers of that time which were used in elementary schools but would be considered too difficult for our high school or even college students.

I don't wish I had lived in 1850. Or 1150, or any other time. I don't think we can say that people were any more virtuous before, say, 1900: those times were full of brutalities which were accepted as normal but which horrify us. And yet: doesn't it sometimes seem that we are a smaller, more trivial people than we once were? Fr. Vladimir continues:

At first I couldn't understand these words, but then I recalled the Book of Genesis, which says that God sent the Flood to the earth when he saw that men became fleshly (9:3). "The very composition of man is changing" meant that the spirit was diminishing. Alas, there are more and more people in whom it's hard to perceive their spiritual nature, because for some reason they want to behave like beasts.

It isn't the comparison to beasts that strikes me so much as "the spirit was diminishing." I don't know if that's the best way to describe it, either. But I've had the feeling for a long time that there is something bad going on in our culture that is spiritual and very deeply hidden, something more fundamental than mere skepticism, hedonism, and materialism--something that helps to give those their power. 


Does the Pope Believe in the Resurrection?

Some weeks ago I was asked about a remark attributed to Pope Francis by that journalist he talks to from time to time, Eugenio Scalifari. According to Scalifari, the pope said that the resurrection of Jesus did not actually happen as a physical event. This was one of those conversations with the 90-plus-year-old journalist who neither records nor takes notes of his "interviews." So (1) who knows what Francis actually said? (2) who knows what Francis actually meant? (3) who really cares, unless something more definite is known about (1) and (2)?

So much for that. But my correspondent had searched for something like "does the pope believe in the resurrection?" and had turned up something more serious, albeit happily more obscure. The web site of a self-described "reformed, Calvinistic, conservative evangelical publisher" based in Edinburgh, "Banner of Truth," asserts that Benedict XVI clearly denies the resurrection. A look around the site reveals that it also pushes old-school anti-Catholicism: Far From Rome Near to God: Testimonies of Fifty Converted Catholic Priests. So it's not surprising that in an article called "Does the Pope Believe in the Resurrection?" Matthew Vogan says the answer is no:

Continue reading "Does the Pope Believe in the Resurrection?" »


No More Posts Till Easter Monday

As is fairly usual with me, I started off pretty well with Lent and gradually got slacker and lazier. I'm going to make an effort during Holy Week to attend more to the occasion. It seems especially important this year since I can't actually go to Mass. So I won't be posting anymore till Monday April 13. I'll still participate in conversations, if there are any, but there won't be any new posts. 

Today for the first time since public Masses were cancelled I watched one on television. As I said in a comment here a couple of weeks or so ago, a televised Mass just seems all wrong to me in some fundamental way that I haven't made the effort to articulate. I don't mean religiously wrong, just off. Unreal. Weird. But I have already noticed a tendency on my part to start drifting without the anchor of weekly Mass (and also in my case a weekly holy hour--which I still do at home but of course it's not the same). I keep thinking of what Janet said about the Japanese Christians who held on to the faith for...what was it?...250 years without priests, and I'm ashamed.


Anglicanorum Coetibus, Ten Years On

Here's a good assessment from Joanna Bogle at the Catholic Herald. Good, but in my opinion a bit more rosy than is warranted. And I'd say the headline is definitely too rosy:

It hasn’t been easy. But ten years on, the ordinariate is a success story.

I won't say the text contradicts that, but it certainly qualifies it. (And most likely the author did not write it.) Joanna Bogle is British and is writing mainly of the UK. Here she describes the phenomenon that apparently surprised a lot of people who thought that the development would be enthusiastically welcomed and that significant numbers of Anglicans would "come over":

A meeting of Forward in Faith, a network of orthodox Anglicans and the leading organisation on the scene, was quickly summoned. And that was when disappointment set in. The reaction of many was not what had been expected.

“We couldn’t believe it,” the ordinariate member recalls. “Speaker after speaker rose to say, ‘Oh, I don’t know … I don’t think this is for me,’ or words to that effect. Where some of us had assumed a general rejoicing and some practical plans on how to go ahead, there was just a flatness, a sort of bland rejection without any real reasons given.”

