7

The Black Heart of Man

“When God put man in a garden
He girt him with a sword,
And sent him forth a free knight
That might betray his lord;

“He brake Him and betrayed Him,
And fast and far he fell,
Till you and I may stretch our necks
And burn our beards in hell.

GK Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

 

The Vegas Massacre reminds me of the basic fact of the human condition:  free will.  We are made in the image of God in that, like God, we have freedom of will.  Unlike God, we sometimes choose evil.  Looking at what I have just written, that is incorrect.  Sometimes we revel in it.  Absent mental illness, that is precisely what the Vegas shooter was doing as he gunned down hundreds, slaying 59 innocents and counting.

We live in a time of pernicious make-believe when all too many assume that Man is essentially good and that if only we have enough laws and social programs, utopia awaits.  Our ancestors were usually wiser.  They understood that evil is part and parcel of the human condition, which is why Man needs a Savior.  Too many of us today have forgotten that all-important element in understanding Man.  Thus crime is not to be punished, but rather criminals are to be rehabilitated.  Men are not responsible for their actions and thus we focus on inanimate objects that are somehow held to be responsible for the evil that Men do.  Mercy is emphasized rather than justice.  Man is taken to be infinitely malleable and if only we could find the right social formula, ghastly events like the Vegas massacre would be just bad memories.

In our folly we trust in Man to cure his sickness of soul, a hope that is to be ever disappointed.  Our only hope is in God, and a turning to Him to save us from the evil within us that ever threatens to engulf ourselves and others.  One hundred and twenty years ago Rudyard Kipling, who described himself as a devout Christian atheist, understood Man so much better than we do today:

 

God of our fathers, known of old,
   Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
   Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
The tumult and the shouting dies;
   The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
   An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Far-called, our navies melt away;
   On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
   Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
   Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
For heathen heart that puts her trust
   In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
   And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

The black heart of Man can only be conquered by the white heart of God our savior.  Thy mercy on Thy People Lord!

 

3

Benedict XV, Rudyard Kipling, John Bunyan and G. K. Chesterton

Benedict-XV

The cheapest and most childish of all the taunts of the Pacifists is, I think, the sneer at belligerents for appealing to the God of Battles. It is ludicrously illogical, for we obviously have no right to kill for victory save when we have a right to pray for it. If a war is not a holy war, it is an unholy one — a massacre.

G.K. Chesterton, October 23, 1915

(Pope Benedict issued his peace proposal on August 1, 1917.  To observe the occasion I am reposting this post from 2011.  Of all that I have written about Kipling, and that is now a considerable amount, this is my favorite piece. I would observe in passing that both Chesterton and CS Lewis, although they differed considerably from Kipling’s views on many topics, were both fans of him as a writer.)

The eighth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.   The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , herehere , here and here.   Kipling wrote quite a few poems during his lifetime.  Some are world-famous, most are not, and some are today almost completely forgotten.   The Holy War (1917) is today one of Kipling’s most obscure poems, but caused something of a stir when he wrote it in Advent during 1917.

A tinker out of Bedford,
A vagrant oft in quod,
A private under Fairfax,
A minister of God–
Two hundred years and thirty
Ere Armageddon came
His single hand portrayed it,
And Bunyan was his name!_

He mapped, for those who follow,
The world in which we are–
‘This famous town of Mansoul’
That takes the Holy War
Her true and traitor people,
The gates along her wall,
From Eye Gate unto Feel Gate,
John Bunyan showed them all.

All enemy divisions,
Recruits of every class,
And highly-screened positions
For flame or poison-gas,
The craft that we call modern,
The crimes that we call new,
John Bunyan had ’em typed and filed
In Sixteen Eighty-two

Likewise the Lords of Looseness
That hamper faith and works,
The Perseverance-Doubters,
And Present-Comfort shirks,
With brittle intellectuals
Who crack beneath a strain–
John Bunyan met that helpful set
In Charles the Second’s reign.

Emmanuel’s vanguard dying
For right and not for rights,
My Lord Apollyon lying
To the State-kept Stockholmites,
The Pope, the swithering Neutrals,
The Kaiser and his Gott–
Their roles, their goals, their naked souls–
He knew and drew the lot.

Now he hath left his quarters,
In Bunhill Fields to lie.
The wisdom that he taught us
Is proven prophecy–
One watchword through our armies,
One answer from our lands–
‘No dealings with Diabolus
As long as Mansoul stands.

