Tuesday, December 27, 2011
But this sibyl, whether she is the Erythræan, or, as some rather believe, the Cumæan, in her whole poem, of which this is a very small portion, not only has nothing that can relate to the worship of the false or feigned gods, but rather speaks against them and their worshippers in such a way that we might even think she ought to be reckoned among those who belong to the city of God.... 

 City of God, Book XVIII: Chapter 23, St. Augustine of Hippo

Last week, the snow had at long last fallen on Warszawa, an event that all of us living here had blessed. The very existence of the snowflake--that marvellous miracle of a thing both compacted in a solid state yet expanded in mass--is a sign of the wild generosity of God's indefatigable love. As man grows colder and more steeped in sin, the grace He lets fall on us does not contract into itself, but explodes in the kind of wild abandon that only the maddest love stoops to.

Earlier this month however, indeed all through dusky Advent, we have been blessed with rain. Many have been the eventides when we could lift up our faces to the chill, falling mist and cry out in ecstasy: 'Rorate cæli desuper, et nubes pluant justum!' And that blessed damp put me in mind of a certain prophetess who, though not in the books of Holy Writ, is counted blessed by Tradition:

 Judgment shall moisten the earth with the sweat of its standard,
 Ever enduring, behold the King shall come through the ages,
    Sent to be here in the flesh, and Judge at the last of the world...

Did he who penned the blessed hymn draw inspiration from the prophecy of the Erythræan Sybil? How uncanny is both their mention of the dew, which lay so long of the grass this month, before silvering into frost.

When blessed Simeon took the Christ Child in his arms, he lifted up his face and cried: 

Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared in the sight of every people: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. Luke II: 29-32

There are so many ways to read, 'in the sight of every people', but when one contemplates the Gentile forerunners of the Messiah, one cannot help but think that here the priest was at least in part acknowledging the universal preparation the world had received for the coming of its Saviour.

Such a catholic expectation in the world is for many proof of this anticipation's validity. Yet, the objection of the naysayer assails this bastion as it does all others. The gauntlet hurled here is that the universal wish recorded of so many peoples was merely one of wishful thinking. The Messiah was just the name given by Hebrews to a man who would draw humanity from the miserable depths into which it had fallen, and the certainty that he would be in part a god was a necessary conjecture for the remedy of such a sad state. Concerning the details so eerily resembling the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ, this pat dismissal is often proferred:

The Christ idea is older than the story of Jesus, and the latter was edited and re-edited until it incorporated all the features of the former and so met the requirements of the age. 

Virgil's Prophecy on the Saviour's Birth, Chapter I: The Christ-Ideal and the Golden Age, Paul Carus  (32)

Now such an assertion carries the burden of proof, but the creativity of modern historians does not often never restrict its assertions to those based on positive evidence when it may opine scenarios that confirm the bias of the thinker. As to believers, it is not the inclination of a lover to merely ignore accusations hurled against the beloved, but to eviscerate them. And a true member of Christ's Church is--first and last--His lover.

The first kink in Carus's armour in particular is his inconsistency. On the one hand, he says that the true story of Christ (to which he is somehow privy) has been schewed. Yet, earlier in his work, he not only objected to Christian appropriation of pagan Messianic prophecies, but Judaic ones as well with the claim: 'The Christian interpretation has been superimposed and does violence to the message.' (ibid., 1) Which has been altered then? The prophecy or the fulfillment? On the one hand, the scholar finds the Gospel revelations of Christ's life compelling enough to uphold the catholic Messiah's mantle, and on the other hand he doesn't. 

However, the above point is merely a barb slung against this work in particular, and not the larger argument. Any skeptic may choose one position (violence has been done to the prophecies in applying the Gospels) or the other (violence has been done to the Gospels in applying them to the prophecies) and remain internally consistent.

Carus's first real argument is that rampant warring and weak economies were spread far enough over the ancient world to create a universal longing for a strong leader to save mankind from himself. No inspiration from the Holy Spirit would be required to instill such a wish in the hearts of man. Certain aspects of this Saviour, e.g., that he be divine in some way or even subjected to adversity follow reasonably enough from that. Thus, these aspects of Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, the Sybil's prophecy, or the many fore-tellings of the Old Testament are not sufficient to convince one of their credibility or even to link them to the tale of Jesus Christ.