More or less the same kind of thing happened here. I was not altogether surprised, as I thought the number of interested Episcopalians and "Continuing Anglicans" was relatively small. It's not as if the heterodox drift (to put it mildly) of the Episcopal Church was a new thing. It was obvious and obviously well under way when I converted in 1981. Most people who were truly unhappy with those developments left years ago. As someone I know put it, "that pond is fished out."

And some big proportion of the Continuing folks seem to be very definitely Protestant. Or, if they think of themselves as Anglo-Catholic, are pretty well committed to the idea that they don't need to be in communion with Rome because they're already Catholic. Scratch these folks, and you'll usually get a distinct whiff of old-fashioned British disdain for "the Roman church." I suspect something of that is behind the "bland rejection without any real reasons" which Bogle describes.

(Here I will air one of my numerous pet peeves: the Anglicans who deny that there are any significant theological differences between them and Rome, yet when asked "So why not accept Rome's teaching?" immediately name a number of theological differences that they cannot accept. Either they're significant, or they're not.)

I don't follow these things very closely, but I'm told by those who do that the U.S. Ordinariate is doing better. Our local group, the Society of St. Gregory the Great, is hanging in there, not growing much but not in immediate danger of death, either. And the Ordinariate's cathedral, Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, seems to be thriving. I was there a month or so ago and it was a pretty impressive experience. I had meant to do a blog post about it but haven't gotten around to it. There's more to the Walsingham story than Anglicanorum Coetibus, though: it came into being under John Paul II's Pastoral Provision in the early '80s, so it has relatively old and deep roots now.

As I see it, AC was about thirty years late. It is what the Pastoral Provision should have been; the PP was far more limited in scope than the Ordinariates. (See this for what the PP effected.) I think more Anglicans in this country would have come over if something like the Ordinariate had existed then. I almost said "too late," but that implies a hopeless situation. In this case "never too late" and "better late than never" apply. I think of us as nurturing a small and slow-growing plant which may grow into a great tree long after I'm gone. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but it certainly won't if we don't keep it alive now.

Thank you and God bless you, Benedict XVI.

ShrineOfOurLadyOfWalsinghamShrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at the Cathedral in Houston

 


"In fact, you will not be saved."

That's a line from Stephen Vincent Benet's poem "Nightmare, With Angels." I first read it long ago, but I'm not sure when or where. I had thought it was freshman English, in the Sound and Sense textbook/anthology. But I've just looked, and it's not there. Could it have been in high school? That seems unlikely, but it's possible. Anyway, it made an impression on me, and I think of it from time to time. Here is a link to it.

It's been on my mind especially in recent weeks and months, as the American republic seems to be having some kind of breakdown. So is the Catholic Church, at least large segments of it. A few days ago, in a Facebook group devoted to the renewal of the Church, someone posted a list of proposed responses, basically theological, to a recent survey indicating a serious decline in the number of American Christians (of any and all denominations). It included things like reviving a genuinely Christian philosophy, getting rid of hyper-political partisanship within the community, and so forth. It was all perfectly sound, but very unlikely to have any discernible effect anytime soon--and by "soon" I mean within the next several decades. I guess I was feeling grumpy that day, because I responded with the Benet poem, among other helpful observations:

Fine, good things in response to bad errors. But as far as Western Formerly Christian civilization is concerned, Stephen Vincent Benet had the general idea right: "In fact you will not be saved." This train is not going to be stopped until it goes off a cliff or, best case, runs out of fuel. Either way it looks to be a long time.

Nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong. And I'm sorry if I sounded like a jerk. But I don't see how any any theological adjustment can possibly turn things around, or even slow them down. [This program] is a good thing but a project for generations, maybe centuries.

I mean--pardon my crudeness, but: we live in a society which has decreed that as a matter of law and custom there is no ontological or teleological difference between a vagina and a rectum. How do you even converse with that? Unless we're in the final apostasy of the end times, which is certainly a possibility but not one to which I've ever committed myself, the Church will be renewed, and a new culture will arise around it. But I can't see a turnaround in our present trajectory. I think we'll have to hit a wall of some kind.

This may sound like despair, but it really isn't. The ship of the Church will eventually right itself, at least to the degree that it is ever really righted. The ship of state is a different story; perhaps it will be righted, but perhaps it will slowly turn into something else, something that may or may not preserve the form but definitely does not preserve the substance of the constitutional order.