_A pedlar from a hovel,
The lowest of the low,
The father of the Novel,
Salvation’s first Defoe,
Eight blinded generations
Ere Armageddon came,
He showed us how to meet it,
And Bunyan was his name!_

At one level the poem is a fairly straight-forward paean to John Bunyan, the English writer who penned Pilgrims’s Progress, which every school child used to read back in days when schools spent far more time on academics and far less time on political indoctrination and fake subjects like “Consumer Ed”.  He also wrote quite a few other books and pamphlets, perhaps the best known of which is The Holy War, which portrays a war for the City of Mansoul between the good defenders and the evil besiegers.  I need not spell out the allegorical meaning of the work when the city’s named is rendered as Man Soul.  Kipling had been a devotee of Bunyan since his childhood, and I suppose that part of his motivation in writing the poem was to pay back a literary debt. Continue Reading

1

GK Chesterton on the Trinity

“The meanest man in grey fields gone
Behind the set of sun,
Heareth between star and other star,
Through the door of the darkness fallen ajar,
The council, eldest of things that are,
The talk of the Three in One.

 

 

 

There is nothing in the least liberal or akin to reform in the substitution of pure monotheism for the Trinity. The complex God of the Athanasian Creed may be an enigma for the intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty of a Sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Muhammad. The god who is a mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king. The heart of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather round the Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy pleads as well as justice, the conception of a sort of liberty and variety existing even in the inmost chamber of the world. For Western religion has always felt keenly the idea ‘it is not well for man to be alone.’ The social instinct asserted itself everywhere as when the Eastern idea of hermits was practically expelled by the Western idea of monks. So even asceticism became brotherly; and the Trappists were sociable even when they were silent. If this love of a living complexity be our test, it is certainly healthier to have the Trinitarian religion than the Unitarian. For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence) – to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology, and even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and, the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone.

1

Triumph of the Cross

In Hoc Signo Vinces

(This is my regular post for Palm Sunday which I repost each year.  Have a happy and blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week.)

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem: BEHOLD THY KING will come to thee, the just and saviour: he is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. 10 And I will destroy the chariot out of Ephraim, and the horse out of Jerusalem, and the bow for war shall be broken: and he shall speak peace to the Gentiles, and his power shall be from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the end of the earth.

Thus did the prophet Zechariah, writing half a millennium before, predict the entry of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  How many such glorious entrances into cities have there been over the ages?  Every civilization I am aware of has such ceremonies, either parades in peace time or entrances of conquest or liberation in war time.  The Romans turned this into an art form with their triumphs, with the reminder of the slave to the imperator of  fleeting human mortality: “Respice post te, hominem memento te”.

Few such triumphs have turned into utter disaster as quickly as that of Jesus:  Jerusalem at His feet on Sunday, and Christ dead on a Roman Cross before the sun had set on Friday.  Small wonder that no contemporary historian or chronicler at the time took note.  However some sort of official report probably was filed after the crucifixion.  Writing circa 116 AD, and relying heavily on official records for his history, in regard to the great fire at Rome under Emperor Nero Tacitus states:

“15.44.2. But, despite kindly influence, despite the leader’s generous handouts, despite appeasing the gods, the scandal did not subside, rather the blaze came to be believed to be an official act. So, in order to quash the rumour, Nero blamed it on, and applied the cruelest punishments to, those sinners, whom ordinary people call Christians, hating them for their shameful behaviour. 15.44.3. The originator of this name, Christ, was sentenced to torture by Procurator Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius, but although checked for a moment, the deadly cult erupted again, not just in Judaea, the source of its evil, but even in Rome, where all the sins and scandals of the world gather and are glorified.”

Tacitus, clearly hostile to the Christians, points his finger at one of the great mysteries of history.  In human terms the Jesus movement was nipped in the bud at its inception.  Yet in less than three centuries the Roman emperor bowed before the cross.  The triumph of Palm Sunday led only to disaster, and the humiliation and death of the cross led to triumph in eternity and here on Earth.

For we Catholics, and for all other Christians, no explanation of this paradoxical outcome is needed.  However there is much here to ponder for non-believers and non-Christians.  In purely human terms the followers of Christ had no chance to accomplish anything:  no powerful supporters, no homeland embracing their faith, cultures, both Jewish and Gentile, which were hostile to the preaching of the Gospels, other religions which were well-established, the list of disadvantages could go on at considerable length.  We take the victory of Christianity for granted because it happened.  We forget how very improbable such a victory was. Even more improbable is that what began on Palm Sunday, the triumph of Jesus, has continued till today in spite of all challenges that two thousand years of human folly could cast up.  How very peculiar in mortal terms!

Let us give the last word to the patron saint of paradox G. K. Chesterton: Continue Reading

3

Gloria In Profundis

THERE HAS fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all—
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

~G.K. Chesterton

10

October 7, 1571: Battle of Lepanto

 

“The Turks, swollen by their victories, will wish to take on our fleet, and God—I have the pious presentiment—will give us victory. Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness. Go and seek them out!”