A fellow student of mine once said in school that if he were to prophesy and give as a token to the people the following sign for his veracity: 'Tomorrow the sun shall rise!' then even the most gullible zealot would lift an eyebrow. For a cult to spring from the seed of prophecy, there must be some sign to indicate that it has been fulfilled. For a cult to achieve the immense success accorded to the might Roman Catholic Church, this sign or signs must have been above reproach in the eyes of many--fierce and dynamic and able to possess the hearts of the fierce and dynamic.

Yet, Carus (and many with him) contest that the Faith which brought forth all the martyrs, crusaders, poets, thinkers, and artists who have etched the mark of Christ into the face of the world forever, need not have come from a very earth-shattering force. This Church was going to happen at that particular phase in history, and it need not have been a Christian one:

Christianity, or a religion such as Christianity, would have originated even if Jesus had never existed...in all essentials, in doctrine as well as in moral ideas, we would have had the same religion. (27)

The ability of a modern to thinker to form such bold projections is staggering. By what rational means could anyone justify saying that the church founded by a Buddha or a 'Brahman Avatar' or a madman from Mecca would be exactly the same in its identity, even down to its moral code? Where is the positive proof of this? Alas, Carus has shown himself again to be rather creative, but not exactly reasonable.

So having erected chimerical, alternate Vaticans alongside the real one, using nothing but the sand of conjecture and imagination, Carus proceeds to dismiss the evidence he does have: human nature and the testimony of the first Christians.

He posits that Jesus of Nazareth was honoured with the laurels of the Christ, where emperors and warriors failed miserably, because he appealed to the sick in His poor life and death, as well as to fanatics like Saul of Tarsus. Human nature would take issue with the first point. The downtrodden do not habitually idolize their fellow downtrodden members simply for sharing their lot. They  either pity them or take advantage of them. Nor do the oppressed do not fall in line with revolutionaries until they are desperate, and if their revolution fails, with the leaders hung ignominiously on gibbets, the effect would be disillusionment, not encouragement.

It would be surprising then that a man who merely comforted the sick and the weak with words should become the leader of the religion 'of women and slaves' unless He had worked miracles amongst them, had indeed cured the blind, sick and, lame brought unto Him. Do Carus, et al., submit that this is a later appendage to the Gospels? How on earth could Jesus Christ have gained enough prominence to be considered for the Messianic role without these signs?

As to the manipulation of zealots who seized upon Christ's story, the moderns here must here accuse them of being deliberately disingenuous. Carus attempts to dismiss without defaming St. Paul in saying that he was honestly self-deluded:

Paul's converion consisted simply in the idea that came upon him like a flash of lightning, that all of his conceptions of Christ could be applied to Jesus, that the majesty of his divine nature was well set forth in his deepest humiliation, his death on the cross... (25)

Carus is ungenerous to St. Luke, in completely dismissing not only the miracle of St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus, but also the evangelist's account of St. Paul's beliefs and characters before his conversion, namely that he had persecuted the faithful, and had even held the coats of St. Stephen's murderers.

Secondly, Carus does great injustice to St. Paul's own account of how he came to believe and to the rationality of every Christian alive. While we have come to adore and even to be sentimental about the kenosis of the Christ--His low birth and dolorous passion--we have not forgotten that it is a paradox:

But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness: But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 
(I Corinthians I: 23-25)

In the sweet, loving depictions of the Nativity, devoted Christians do not forget the difficulties of Our Lady in trying to keep Jesus clean and comfortable in a barn, or the humiliation of St. Joseph in that he could not find a decent place to stay for the two precious ones in his charge. It must have been disconcerting, too, when a band of rough men, perhaps reaking a bit of sheep and spirits, came hammering on the stable door wanting to see the precious Babe.