It's a rejection of the belief, so beloved of those of us who spend a great deal of our time thinking and writing and talking, that if we can only formulate and propagate the correct set of ideas things will be put right. It's a recognition that we are riding extremely powerful waves generated by the uncontrollable movement of great masses far below the surface of the sea. It's true that ideas have consequences. But this doesn't mean, as those who traffic in ideas are tempted to think, that ideas determine events. 

I find that I've lost interest almost entirely in that kind of talk, especially talk that involves proposals for the reform of society, sometimes the construction of societies in the air, according to distributist, or Christian democrat, or Christian liberal, or integralist, or whatever, principles. It's a sort of hobby for which I've lost my taste. 

*

Addendum: in putting forth the Benet poem, I don't mean to be saying that we in the U.S.A. and Europe are headed for cataclysmic violence. I don't in fact think we are. The poem was written in the 1930s, when the fact that war was coming was pretty clear to perceptive people. I think we are, rather, in a decline the outcome of which I don't claim to foresee. But the first angel's lament for all the unfulfilled hopes and promises of history is poignant, and the second angel's brutal crushing of such hopes applicable enough in general.  


A Few Remarks from Newman

Today everyone in the Ordinariates is rejoicing in the canonization of our hero, Saint John Henry Newman. Well, okay, "everyone" is probably an exaggeration. But "hero" is not. 

I'm referring to the ecclesiastical structures created by Pope Benedict's Anglicanorum coetibus, by which Christians from the Anglican tradition can come into the Catholic Church bringing with them many elements of their worship and spirituality.  "Structures," because there are three, for the UK, Australia, and the Americas. The obvious natural thing to call them is "the Anglican Ordinariates." But we have actually been told not to use that term, or to refer to them in any way that includes the word "Anglican," apparently out of concern that it will appear that we are still Anglican. It's frustrating, as I've found whenever I mention it to what I can't help calling "regular Catholics." If I use the word "Anglican," they think I've left the Church. If I say "the Ordinariate" they just look blank, quite understandably. In general they really just don't get it at all. Which is disappointing. 

But anyway: Newman is our great model, a sort of patron saint long before he was canonized. And of course he's an important writer and thinker by any standard. I have a book called A Newman Treasury, a selection from his prose works which appeared in 1943. It includes a section called "Aphoristic Selections," which has some brief gems. Relatively brief--I don't think I'd call an excerpt which occupies a full page and contains a dozen sentences "aphoristic."

(Attributions: Essays Critical and Historical; The Idea of a University; Oxford University Sermons; Grammar of Assent; Difficulties of Anglicans.)

Man is born to obey quite as much as to command. Remove the true objects, and you do not get rid of a natural propensity: he will make idols instead; remove heaven, and he will put up with earth, rather than honour nothing at all. The principle of respect is as much a part of us as the principle of religion. (ECH)

This is similar to what I was getting at a week or two ago about Downton Abbey.

If literature is to be made a study of human nature, you cannot have a Christian Literature. It is a contradiction in terms to attempt a sinless Literature of sinful man. (IU)

Of course he's not using the term "Christian Literature" in the sense that we would use it of, say, Flannery O'Connor. But his point gets at the problem with a lot of art produced by Christians.

In morals, as in physics, the stream cannot rise higher than its source. Christianity releases men from earth, for it comes from heaven, but human morality creeps, struts, or frets upon the earth's level, without wings to rise. (DA)

Nothing is more common in an age like this, when books abound, than to fancy that the gratification of a love of reading is real study. (IU)

This stings a bit. I did realize it for myself but not until I was well along in life. I'm always bothered by those people who want children to read as if it that alone were good in itself. It isn't. It may even be a bad thing, if they only or mostly read books that communicate bad things.

When men understand each other's meaning, they see, for the most part, that controversy is either superfluous or hopeless. (OUS)

The current state of our politics.