Pope Pius V to Don Juan of Austria

 

 

 

On October 7, 1571, four hundred and forty-five years ago, the forces of the Holy League under Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate half brother of Philip II, in an ever-lasting tribute to Italian and Spanish courage and seamanship, smashed the Turkish fleet.  This was the turning point in the centuries-long struggle between the Christian West and the forces of the Ottoman Empire over the Mediterranean.  The Holy League had been the work of Pope Saint Pius V, who miraculously saw the victory in Rome on the day of the battle, and he proclaimed the feast day of Our Lady of Victory to whom he attributed the victory.

For a good overview of the battle of Lepanto read this review by Victor Davis Hanson here of  The Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto by Niccolò Capponi.

Before the battle Don John of Austria went about the ships of his fleet and said this to his crews:  ‘My children, we are here to conquer or die. In death or in victory, you will win immortality.’  The chaplains of the fleet preached sermons on the theme:  “No Heaven For Cowards”.    Many of the men were clutching rosaries just before the battle.  Admiral Andrea Doria went into the fight with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe aboard his ship.  Back in Europe countless Catholics were praying rosaries at the request of Saint Pope Pius V for the success of the Christian fleet.

At the hour of the battle, and this fact is very well attested, the Pope was talking to some cardinals in Rome.  He abruptly ceased the conversation, opened a window and looked heavenward.  He then turned to the cardinals and said:   “It is not now a time to talk any more upon business; but to give thanks to God for the victory he has granted to the arms of the Christians.”  So that Catholics would never forget Lepanto and the intercession of Mary, he instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory.  To aid in this remembrance G. K. Chesterton in 1911 wrote his epic poem Lepanto:

White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Continue Reading

3

Lepanto

I will be doing my usual post on Lepanto on October 7, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity today to post the above video.  Tom Kratman, who does a grand job reading Chesterton’s poem, is a science fiction author and a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army.    In Lepanto Chesterton captured the spirit of Catholicism at its best in this world, a spirit that can never be beaten no matter the forces arrayed against it.

1

Our Mother of Victory

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

One instant in a still light
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was a queen most womanly—
But she was a queen of men.

Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand,
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart—
But one was in her hand.

Then the last charge went blindly,
And all too lost for fear:
The Danes closed round, a roaring ring,
And twenty clubs rose o’er the King,
Four Danes hewed at him, halloing,
And Ogier of the Stone and Sling
Drove at him with a spear.

But the Danes were wild with laughter,
And the great spear swung wide,
The point stuck to a straggling tree,
And either host cried suddenly,
As Alfred leapt aside.

Short time had shaggy Ogier
To pull his lance in line—
He knew King Alfred’s axe on high,
He heard it rushing through the sky,

He cowered beneath it with a cry—
It split him to the spine:
And Alfred sprang over him dead,
And blew the battle sign.

Then bursting all and blasting
Came Christendom like death,
Kicked of such catapults of will,
The staves shiver, the barrels spill,
The waggons waver and crash and kill
The waggoners beneath.

Barriers go backwards, banners rend,
Great shields groan like a gong—
Horses like horns of nightmare
Neigh horribly and long.

Horses ramp high and rock and boil
And break their golden reins,
And slide on carnage clamorously,
Down where the bitter blood doth lie,
Where Ogier went on foot to die,
In the old way of the Danes.

“The high tide!” King Alfred cried.
“The high tide and the turn!
As a tide turns on the tall grey seas,
See how they waver in the trees,
How stray their spears, how knock their knees,
How wild their watchfires burn!

“The Mother of God goes over them,
Walking on wind and flame,
And the storm-cloud drifts from city and dale,
And the White Horse stamps in the White Horse Vale,
And we all shall yet drink Christian ale
In the village of our name.

“The Mother of God goes over them,
On dreadful cherubs borne;
And the psalm is roaring above the rune,
And the Cross goes over the sun and moon,
Endeth the battle of Ethandune
With the blowing of a horn.”

GK Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

4

Triumph of the Cross

In Hoc Signo Vinces

(This is my regular post for Palm Sunday which I repost each year.  Have a happy and blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week.)

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem: BEHOLD THY KING will come to thee, the just and saviour: he is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. 10 And I will destroy the chariot out of Ephraim, and the horse out of Jerusalem, and the bow for war shall be broken: and he shall speak peace to the Gentiles, and his power shall be from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the end of the earth.

Thus did the prophet Zechariah, writing half a millennium before, predict the entry of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  How many such glorious entrances into cities have there been over the ages?  Every civilization I am aware of has such ceremonies, either parades in peace time or entrances of conquest or liberation in war time.  The Romans turned this into an art form with their triumphs, with the reminder of the slave to the imperator of  fleeting human mortality: “Respice post te, hominem memento te”.

