Words

Life

Category: G.K. Chesterton

T’was lovely

by Andrea Elizabeth

I just closed the tabs related to our trip, such as, what is the distance between Edinburgh and Glasgow? Where is the Bronte Parsonage Museum? Such sadness to be leaving Britain behind. I’m slowly unpacking and reorganizing my new closet that George shelved up for me while I was gone. Is it that my grand adventure is over, or would I rather live there? The proximity to the stomping grounds of my favourite authors, the heavenly sheep dotted country side, the simple, but eminently satisfying tea and scones, the original Victorian woodwork in the pubs, the modest, cozy tidiness of it all?

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Wales

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Cemetery by the Bronte parsonage. They are buried under the Church, however.

Pride and Pessimists

by Andrea Elizabeth

The third thing I underlined in The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton was this provocative statement, which my first response was to agree with, but George had a pretty good argument otherwise,

Syme strolled with her to a seat in the corner of the garden, and continued to pour out his opinions. For he was a sincere man and in spite of his superficial airs and graces, at root a humble one. And it is always the humble man who talks too much; the proud man who watches himself too closely.

The fourth thing was,

‘You have evidently not heard of the latest development in our police system,’ replied the other. ‘I am not surprised at it. We are keeping it rather dark from the educated class, because that class contains most of our enemies.

[…] one of the most celebrated detectives in Europe, has long been of the opinion that a purely intellectual conspiracy would soon threaten the very existence of civilization. He is certain that the scientific and artistic worlds are silently bound in a crusade against the Family and the State.

[…] The ordinary detective goes to pot-houses to arrest thieves; we go to artistic tea-parties to detect pessimists.’

The next twist about how criminals really respect property and human life, especially their own, but that the modern philosopher hates life and things is pretty interesting.

Chesterton’s View of Women

by Andrea Elizabeth

The first thing I underlined in The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton was in the opening discussion between the two orators regarding the merits of chaos vs. order. I thought he did a pretty good job of dispelling the attractiveness of unpredictability and in promoting the magical quality of consistency. A person can magically make Victoria Station appear just by getting on the train slated for that destination. It’s a miracle. An argument for liturgy instead of spontaneous worship could also probably be made.

The second thing I underlined was, “She was looking at him from under level brows; her face was grave and open, and there had fallen upon it the shadow of that unreasoning responsibility which is at the bottom of the most frivolous woman, the maternal watch which is as old as the world.” (Of course as was brought out two posts ago, Chesterton may not actually believe this, but then I would feel like he’s playing games.) I have a very mixed reaction to this. The stereotypical words, ‘unreasoning and frivolous’, make me quite defensive. If this is a broadly true characterization, it makes me wonder if some imposed as well as self-fulfilling prophecies are at work. ‘Maternal responsibility’ may be a more intrinsic characterization. Much has been said about the need of mothers to let go of their children at a certain age and capability. The need for this advice implies that women are loathe to do so. If I did not have so many kids I may be loather, but I’m tired, so I hope they make their way swiftly and well, and independently. I also feel very keenly the need to do my job well in the 20 or so years per child I have to do it so that they will be equipped to leave the nest.

Much has also been said critically about marriage relationship where the woman mothers the husband, and the phenomenon of immature men in our society. The DVD Demographic Winter talks about this trend of men choosing video games and other playful activities over mature relationships with women. They say this has lead to the ominous population decline. (See also Archbishop Lazars warning that with current fertility rates, the world will soon be taken over by Muslims.) I think women really don’t want to have to mother men and for that reason are increasingly choosing to live alone without husband or children, if Demographic Winter‘s statistics are to be believed. If women are to be defined as predominantly maternal, why aren’t men characterized as predominantly paternal? I think it is believed that men have more compartmentalized lives. They are not as typically absorbed in child-rearing as women are. And patriarchal societies, which have become out of vogue, are seen to be despotic, tyranical and abusive; and the women mindless and childlike.

