Tuesday, April 11, 2006

With GKC through Holy Week: "grinding power of plain words"

Every attempt to amplify that story has diminished it. The task has been attempted by many men of real genius and eloquence as well as by only too many vulgar sentimentalists and self-conscious rhetoricians. The tale has been retold with patronising pathos by elegant sceptics and with fluent enthusiasm by boisterous best-sellers. It will not be retold here. The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of mill-stones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them. Criticism is only words about words; and of what use are words about such words as these? What is the use of word-painting about the dark garden filled suddenly with torchlight and furious faces? "Are you come out with swords and staves as against a robber? All day I sat in your temple teaching, and you took me not." [cf. Lk 22:52-53] Can anything be added to the massive and gathered restraint of that irony; like a great wave lifted to the sky and refusing to fall? "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me but weep for yourselves and for your children." [cf. Lk 23:28] As the High Priest asked what further need he had of witnesses, [cf. Mk 14:63] we might well ask what further need we have of words. Peter in a panic repudiated him: "and immediately the cock crew, and Jesus looked upon Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly." [cf. Lk 22:61-62] Has any one any further remarks to offer? Just before the murder he prayed for all the murderous race of men, saying, "They know not what they do"; [cf. Lk 23:34] is there anything to say to that, except that we know as little what we say? Is there any need to repeat and spin out the story of how the tragedy trailed up the Via Dolorosa and how they threw him in haphazard with two thieves in one of the ordinary batches of execution; and how in all that horror and howling wilderness of desertion one voice spoke in homage, a startling voice from the very last place where it was looked for, the gibbet of the criminal; and he said to that nameless ruffian, "This night shalt thou be with me in Paradise"? [cf. Lk 23:43] Is there anything to put after that but a full-stop? Or is any one prepared to answer adequately that farewell gesture to all flesh which created for his Mother a new Son? [cf. Jn 19:26]

[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:340-341]


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