Few such triumphs have turned into utter disaster as quickly as that of Jesus:  Jerusalem at His feet on Sunday, and Christ dead on a Roman Cross before the sun had set on Friday.  Small wonder that no contemporary historian or chronicler at the time took note.  However some sort of official report probably was filed after the crucifixion.  Writing circa 116 AD, and relying heavily on official records for his history, in regard to the great fire at Rome under Emperor Nero Tacitus states:

“15.44.2. But, despite kindly influence, despite the leader’s generous handouts, despite appeasing the gods, the scandal did not subside, rather the blaze came to be believed to be an official act. So, in order to quash the rumour, Nero blamed it on, and applied the cruelest punishments to, those sinners, whom ordinary people call Christians, hating them for their shameful behaviour. 15.44.3. The originator of this name, Christ, was sentenced to torture by Procurator Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius, but although checked for a moment, the deadly cult erupted again, not just in Judaea, the source of its evil, but even in Rome, where all the sins and scandals of the world gather and are glorified.”

Tacitus, clearly hostile to the Christians, points his finger at one of the great mysteries of history.  In human terms the Jesus movement was nipped in the bud at its inception.  Yet in less than three centuries the Roman emperor bowed before the cross.  The triumph of Palm Sunday led only to disaster, and the humiliation and death of the cross led to triumph in eternity and here on Earth.

For we Catholics, and for all other Christians, no explanation of this paradoxical outcome is needed.  However there is much here to ponder for non-believers and non-Christians.  In purely human terms the followers of Christ had no chance to accomplish anything:  no powerful supporters, no homeland embracing their faith, cultures, both Jewish and Gentile, which were hostile to the preaching of the Gospels, other religions which were well-established, the list of disadvantages could go on at considerable length.  We take the victory of Christianity for granted because it happened.  We forget how very improbable such a victory was. Even more improbable is that what began on Palm Sunday, the triumph of Jesus, has continued till today in spite of all challenges that two thousand years of human folly could cast up.  How very peculiar in mortal terms!

Let us give the last word to the patron saint of paradox G. K. Chesterton: Continue Reading

6

October 7, 1571: Lepanto

 

On October 7, 1571, four hundred and forty-four years ago, the forces of the Holy League under Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate half brother of Philip II, in an ever-lasting tribute to Italian and Spanish courage and seamanship, smashed the Turkish fleet.  This was the turning point in the centuries-long struggle between the Christian West and the forces of the Ottoman Empire over the Mediterranean.  The Holy League had been the work of Pope Saint Pius V, who miraculously saw the victory in Rome on the day of the battle, and he proclaimed the feast day of Our Lady of Victory to whom he attributed the victory.

For a good overview of the battle of Lepanto read this review by Victor Davis Hanson here of  The Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto by Niccolò Capponi.

Before the battle Don John of Austria went about the ships of his fleet and said this to his crews:  ‘My children, we are here to conquer or die. In death or in victory, you will win immortality.’  The chaplains of the fleet preached sermons on the theme:  “No Heaven For Cowards”.    Many of the men were clutching rosaries just before the battle.  Admiral Andrea Doria went into the fight with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe aboard his ship.  Back in Europe countless Catholics were praying rosaries at the request of Saint Pope Pius V for the success of the Christian fleet.

At the hour of the battle, and this fact is very well attested, the Pope was talking to some cardinals in Rome.  He abruptly ceased the conversation, opened a window and looked heavenward.  He then turned to the cardinals and said:   “It is not now a time to talk any more upon business; but to give thanks to God for the victory he has granted to the arms of the Christians.”  So that Catholics would never forget Lepanto and the intercession of Mary, he instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory.  To aid in this remembrance G. K. Chesterton in 1911 wrote his epic poem Lepanto:

White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Continue Reading

4

Quotes Suitable for Framing: GK Chesterton

War is an ugly thing

 

 

I cannot see how we can literally end War unless we can end Will. I cannot think that war will ever be utterly impossible; and I say so not because I am what these people call a militarist, but rather because I am a revolutionist. Absolutely to forbid fighting is to forbid what our fathers called “the sacred right of insurrection.” Against some decisions no self-respecting men can be prevented from appealing to fortune and to death.

GK Chesterton

Eagle on gravestone

1

August 22: Queenship of Mary

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

One instant in a still light
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was a queen most womanly—
But she was a queen of men.

Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand,
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart—
But one was in her hand.

Then the last charge went blindly,
And all too lost for fear:
The Danes closed round, a roaring ring,
And twenty clubs rose o’er the King,
Four Danes hewed at him, halloing,
And Ogier of the Stone and Sling
Drove at him with a spear.