I think women want more of a partnership. Not to be the boss, though with immature men they will assume this role and become cranky, because we are not meant to bear the burden of responsibility for the family alone. I don’t think men are either.

So is the answer that both men and women can compartmentalize their parental “sides” with their career, entertainment and social sides equally? Taking turns as it were? I don’t think so. I think kids should come first to both parents and all else becomes gravy that may perhaps be squeezed in, God-willing, only after the kids are taken care of, which really doesn’t leave that much time during the child-rearing years. If people will just commit themselves to not having a life for this period of time, then maybe they will be able to rest upon retirement. Otherwise they will end up also raising their grandchildren, or will have no grandchildren at all. We have to make a choice. No one can have it all.

John Scottus Eriugena

by Andrea Elizabeth

A while back Photios Jones on Energetic Procession recommended Deirdre Carabine’s book on the medieval Irish philosopher and theologian, John Scottus Eriugena, who, according to the back cover, “is known as the interpreter of Greek thought to the Latin West.” Commenter Rick recently resurrected my interest in reading this book with his valuable contribution to this post On Reading Plato. My hackles were raised a tiny bit on referring to the Greek theologians mentioned as “NeoPlatonists”, and I gave a rather unstudied, but nevertheless true defense against this appellation. But I find my mind not wanting to take its customary break after determinedly pushing through my resistance to reading an entire book. Dostoevsky makes reading and thinking fun, so I may just keep my momentum going by picking up this 111 page book before returning to Father Seraphim Rose’s longer, if only it had been so in years, Life.

Now I find this NeoPlatonist name-calling in the forward to the book on Eriugena,

Little is known about the life of the subject of the present volume, the ninth-century Irishman John Scotus Eriugena. But his significance as a thinker is now commonly acknowledged by all serious medievalists. Translator, exegete, theologian, and philosopher, Eriugena is one of the greatest of Christian Neoplatonists. Along with figures like Maimonides (1135-1204) and Aquinas (c.1225-74), he is also one of the most distinguished practitioners of negative theology – the attempt to safeguard the transcendence of God by stressing the limits of human understanding, by reminding us of what God cannot be. In this respect he resembles some of the authors who clearly had an impact on him, writers like St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Dionysius the Areopagite (c.500), Gregory of Nyssa (c.330-c.395), and Maximus the Confessor (c.580-662).

Since negative, or apophatic, theology is brought up, in light of my observation a few posts back on Dostoevsky’s chapter on the Devil, which does not negate “reason”, I’ve been meaning to post a quote from G.K. Chesterton found in the Father Brown Mystery, The Blue Cross.

But no more innocently clerical conversation could have been heard in any white Italian cloister or black Spanish cathedral.

The first he heard was the tail of one of Father Brown’s sentences, which ended: “… what they really meant in the Middle Ages by the heavens being incorruptible.”

The taller priest nodded his bowed head and said:

“Ah, yes, these modern infidels appeal to their reason; but who can look at those millions of worlds and not feel that there may well be wonderful universes above us where reason is utterly unreasonable?”

“No,” said the other priest; “reason is always reasonable, even in the last limbo, in the lost borderland of things. I know that people charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God himself is bound by reason.”

The other priest raised his austere face to the spangled sky and said:

“Yet who knows if in that infinite universe–?”

“Only infinite physically,” said the little priest, turning sharply in his seat, “not infinite in the sense of escaping from the laws of truth.”

[… Later Flambeau asks how he knew he wasn’t a priest,]

“How in blazes do you know all these horrors?” cried Flambeau.

The shadow of a smile crossed the round, simple face of his clerical opponent.

“Oh, by being a celibate simpleton, I suppose,” he said. “Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil? But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren’t a priest.”

“What?” asked the thief, almost gaping.

“You attacked reason,” said Father Brown. “It’s bad theology.”