Whence comes evil? why are we created without our consent? how can the Supreme Being have no beginning? how can he need skill, if He is omnipotent? if He is omnipotent, why does He permit suffering? If He permits suffering, how is He all-loving? if He is all-loving, how can He be just? if He is infinite, what has he to do with the finite? how can the temporary be decisive of the eternal?--these, and a host of like questions, must arise in every thoughtful mind, and, after the best use of reason, must be deliberately put aside, as beyond reason, as (so to speak) no-thoroughfares which, having no outlet themselves, have no ligitimate [sic] power to divert us from the King's highway. (GA)

I take "no-thoroughfare" as meaning the same thing as "dead end." I've known more than one person, as we probably all have, whose impulses toward faith were killed by their inability to answer or move beyond these questions.

One thing, except by an almost miraculous interposition, cannot be; and that is, a return to the universal religious sentiment, the public opinion, of the medieval times. The Pope himself calls those centuries "the ages of faith." Such endemic faith may certainly be decreed for some future time; but, as far as we have the means of judging at present, centuries must run out first. (DA)

Those who seem to think we are on the brink of some widespread return to the faith may be right, but I doubt it. And they are definitely defying the clear tendency of things.

Reason can but ascertain the profound difficulties of our condition, it cannot remove them. (OUS)

A really philosophical mind, if unhappily it has ruined its own religious perceptions, will be silent; it will understand that Religion does not lie in its way: it may disbelieve its truths, it may account belief in them a weakness, or, on the other hand, a happy dream, a delightful error, which it cannot itself enjoy;--any how, it will not usurp. (OUS)

Unbelievers call themselves rational; not because they decide by evidence, but because, after they have made their decision, they merely occupy themselves in sifting it. (OUS)

It is only necessary for Reason to ask many questions; and, while the other party is investigating the real answer to each in detail, to claim the victory, which spectators will not be slow to award, fancying (as is the manner of men) that clear and ready speech is the test of Truth. (OUS)

These last three made me think of the Dawkins-style superficial atheists. They do not have the "really philosophical mind."

The aspect under which Almighty God is presented to us be Nature, is (to use a figure) of One who is angry with us, and threatens evil. Hence its effect is to burden and sadden the religious mind. (GA)

I like this as a counter to our tendency to sentimentalize nature, now that we have gone so far in being able to control it. For most of history man's relationship to nature has been in great part the struggle to stay alive against it.

All men have a reason, but not all men can give a reason. (OUS)

That complements the earlier one about "clear and ready speech." A long time ago I wrote something against the idea that mere intellectual and verbal facility are the determinants of victory in a controversy. I said this was no different from the belief that physical strength should serve that purpose. 

This has been the course of lawless pride and lust:...to lead us, first, to exult in our uncontrollable liberty of will and conduct; then, when we have ruined ourselves, to plead that we are the slaves of necessity. (O.U.S.)

The instance cannot be found in the history of mankind, in which an anti-Christian power could long abstain from persecuting. (O.U.S.)

In spite of my basic pessimism, both temperamental and, as I think, objectively justified with regard to the prospects for Christianity in the West, I think this is in many ways a good time to be a Christian: so much is being clarified. And we have all the wonderful minds and souls like Newman who have penetrated the fog of the times for us. But I have to qualify that. It's a good time to be an old Christian who knows what he believes and is firm in it and no longer has much responsibility--everyday temporal responsibility, I mean--for other people. It is not at all a good time to be a Christian trying to raise Christian children. I should spend more time praying for those who are.

It seems that David Mills, writing at The Stream, had the same notion that I did, to post a number of aphoristic quotations from Newman. There's a bit of overlap with my list, more with the book I was working from.

800px-John_Henry_Newman_by_Sir_John_Everett_Millais _1st_Bt


I'm In Touchstone Again

You can read most of the first paragraph here

Heh. Sorry. It's subscriber-only. But you can see a nice picture of the little Methodist church in which I grew up, and which is the subject of the piece. If you get the magazine, you'll see that the byline says the article is an excerpt from my as-yet-unpublished memoir. That was true when I submitted it, but may not be now, as I'm rewriting the book and aiming to make it roughly half its original length. Which was...I hesitate to say...a bit over 130,000 words. Which I'm told is way too long--roughly the length of Merton's Seven Storey Mountain

I'm touched that the editors went to the trouble of finding a picture of the actual church to include with the article.