But the Danes were wild with laughter,
And the great spear swung wide,
The point stuck to a straggling tree,
And either host cried suddenly,
As Alfred leapt aside.

Short time had shaggy Ogier
To pull his lance in line—
He knew King Alfred’s axe on high,
He heard it rushing through the sky,

He cowered beneath it with a cry—
It split him to the spine:
And Alfred sprang over him dead,
And blew the battle sign.

Then bursting all and blasting
Came Christendom like death,
Kicked of such catapults of will,
The staves shiver, the barrels spill,
The waggons waver and crash and kill
The waggoners beneath.

Barriers go backwards, banners rend,
Great shields groan like a gong—
Horses like horns of nightmare
Neigh horribly and long.

Horses ramp high and rock and boil
And break their golden reins,
And slide on carnage clamorously,
Down where the bitter blood doth lie,
Where Ogier went on foot to die,
In the old way of the Danes.

“The high tide!” King Alfred cried.
“The high tide and the turn!
As a tide turns on the tall grey seas,
See how they waver in the trees,
How stray their spears, how knock their knees,
How wild their watchfires burn!

“The Mother of God goes over them,
Walking on wind and flame,
And the storm-cloud drifts from city and dale,
And the White Horse stamps in the White Horse Vale,
And we all shall yet drink Christian ale
In the village of our name.

“The Mother of God goes over them,
On dreadful cherubs borne;
And the psalm is roaring above the rune,
And the Cross goes over the sun and moon,
Endeth the battle of Ethandune
With the blowing of a horn.”

GK Chesterton, Ballad of the White Horse

4

Triumph of the Cross

In Hoc Signo Vinces

 

(This is my regular post for Palm Sunday which I repost each year.  Have a happy and blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week.)

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem: BEHOLD THY KING will come to thee, the just and saviour: he is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. 10 And I will destroy the chariot out of Ephraim, and the horse out of Jerusalem, and the bow for war shall be broken: and he shall speak peace to the Gentiles, and his power shall be from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the end of the earth.

 

Thus did the prophet Zechariah, writing half a millennium before, predict the entry of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  How many such glorious entrances into cities have there been over the ages?  Every civilization I am aware of has such ceremonies, either parades in peace time or entrances of conquest or liberation in war time.  The Romans turned this into an art form with their triumphs, with the reminder of the slave to the imperator of  fleeting human mortality: “Respice post te, hominem memento te”.

Few such triumphs have turned into utter disaster as quickly as that of Jesus:  Jerusalem at His feet on Sunday, and Christ dead on a Roman Cross before the sun had set on Friday.  Small wonder that no contemporary historian or chronicler at the time took note.  However some sort of official report probably was filed after the crucifixion.  Writing circa 116 AD, and relying heavily on official records for his history, in regard to the great fire at Rome under Emperor Nero Tacitus states:

“15.44.2. But, despite kindly influence, despite the leader’s generous handouts, despite appeasing the gods, the scandal did not subside, rather the blaze came to be believed to be an official act. So, in order to quash the rumour, Nero blamed it on, and applied the cruelest punishments to, those sinners, whom ordinary people call Christians, hating them for their shameful behaviour. 15.44.3. The originator of this name, Christ, was sentenced to torture by Procurator Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius, but although checked for a moment, the deadly cult erupted again, not just in Judaea, the source of its evil, but even in Rome, where all the sins and scandals of the world gather and are glorified.”

Tacitus, clearly hostile to the Christians, points his finger at one of the great mysteries of history.  In human terms the Jesus movement was nipped in the bud at its inception.  Yet in less than three centuries the Roman emperor bowed before the cross.  The triumph of Palm Sunday led only to disaster, and the humiliation and death of the cross led to triumph in eternity and here on Earth.

For we Catholics, and for all other Christians, no explanation of this paradoxical outcome is needed.  However there is much here to ponder for non-believers and non-Christians.  In purely human terms the followers of Christ had no chance to accomplish anything:  no powerful supporters, no homeland embracing their faith, cultures, both Jewish and Gentile, which were hostile to the preaching of the Gospels, other religions which were well-established, the list of disadvantages could go on at considerable length.  We take the victory of Christianity for granted because it happened.  We forget how very improbable such a victory was. Even more improbable is that what began on Palm Sunday, the triumph of Jesus, has continued till today in spite of all challenges that two thousand years of human folly could cast up.  How very peculiar in mortal terms!