Compare this with the infant that Virgil himself had in mind, or the emperor that former Magi worshipped. Even Buddha was an earthly prince, and if he was harried, his dignity was never violated. No, in purely human eyes, the life of Jesus Christ, King of the Jews, was as a much a joke as the inscription on the cross.

Then why has Christ conquered in death? And why, even in the tide of materialism and competing idols, does Christmas reign as the most prominent feast of the year? To understand this, one must see not with carnal eyes, but with the eyes of the spirit, like those of the far-sighted Erythræan.

It must be obvious to the faithful that the Virgin had such vision, as she revealed to Venerable Mary of Agreda. In the latter's transcription, The Mystical City of God, Our Lady, on entering the cave of Bethlehem, at once perceived that the hard stones on which she would deliver the Christ reflected the hearts of the city's inhabitants that had not opened to her and St. Joseph, and that the greater the deprivation of this moment, the more glorious favours it would procure throughout the history of mankind. Already our intercessor, she set about cleansing the stable to make it as ready for Our Lord as she could. St. Joseph immediately followed her example.

Later, he took his rest at the entrance of the stable, having gained at last spiritual consolation in the face of their worldly discomfort, while for the Virgin, the veil of this world was brushed aside and she beheld Divinity. Grasping the Incarnation with an understanding beyond our own comprehension, she gave birth with no violence done to her body or virginity. She beheld the first transfiguration of the Lord, and great were the affectionate sentiments that passed betwixt herself and her infant Son, many formerly echoed in the Canticle of Canticles by Solomon. With this intense love, Hope at last came into the world.

Because man is free, because he walks by Faith and not by sight, there will always be room for doubt. The limbs of every skeptical argument may be hacked off, but the trunk shall always remain, ready to generate more. While on this feast we exult in the univeral anticipation of the Messiah, and it but waxes our admiration for the wisdom of God in His predestination of events, this will not silence those who do not wish to believe. Ultimately, the only certainty shall be for those who do not merely hear the prophets' words, but gaze at the horizon to which they gesture. No one shall realized the coming of Christ as the fulfillment of the Erythræan's words, until they see Christ through her eyes.

   ...O God, the believing and faithless alike shall behold You
   Uplifted with saints, when at last the ages are ended...


Thursday, December 8, 2011
A Sororal Warning to Fellow Thomists: This rather anecdotal post delves into matters almost entirely consisting of poetic knowledge, relying on intuition and immediate appeals to common sense often bereft of syllogisms. May produce eye-rolling and groans in many Aristotelians.

This essay was born in September, where so many times in that month, I saw Father Krzysztof mount the steps to the altar in his samite fiddleback, embroidered with a lush depiction of the Immaculate Conception in swirling robes of white and blue. The Scriptural verses which speak of her and the hymns dedicated to her had resounded throughout St. Clement Church, as the congregation admired the intercessor for both the weak and the strong. And even as she intercedes for us, does she not also soften many who claim to hate God? And can we of the West ever deny that devotion to her moulded the chivalry to which the best of its people yet cling? 

However, has that chivalry (whether cultivated in men or expected by women) occasionally gone too far in elevating women in general for the sake of the Virgin Mother? So far that even men of good will have given up the practice? In the rather insipid (but otherwise inoffensive) hymn, 'Gentle Woman,' there is a verse which is apt to make any member of the male 'species' roll his eyes:

Blessed are you among women 
Blessed in turn all women too  

'So estrogen can make you holy?' one priest wrote on his blog concerning that very line. While I agree with him concerning the puffed-up, anti-masculine sentiment the song implies, I winced at his language. Was he reducing womanhood to the hormones and chemicals that govern the characteristics of what it is physically to be female? Whether it is fitting for men to speak of their manhood in such a way is a matter that men must settle, but civilized instinct indicates that just as the reproductive organs of a woman are veiled within her flesh, so should her womanhood be veiled in discourse.

