Saturday, October 1, 2011
Dum praeliarétur Míchael Archángelus cum dracóne, audíta est vox dicéntium: Salus Deo nostro. Allelúia.

      There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone...for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened, they came to deeper understanding, increased in unison and harmony.
      And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed... 
      Then Ilúvatar said to them: 'Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts, and devices, if he will. But I will sit and heaken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song...'
       Now the Children of Ilúvatar are Elves and Men...And amid all the splendours of the World, its vast halls and spaces...Ilúvatar chose a place for their habitation in the Deeps of Time and in the midst of the innumerable stars. And this habitation might seem a little thing to those who consider only the majesty of the Ainur, and not their terrible sharpness...But when the Ainur had beheld this habitation in a vision and had seen the Children of Ilúvatar arise therin, then many of the most mighty among them bent all their thought and their desire towards that place...And of these Melkor was the chief, even as he was in the beginning the greatest of the Ainur...And he feigned...that he desired to go thither and order all things for the good of the Children of Ilúvatar...But he desired rather to subdue to his will both Elves and be a master over other wills.
      But Manwë was the brother of Melkor in the mind of Ilúvatar, and he was the chief instrument of the second theme that Ilúvatar had raised up against the discord of Melkor...And Manwë said unto Melkor: 'This kingdom thou shalt not take for thine own, wrongfully, for many others have laboured here no less than thou.'
J.R.R. Tolkien, Silmarillon: Ainulindalë

Was Tolkien--whilst uttering the truth of a creed that is several millennia old--correct about the interest that non-material beings take in the affairs of man?

Seventeen years ago, after waking from a dream with eyes moistened in feverish distress, I could not go back to sleep. I thought of waking up someone to talk to, but my sisters sleeping peacefully in the other beds beside me would not have understood my troubles. I thought of Momma and Daddy, but I was the only child in my family that had never returned to my parents' bed after physically outgrowing it. What a strange thing it would be to go back to them at ten years of age. So I lay, clutching the quilt and looking up through the cracks of the blinds covering the window by my bed. The moon was peering down at me, looking very much like a reaper's sickle. 

I began pondering whether the Grim Reaper was holy or evil. Though I perceived his duty as morbid, was he not merely a servant? When Scrooge had pleaded with the frightening spectre of Christmas Future, he had said: 'Good Spirit, your nature intercedes for me and pities me...'

Does it? I asked the moon. I thought of the dream again. Earlier that day I had been watching a science programme, likely merely to enjoy the beautiful images of space they afforded. However, I had listened to the staid, learned men on the show as well, and their talk of black holes had made its mark. This final stage of a star's life impressed upon me so vividly, that that night I dreamt I had been floated within and without the cosmos, hand in hand with some being (at first, I thought my guardian angel), that took me to the event horizon of a dead star that was slowly swallowing up the universe into its compressed nothingness. 

I had tried to look away, but the guide clamped its hand about my jaw and forced me to stare as everything spindled comically into the black hole. To see such once majestic things as stars and planets stretched to resemble a wet, flopping noodle made the image more repugnant. The creature with me, who had grown morally ambiguous, did not speak. I did not know if it enjoyed the display or not. There was no voice at all, but if the emotions pressing upon me from the void had been vocalized, they would have run thus: 

...never more to wake on stony bed, 
never, till the Sun fails and the Moon is dead. 
In the black wind the stars shall die... 

'Ah, no!' I at last said tearfully, and turned away. I felt myself in bed again, real tears in my eyes and with the consciousness that I had spoken aloud.  

As I lay fretting, staring at the indigo of space through the pale blinds and the black lace of tree branches, I thought of the factual scientists so indifferently propounding on these scenarios. They were wrong. Whatever was wise or erudite about the sages speaking on such matters, they had no right to be calm in the face of the destruction of things that were. In spite of their ambitions, they ought to have known they could never reduce existence to the amoral system of rules that had no greater interest in men than in the barbs of a sparrow's wing. 

Let the empirical scientists be content with their theories reigning 'for the most part', for they shall never obtain the dominion of 'always.' That is a leap of intuition, yes, but one that most of the world have made. The reason is simple: there can be no evil actions without an actor, and the presence of so much evil in the world--moral and physical--demands the existence of agents, for only creatures with volition are not bound absolutely by laws. Hence, there will never be a science of their deeds. Any attempt at such a discipline would itself be superstition.