Not long ago, when I first read this, I thought it went along with the accusation that the western theological tradition wrongly elevates reason or reasonableness as the highest test of true theology. The Saints listed above emphasized negative theology, that God’s ways are higher than man’s ways, and it appears are thus termed, Neoplatonists. So when Dostoevsky seems to applaud reason, not that he goes all the way to being dogmatic about its conclusions, perhaps he demonstrates a way to redeem reason by practicing it on a transcendent level. This would combat any promotion of randomness or chaos, which on second thought is what Flambeau may have been espousing and Father Brown defending against. So I’ll give the western Mr. Chesterton a second chance too.

Father Seraphim Rose, Dickens, Chesterton, Belloc, and Lewis

by Andrea Elizabeth

I still haven’t finished That Hideous Strength, but I’m getting excited about what I want to pick up next.

Namely, my copy of Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works has been calling me, and then, or simultaneously, I think I’ll try David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens for two reasons. I have previously not been able to clear the hurdle to read Dickens after seeing the 40’s movie of DC, which was heavy on the emotional angst and exaggerated caricature side. How could it not be with W.C. Fields? Plus the assignment of Great Expectations in High School yielded mixed reviews. I don’t mind the wordiness so much as how depressing it was. I don’t remember that much of Dickens’ style, but for some reason I was more motivated to read other 19th C writers, probably because the romances were more satisfying. Dickens’ characters seemed in even gloomier circumstances with not as much emotional relief. On to my reasons why I do want to read him, which actually may be three in number. Or more. When I was converting to Orthodoxy, I read that an Athonite monk recommended David Copperfield to a novice for basic Christian teaching. That started my warming to the idea. But more recently, since having the occasion to spend a couple of hours at a stretch driving my son to college when George doesn’t go in to his office, I have been in the mood to hear words instead of songs. This is the circumstance for my listening to the podcasts I’ve mentioned in posts previous. At home I don’t listen to my pod for some reason. Wednesday I happened to think of listening to David Copperfield which is available for free on iTunes from Librivox. The guy who read chapter one, “I Was Born”, was pretty good, but chapter two’s lady, though possessing an interesting Cockneyish accent, read groups. of three words. at a time. in the exact. same. way. But still, Dickens’s humor, wit and charm show through, unlike in the movie.

The last (maybe, maybe not) reason is more convoluted. A few weeks back, on “Second Terrace” there was a post on Chesterbelloc. At the time, I wondered, which I don’t think was explained, if this word in the title was a combination of G.K. Chesteron’s (whom I woefully also haven’t read, and who was influential in C.S. Lewis’ conversion) name and someone else’s. But I shelved my curiosity in the back of my head. Then yesterday and this morning, my About.com daily classic poem email sent me a couple by Hilaire Belloc called “The Big Baboon”,

The Big Baboon is found upon
The plains of Cariboo:
He goes about with nothing on
(A shocking thing to do).

But if he dressed up respectably
And let his whiskers grow,
How like this Big Baboon would be
To Mister So-and-so!

and “The Birds”,

When Jesus Christ was four years old
The angels brought Him toys of gold,
Which no man ever had bought or sold.

And yet with these He would not play.
He made Him small fowl out of clay,
And blessed them till they flew away:
Tu creasti Domine

Jesus Christ, Thou child so wise,
Bless mine hands and fill mine eyes,
And bring my soul to Paradise.

Eureka! The other half of the combined Chesterbelloc! So I googled that combo to find the relation, and read this fine article about the two artists. This is the last paragraph,

Chesterton said that the world of Charles Dickens was the best of all impossible worlds, and something similar is often thought of his. After all, he was an optimist, he wrote a rollicking prose that often runs away from sense to become a music that mystifies and delights. He can seem so innocent, almost prelapsarian. I suspect that this is one of his greatest accomplishments.

All this (the truly last reason) is under the unfolding umbrella of the nature of this blog, which I’m seeing as being an inquiry into what to do with one’s western roots when becoming Eastern Orthodox. I currently say, make them proud.