However, the flesh is fallen, and is it not wrong to put a sinful creature on a pedestal? For whether purer than man or not, she is fallen, and eaten up with her peculiar tendencies towards vice. Perhaps attendance at church is mostly made up of women, but when women take control of the liturgy, does it not often give way to hysteria, irreverence, or even spiritual prostitution? Priestesses have always been either possessed virgins or temple harlots, and they had one unifying principle: they were vessels for either gods or demons, not promoters of morality or ethics. More importantly, they were not 'givers of sacred things' as the sacerdotal title would imply. The postmodern, ahistorical attempt to revive paganism only confirms that notion.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore, it would seem that no human being in a yet unbeatified state is to be venerated.

Sed Contra, the Gospels do not encourage us to judge. Christian tradition is to esteem one's self as the lowest of the low, which is really the only logical thing to do, for true self-knowledge will always give us cause for improvement. A traditional Catholic justly possesses the lowest opinion of the practice of taking Holy Communion in the hand, but he may not regard the Catholic who even carelessly drops the Host as less virtuous than he. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta says that one learns humility through humiliation. Elevating others at one's own expense can be a very good practice for cultivating that virtue.

Even Aristotle, who could not have foreseen the paradoxical and supernatural demands of Christian ethics, observed that a man possessed of one vice, must sometimes adopt the practice of the opposite vice in order to rescue himself from his own disposition. Alcoholics must become teatotallers, and those who have too severly abused their sexuality may have to practice celibacy for the duration of their lives. Praxis often entails actions not directly following from our rational code in order to produce the proper balance in the soul. 

Does this argument then justify idealizing the 'fair sex'? Either physically or spiritually? Alas, now one must delve into the mucky world of experience and instances.

I was six years old when watching a film where the heroine was said to be able 'to tread on cobwebs without breaking them.' I was ten years old when I began reading books in which the fair maidens almost universally could laugh 'like a silvery peal of music.' 'Really?' I wondered in genuine puzzlement, 'and I thought one was doing well not to sound like a braying ass when laughing heartily.' At fourteen, I came across a novel where the lady had sweet breath even after eating fish. It was not difficult to find similar hyperbolæ regarding their lovely and irresistible characters. By the time one is a teenager though, such metaphors and descriptions are a bit ridiculuous.

One's feelings towards glorifying the feminine, as in the examples cited above, do serve to steer a girl down the path of either the lady or the feminist, and a boy, down that of the gentleman or just simply, the male. 

I turned abruptly about face from the path of feminism at age thirteen for two reasons: the horrific moral evils the movement promotes, (e.g. abortion) and the fact that the major tenet of feminism is that women ought not to be expected to behave better than men. Females would no longer be martyrs in the home, and they would certainly not provide men with the example of spiritual submission, as St. Paul instructed them to. A wife to act as her husband's gentle counsellor? His conscience? No, indeed! 

I will feel equality has arrived when we can elect to office women who are as incompetent as some of the men who are already there. _Maureen Reagan

Only the modern era could produce a movement that would proudly espouse practical and moral evils as the fruits of its labours. No, a woman often does better in the role of Pontius Pilate's wife than that of Pilate himself.

Not to throw an ad hominem spear in the direction of feminists, but it seems all too often that they never learned to gently laugh at some of those poetic exagerrations mentioned above or to appreciate their sisters to whom these sayings were applied. Bitterness that one has not been worshipped as those women were worshipped is not good ground for any kind of ideology. There is a much better route to take.

Charles Dickens noted that there is a moral beauty which 'only exists in woman': that she is capable of loving in another that which she herself has never possessed. Women who dote on their lovelier, more talented, or more virtuous friends and sisters are examples of this. That affectionate, selfless virtue contra the vice of misogynistic, female envy are the two forces that form the feminine dichotomy between those who love the old notions of exalted womanhood and those who hate it.

And what of men who refuse to put women on a pedestal? As with feminists, there is occasionally an element of anger, though it might just as often arise from indifference. 

Concerning anger, it is not seemly in a man to growl on hearing a woman being praised, and anyone bearing witness to this rancour would immediately assume one of two causes: disappointment in love or overbearing women in his family. Neither of these are worthy things on which to base one's conduct.