Let us give the last word to the patron saint of paradox G. K. Chesterton: Continue Reading

4

Lepanto

Our-Lady-of-Victory

 

 

On October 7, 1571 the forces of the Holy League under Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate half brother of Philip II, in an ever-lasting tribute to Italian and Spanish courage and seamanship, smashed the Turkish fleet.  This was the turning point in the centuries-long struggle between the Christian West and the forces of the Ottoman Empire over the Mediterranean.  The Holy League had been the work of Pope Saint Pius V, who miraculously saw the victory in Rome on the day of the battle, and he proclaimed the feast day of Our Lady of Victory to whom he attributed the victory.

For a good overview of the battle of Lepanto read this review by Victor Davis Hanson here of  The Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto by Niccolò Capponi.

Before the battle Don John of Austria went about the ships of his fleet and said this to his crews:  ‘My children, we are here to conquer or die. In death or in victory, you will win immortality.’  The chaplains of the fleet preached sermons on the theme:  “No Heaven For Cowards”.    Many of the men were clutching rosaries just before the battle.  Admiral Andrea Doria went into the fight with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe aboard his ship.  Back in Europe countless Catholics were praying rosaries at the request of Saint Pope Pius V for the success of the Christian fleet.

At the hour of the battle, and this fact is very well attested, the Pope was talking to some cardinals in Rome.  He abruptly ceased the conversation, opened a window and looked heavenward.  He then turned to the cardinals and said:   “It is not now a time to talk any more upon business; but to give thanks to God for the victory he has granted to the arms of the Christians.”  So that Catholics would never forget Lepanto and the intercession of Mary, he instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory.  To aid in this remembrance G. K. Chesterton in 1911 wrote his epic poem Lepanto:

White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun. Continue Reading
2

Queen of Heaven and Queen of Men

The King looked up, and what he saw
          Was a great light like death,
          For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
          As lonely and as innocent
          As when between white walls she went
          And the lilies of Nazareth.

          One instant in a still light
          He saw Our Lady then,
          Her dress was soft as western sky,
          And she was a queen most womanly—
          But she was a queen of men.

          Over the iron forest
          He saw Our Lady stand,
          Her eyes were sad withouten art,
          And seven swords were in her heart—
          But one was in her hand.

GK Chesterton, Ballad of the White Horse

****************************************************

 

And he saw in a little picture,
          Tiny and far away,
          His mother sitting in Egbert’s hall,
          And a book she showed him, very small,
          Where a sapphire Mary sat in stall
          With a golden Christ at play.

          It was wrought in the monk’s slow manner,
          From silver and sanguine shell,
          Where the scenes are little and terrible,
          Keyholes of heaven and hell.

          In the river island of Athelney,
          With the river running past,
          In colours of such simple creed
          All things sprang at him, sun and weed,
          Till the grass grew to be grass indeed
          And the tree was a tree at last.

          Fearfully plain the flowers grew,
          Like the child’s book to read,
          Or like a friend’s face seen in a glass;
          He looked; and there Our Lady was,
          She stood and stroked the tall live grass
          As a man strokes his steed.

          Her face was like an open word
          When brave men speak and choose,
          The very colours of her coat
          Were better than good news.

          She spoke not, nor turned not,
          Nor any sign she cast,
          Only she stood up straight and free,
          Between the flowers in Athelney,
          And the river running past.

          One dim ancestral jewel hung
          On his ruined armour grey,
          He rent and cast it at her feet:
          Where, after centuries, with slow feet,
          Men came from hall and school and street
          And found it where it lay.

          “Mother of God,” the wanderer said,
          “I am but a common king,
          Nor will I ask what saints may ask,
          To see a secret thing.

          “The gates of heaven are fearful gates
          Worse than the gates of hell;
          Not I would break the splendours barred
          Or seek to know the thing they guard,
          Which is too good to tell.

          “But for this earth most pitiful,
          This little land I know,
          If that which is for ever is,
          Or if our hearts shall break with bliss,
          Seeing the stranger go?

          “When our last bow is broken, Queen,
          And our last javelin cast,
          Under some sad, green evening sky,
          Holding a ruined cross on high,
          Under warm westland grass to lie,
          Shall we come home at last?”

          And a voice came human but high up,
          Like a cottage climbed among
          The clouds; or a serf of hut and croft
          That sits by his hovel fire as oft,
          But hears on his old bare roof aloft
          A belfry burst in song.