Now superstition in the literal sense is never wrong. It is but 'standing over a thing in awe and amazement.' Even if the premise of scientism--that all can be reduced to an inanimate, empirical cause--were correct, the mind of man will likely never achieve that exalted state of knowledge. Dana Scully may say, 'Nothing happens in contradiction to nature, only in contradiction to what we know of it,' but that is a statement of faith, not reason, and even if it is true, it is not true simply. The sage and the peasant both do many things in a certain only because those methods have worked in the past. There need not be any rational synthesis to justify their procedures. They stand in awe of the forces of the created world and often find themselves more likely to rely on precedent than pure logic. 

And David consulted the Lord: Shall I go up against the Philistines, and wilt thou deliver them into my hands? He answered: Go not up against them, but fetch a compass behind them, and thou shalt come upon them over against the pear trees. And when thou shalt hear the sound of one going in the tops of the pear trees, then shalt thou join battle ( II Samuel V:23-24)

The above is but one of many instances where a spiritual agent acts upon the material order, in this case, after God's own design. It is almost maddening if one concedes that angels are (based upon the teachings of the Church Fathers) the direct operators of the universe. That must be why men most directly exposed to the physical elements--e.g., sailors and farmers--are often so superstitious. Long acquaintance with mysterious cause and devastating effect has served to humble them rather than puff them up. Their empirical experience has also occasionally shown them that things may behave not merely unpredictably, but even contrary to natural laws.

Here the learned may shake their heads. Why is men so anthropocentric? Why would beings of such incredible understanding and power be so engrossed with the affairs of one world? With the actions of fragile, fallibe creatures that eat, sweat, and defecate? It seems beneath their dignity, as if they were like those bored Greek gods that could not even let the Achaeans, Argives, and Danaans have a footrace on the plains of Ilium without interfering.

However, the learned who espouse such a view seem not to have noticed they are asking a question regarding motive. They ignore the fact that motives belong only to individuals and they may be enmeshed with all sorts of forces outside the realm of logic: 'The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.'

Have we, as children of men, not stood on peaked mountain balds, inhaling the rarefied air around us until we were giddy with its thinness? Or have we not gazed with heartbreak on radiant sunsets illuminating slender lunar crescents? Have we not occasionally wandered from the common path of the forest into a mossy glen embued with a fae mist? Whatever form the natural raptures we have known took, we have had them. And what did we want in those places of such transcendent splendour? Did we not want the wind, the peaks, the sun, the colours, or even the moss to speak to us? To feel some return of our love from the beloved object? What would have delighted us more than if a nymph or god were to arise from the essence of these things and offer us some acknowledgement? Aye, as beautiful as inanimate things are, sentient things shall always be best. 

Angels know that even better than we do, and are less likely to prefer a mountain to man for its bulk than man is himself:

...And this habitation might seem a little thing to those who consider only the majesty of the Ainur, and not their terrible sharpness...
Or as Chesterton put it: 'One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.' The will of the stupidest, shallowest human being is more interesting than the wheel of the universe.

It should not surprise us then how the Church has taught us to approach the Prince of the Heavenly Host, as our tender guardian, rather than a demanding sergeant frowning on our material limitations. In the Old Rite, his name comes third in the Public Confession. At the end of Mass, his prayer immediately follows Our Lady's. His dominion holds over clement hospitals as well as militant hosts. Why?

Angels, we must remember, are individuated according to function. What is their function? Their intellectual grasp of God, whether it is employed to praise or to blaspheme. When the mighty seraphim, the Bearer of Light, set himself up as equal to God, the first being to denounce this outrageous pride was the one defined by his humility and awe. He was the seraphim who rose up and, naming himself, thundered: 

'Mi ke El?' 
Who is like God?

That is his thought; that is his being. It is only reasonable that this eternal person takes the greatest interest in how his battle against Satan plays out in temporal affairs, and being so humble, will not scorn the war on any scale. He shall certainly not remain inactive where his nemesis is prowling. 

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto prćsídium. Ímperet ílli Déus, súpplices deprecámur: tuque, prínceps milítić cɶléstis, Sátanam aliósque spíritus malígnos, qui ad perditiónem animárum pervagántur in múndo, divína virtúte, in inférnum detrúde. 


Jacobitess said...

Dear St. Michael! It is a good thing he is outside time, because this post is hideously late for his feastday! :(

Anonymous said...

Scientists like to use words which don't explain anything, like evolution or Big Bang. Mother Angelica commented once that if there was a Big Bang, there had to be something to bang.

Jacobitess said...

Ah, that sounds like the sort of spritey, wise thing she would say! :)

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