As to indifference in men? That is another thing, especially concerning Eros, when one accepts the tenet that only what is truly known is truly loved. Ergo, 'love is blind' is patently false. A lady professor of mine once made the case that Shakespeare's sonnet, 130, in which he rather degrades the form and demeanour of his mistress, was a beautiful expression of realistic love. 

Yet, there was not one female or male in the class bereft of an arched eyebrow. While indeed it would be folly for the Bard to have painted 'roses damask'd' in his lover's cheeks when there were none, the subjectivity of love should have moved him to like her face as it was. Have not men who had always loved sapphire eyes turned their preference to emerald orbs on falling in love with a green-eyed woman?

Leaving aside romance however, perhaps indifference is more justified on the rational scale? After all, one cannot and should not be as devoted to all people as one is to one's spouse. Why should a man rise from his chair, because a skirted creature entered the room or kiss a hand because the owner is female? Why should he curb his language or speak more delicately just because a woman is in earshot? Why is she due any of his particular homage simply because she is the daughter of that first one who was made from a rib?

The answer is that (as science has even proven and continues to prove) the differences between men and women are indeed as psychically entrenched as they are physically. Placing the two genders in the natural world, without the artificial constructions of the postmodern order, woman is still a remarkable thing. She may not be as strong as man, but she is built to endure more, both in stamina of labour and in pain. She is eminently practical and useful, and in beayty, she is the climax of the symphony of Creation. Woman is the last thing God made, and He made her from the best of matter--the flesh and bone of a rational creature. 

Moving the argument again into the civilized realm where her beauty initially inspires poetry of the giddiest (and perhaps silliest) order, woman must also take up the more mundane duties of the home: 

It takes a woman all powdered and pink 
To joyously clean out the drain in the sink 
And it takes an angel with long golden lashes 
And soft dresden fingers 
For dumping the ashes... (Hello Dolly)

There is another paradox in woman that while she may inspire abstract ideals, she is often more fond of what is concrete. At least until some modernist gets a hold of her, women are more realistic than men:

Women are the only realists; their whole object in life is to pit their realism against the extravagant, excessive, and occasionally drunken idealism of men. _G. K. Chesterton

To inspire idealism and to ground the world in realism. What better alloy could there be in the metal of any creature?

It is in such an attitude as Chesterton's, romantic rationality, that allows one to see things in truth. To see something 'in truth' is farther than the seeming 'reality' of how it is and nearer than the chimeric ideal of how it ought to be. Balancing on the slender thread of this paradox allows one to pass over the offenses of a coarse, shrewish woman and treat every female as if she were a lady--to see Dulcinea in even the coarsest concierge. 

When a man moulds his thoughts and acts in this way, he works for the defeat of extreme feminism. For he renders unto women the appreciation they are not allowed to seek. The trials and sufferings of womanhood can only find their glory in silence. Whereas men are allowed to exalt in their victories, and society pays public homage to their entrance into manhood, a girl who takes up the burdens of womanhood must discreetly pass over the details. The male sex must take the female rite of passage for granted. If it does not, the postmodern era has shown us that women who are indignant enough will degrade themselves and their sisters by dragging womanliness and all its secrets into the public eye.

Such is the necessity of chivalry in man. In woman, it cultivates the attitude that will not only lead her towards striving for sainthood, but to secure the same for the men about her. When she says, 'I must act in this way, because it is the proper sphere of my sex. I must do this humble thing, because it is not a man's province. I must bear this suffering quietly because of Eve's curse. I must bend, because I am woman, and the Lord has asked this of me,' she steps on the head of the serpent that lured our first mother from her throne.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
I sing of a maiden
     That is makeles;
King of all kings
     To her Son she ches.

He came all so still
     Where His mother was,
As dew in April
     That falleth on the grass.

He came all so still
     To His Mother's bower,
As dew in April
     That falleth on the flower.

He came all so still
     There His mother lay,
As dew in April
     That falleth on the spray.

Mother and maiden
     Was never none but she;
Well may such a lady
     Goddes mother be.

(06). Mediaeval Baebes - I Sing Of A Maiden

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Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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