          “The gates of heaven are lightly locked,
          We do not guard our gain,
          The heaviest hind may easily
          Come silently and suddenly
          Upon me in a lane. Continue Reading

2

GK Chesterton on Pentecost

 

Those who maintain that Christianity was not a Church but a moral movement of idealists have been forced to push the period of its perversion or disappearance further and further back. A bishop of Rome writes claiming authority in the very lifetime of St. John the Evangelist; and it is described as the first papal aggression.  A friend of the Apostles writes of them as men he knew and says they taught him the doctrine of the Sacrament, and Mr. Wells can only murmur that the reaction towards barbaric blood-rites may have happened rather earlier than might be expected. The date of the Fourth Gospel, which at one time was steadily growing later and later, is now steadily growing earlier and earlier; until critics are staggered at the dawning and dreadful possibility that it might be something like what it professes to be. The last limit of an early date for the extinction of true Christianity has probably been found by the latest German professor whose authority is invoked by Dean Inge.  This learned scholar says that Pentecost was the occasion for the first founding of an ecclesiastical, dogmatic, and despotic Church utterly alien to the simple ideals of Jesus of Nazareth.  This may be called, in a popular as well as a learned sense, the limit. What do professors of this kind imagine that men are made of? Suppose it were a matter of any merely human movement, let us say that of the conscientious objectors.  Some say the early Christians were Pacifists; I do not believe it for a moment; but I am quite ready to accept the parallel for the sake of the argument. Tolstoy or some great preacher of peace among peasants has been shot as a mutineer for defying conscription; and a little while afterwards his few followers meet together in an upper room in remembrance of him.  They never had any reason for coming together except that common memory; they are men of many kinds with nothing to bind them, except that the greatest event in all their lives was this tragedy of the teacher of universal peace. They are always repeating his words, revolving his problems, trying to imitate his character.  The Pacifists meet at their Pentecost and are possessed of a sudden ecstasy of enthusiasm and wild rush of the whirlwind of inspiration, in the course of which they proceed to establish universal Conscription, to increase the Navy Estimates, to insist on everybody going about armed to the teeth and on all the frontiers bristling with artillery; the proceedings concluded with the singing of ‘Boys of the Bulldog Breed’ and ‘Don’t let them scrap the British Navy.’  That is something like a fair parallel to the theory of these critics; that the transition from their idea of Jesus to their idea of Catholicism could have been made in the little upper room at Pentecost.  Surely anybody’s commonsense would tell him that enthusiasts who only met through their common enthusiasm for a leader whom they loved, would not instantly rush away to establish everything that he hated.  No, if the ‘ecclesiastical and dogmatic system’ is as old as Pentecost it is as old as Christmas.  If we trace it back to such very early Christians we must trace it back to Christ.

GK Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (1925) Continue Reading

32

Suicide and the Death of Hope

 

The gallows in my garden, people say,

 Is new and neat and adequately tall;

 I tie the noose on in a knowing way

 As one that knots his necktie for a ball;

 But just as all the neighbours–on the wall–

Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”

The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all

 I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay–

My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall–

I see a little cloud all pink and grey–

Perhaps the rector’s mother will not call– I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall

 That mushrooms could be cooked another way–

I never read the works of Juvenal–

I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;

 The decadents decay; the pedants pall;

 And H.G. Wells has found that children play,

 And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,

 Rationalists are growing rational–

And through thick woods one finds a stream astray

 So secret that the very sky seems small–

I think I will not hang myself to-day.

ENVOI

Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,

 The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;

 Even to-day your royal head may fall,

 I think I will not hang myself to-day.

G.K. Chesterton, The Ballad of Suicide

My view on suicide is the traditional one, that absent insanity it is usually the coward’s way out.  Contemporary views on suicide of course would view that attitude as harsh and Neanderthal and usually blame everyone but the suicide for their act of self murder.  I therefore found refreshing this article on suicide by Emily Esfahani Smith, the managing editor of The New Criterion:

The rise in suicide has been accompanied by a loss of the moral questions that once surrounded it. G. K. Chesterton was one of our last full-throated critics of suicide. His insistence that suicide is immoral sounds strange to our individualistic ears: “Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin,” Chesterton wrote: “It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.” Chesterton goes on to say that the act of suicide is selfish: “A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything.” It would be difficult to imagine anyone writing such a polemic today. We do not consider suicide the moral catastrophe that people like Chesterton once thought it was.

Rather, our contemporary culture treats suicide as a medical problem—a “public health concern,” as Joshua Rottman, a psychological researcher, recently told The Atlantic. According to his new research, religious and non-religious people have a moral bias against suicide, and the bias stems from “disgust reactions” they have when confronted with stories of suicide. Committing suicide, people think, taints the soul. To Rottman, this is a problem. These reactions are irrational and, therefore, harmful: “The million-dollar question,” Rottman says, is “how to de-stigmatize suicide as impure.” Continue Reading

5

Lepanto

 

This year on Sunday October 13, 2013, Pope Francis will consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Go here to read all about it.  My parish is gathering together at noon CST on October 13 to pray the rosary at the exact same time that the Pope consecrates the world to the Mother of God.  What better preparation can we have for that wonderful day than to remember today another victory of the Rosary.

On October 7, 1571 the forces of the Holy League under Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate half brother of Philip II, in an ever-lasting tribute to Italian and Spanish courage and seamanship, smashed the Turkish fleet.  This was the turning point in the centuries-long struggle between the Christian West and the forces of the Ottoman Empire over the Mediterranean.  The Holy League had been the work of Pope Saint Pius V, who miraculously saw the victory in Rome on the day of the battle, and he proclaimed the feast day of Our Lady of Victory to whom he attributed the victory.

For a good overview of the battle of Lepanto read this review by Victor Davis Hanson here of  The Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto by Niccolò Capponi.

Before the battle Don John of Austria went about the ships of his fleet and said this to his crews:  ‘My children, we are here to conquer or die. In death or in victory, you will win immortality.’  The chaplains of the fleet preached sermons on the theme:  “No Heaven For Cowards”.    Many of the men were clutching rosaries just before the battle.  Admiral Andrea Doria went into the fight with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe aboard his ship.  Back in Europe countless Catholics were praying rosaries at the request of Saint Pope Pius V for the success of the Christian fleet. Continue Reading

2

GK Chesterton on Lepanto

White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun. Continue Reading
6

History and Legend

Ransom Stoddard: You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?

Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

History tells us that George Washington as a boy did not cut down a cherry tree and, while telling his father about it, assure him that he could not tell a lie.  Saint Francis of Assisi almost certainly did not convert a wolf from his thieving ways and teach him to beg humbly for his  food like a good Franciscan.  Robin Hood did not help King Richard the Lionheart regain his throne from his brother John Lackland.  We know almost nothing about King Arthur and what we think we know about him is certainly almost entirely legend. Continue Reading

19

AP's Article On The Catholic Blogosphere & NPR's Firing Of Juan Williams Are Par For The Course

National Public Radio’s ludicrous firing of Juan Williams and a subsequent mainstream media article on Catholic bloggers may seem to be two separate issues. Some may say what does the overwhelmingly conservative leaning Catholic blogosphere have in common with the liberal leaning Juan Williams? The answer is quite simple; both scare the mainstream media because Juan Williams and the majority of the Catholic blogosphere put forth interesting solutions to often discussed questions.

The modus operadi of some in the mainstream media is to find a couple of unnamed fringe Catholic bloggers, who few read, and then make them become bigger players than they really are. Combine this with a Juan Williams quote which most of America agrees with and voila you have it; the ultimate straw man from which you can tear apart any minority who appears on Fox News or any Catholic blogger who faithfully defends the teachings of the 2,000 year old Catholic Church.

In this Associated Press article on the Catholic blogosphere, the piece mentions Thomas Peters and Michael Voris (who is known for his videos not his blogging,) but focuses on harsh unnamed Catholic bloggers. The article quotes John Allen who calls elements of the Catholic blogosphere “Taliban Catholicism.” The highly respected Mr. Allen, who though working for the dissident leaning National Catholic Reporter, is often known for his many high ranking Church contacts and his fairness. He should have know better than to give the quote that he did. To take a few bloggers from the right (or even from the left) and call them the Catholic blogosphere is the type of journalism that would not pass muster for a high school paper, let alone the AP. This would be akin to taking the worst rated college or pro football team and telling the world this is the best of American football, or perhaps watching the Walla Walla Community theater production of Hamlet and saying this is Hamlet at its finest. John Allen should have realized where this article was going and chosen his words more carefully.

The AP article continues by naming a Church official who seems worried about the Catholic blogosphere. One wonders if the Church official would know the difference between Father John Zuhlsdorf from Father Richard McBrien, Amy Welborn from Aimee Semple McPherson, Mark Shea from Mark Sanford, Rocco Palmo from Rocco Mediate, or Tito Edwards from Tito Santana. I worked for years in a diocesan office and I have yet to meet, even in my travels, a diocesan official who is well versed in the blogosphere. It seems to be a generational thing and most diocesan officials are not to be confused with the younger, more conservative seminarians or young priests being ordained.

While some in the mainstream media snicker at the Pope and Magisterium (the teaching authority of the Catholic Church) they in reality have their own magisterium. In their secular magisterium anyone who believes in the Catholic Church’s authority is hopelessly outdated, because according to gatekeepers in the mainstream media, true thinkers are those in the dying liberal churches who don’t know what they believe. Sadly, GK Chesterton prophetically predicted this would happen. He said, “It’s not that atheists and agnostics believe in nothing, they believe in everything.” In modern parlance, “It’s all good.” How sad that some who proclaim to be “open minded” can’t see the obvious; liberal Christianity is dying on the vine.” Continue Reading