Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chesterton, Mary and St. Paul???

Today marks the third of the nine weeks of our studies of Mary's Divine Pregnancy, as we follow the Life of Our Lord through Chesterton's writings.

I had a chore this morning and was able to devote a long time in meditation upon the matter. I garnered some interesting insights, but it is doubtful how I can reduce them to words... at least I can write something about them, and some of them may be of utility. They arose from my hope to bring St. Paul into the picture - which must sound very strange. It is likely that Saul of Tarsus did not exist at the time when Mary visited Elizabeth and assisted her.

(An aside: Even great Church Fathers debated on whether Mary was there for the birth of John the Baptist, though my own belief is that she was there. it is the simplest explanation for our possession of the Canticle of Zacharias, the Benedictus, chanted in the hinge-hour of the Morning Office. But let us return to St. Paul.)

It is not my own idea about St. Paul, though perhaps I am expressing it in a bolder sense than others have. I seem to recall reading something in a book by Dom John Chapman, (whose works were brought to my awareness by Fr. Jaki) or maybe it was Fr. Giuseppe Ricciotti, most of whose splendid works I have read. In particular there is one on St. Paul and another on that book of the Bible, the sequel to the Gospels, which we usually call "Acts" - though he points out the original Greek title omits both articles, so we ought to call it "Acts of Apostles". Hm. It must be there, unless it was in his Life of Christ. But the idea is very simple. We all know there are four Gospels: those according to Matthew, to Mark, to Luke, and to John. We also know (if we are attentive) that only two of those are Apostles: Matthew (also called Levi) and John; the others were at most disciples. But they were very special ones, acting rather like Watson for Holmes: Mark was the sidekick secretary to St. Peter, and Luke served St. Paul in the same way. And that is very clear if you read that book called "Acts", which suddenly changes from a third-person narrative to "we did this" and "we sailed there" and so forth - and the we can be no other than the author Luke and St. Paul. Now, since the gospel of Luke is merely a record of that which was preached by his primary, we are led (kicking and screaming, perhaps!) to the conclusion that we owe the Gospel stories for the first three Joyful mysteries - the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Nativity - to St. Paul.

Now what does any of that have to do with Chesterton?

It is rather simple. Speaking as a mere layman, a tech and a scientist - but also as a story-writer, and a reader of GKC, I have a distinct impression of St. Paul as what we would now call a Media Personage. Maybe not quite an anchorman, or a editorial columnist, or a talk-radio host... but a Publisher, a Broadcaster: one who would boldy go into the Areopagus and be "in your face" with his listening audience - willing (indeed!) even to quote their own material back at them.

Oh yes; maybe you didn't know? That trick where Scholastics like Aquinas quoted their opponents, Chesterton quoting Shaw or Benedict XVI quoting Nietzsche - that's quite Biblical. St. Paul quoted Pagan authors to the Pagans. See Acts 17:28 where St. Paul quotes a poem on Minosses (written by Epimenides of Crete in the sixth scentury BC) and Phenomena of Aratus and Hymn to Jupiter of Cleanthes, poets of the third century BC. [See Ricciotti, Acts of the Apostles 276]

The evidence I might assemble is vast, and I do not have the time today to give you anything but a hint of how the argument proceeds. It takes the famous "Analogy of the Body" from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1Cor12, argued also in Romans 12) and see this as paralleling Chesterton's mighty (and as yet unstudied) Mystical Anthropology: the true study of Homo cadens, Man the Fallen:
Man is a contradiction in terms; he is a beast whose superiority to other beasts consists in having fallen.
[GKC The Ball and the Cross, chapter 1]
But thereare two other Pauline texts which fit together and "close" (as the mathematicians say) the set: the two which speak of the mystery of Christ's incarnation. The one - ah so tiny and so precious, the single sapphire gleaming among his rubies, the humble voice heard, not as Luke recorded his fervent preaching, but as Paul himself wrote to the Galatians:
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman... [Gal 4:4]
And why does Paul remind us of this? It is quitelike Dickens, reminding us at the beginning of his Christmas Carol that Marley was dead. For if, as Paul told the Corinthians, he would speak of nothing but Christ and Him crucified, there cannot be a body to crucify unless He first took a body unto Himself:
[Jesus Christ] Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. [Phil 2:6-8]
It is here, as we see St. Paul kneeling (as I envision him) by Mary, listening to her tell these three priceless stories, that we can understand his fire for Christ and Him crucified. Just as there cannot be an empty tomb without Calvary, there can be no Calvary unless there was first a Bethlehem - and that fiat in Nazareth.

No; I have not lost sight of Chesterton in my rambles through the New Testament - but remember I am seeing a harmony here, not a dissonance. I will leave you with something from one of Chesterton's ILN essays which may help illuminate the matter; it is another one of those immense surprises which joins many topics and yet is still really addressing the only One that matters - er - I should say, the only One Who matters. "You cannot evade the issue of God; whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him." [GKC Daily News Dec 12 1903 quoted in Maycock, The Man Who Was Orthodox] But that was an aside. Here is the excerpt:
Everybody knows that a new school of sceptics has recently appeared, especially in America; they call themselves the Behaviorists, and Mr. Harvey Wickham calls them the Misbehaviorists. So far as I can understand, their philosophy is rooted in a theory of physiology: the theory that thought is originally a sort of movement of the body rather than the brain. "There is nothing in the brain," I think one of them has written, "except a lot of neurons. We do not think with our minds. We think with our muscles." Those of us, that is, who are so old-fashioned as to think at all; for we have all seen vigorous representatives of the rising generation who suppose that everything can be done with the muscles, and whom nobody, not even a psychologist of the far-off nineteenth century, would accuse of merely using their minds. I am not especially concerned with the truth or falsehood of this fancy. While it is flourished, like the majority of such fancies, with a vague defiance directed towards orthodoxy or tradition, it really has no sort of importance for them. It is an excellent example of the rule about nearly all such new notions that are valued as new negations. The new scientific theory never does really deny the old religious theory. What it does do is to deny - or, rather, destroy - the old scientific theory. And it was precisely in the name of that old theory that religion was once to have been destroyed. The heretics never attack orthodoxy; the heretics only avenge orthodoxy on each other.

It does not matter to any Christian whether God has made a man to think with his brains or his big toe. But it did matter very much to the recent type of Materialist that a man could only think with his brains. He was perpetually basing all sorts of destructive arguments on an analysis of what he called the convolutions and the "matter" in the brain. He was as devoted as M. Hercule Poirot to The Little Grey Cells; but, alas! with far less brilliant and entertaining results. All that the Behaviorist does is, in every sense, to dash out the brains of the old Materialist. There is no question of his touching the soul, even the soul of an old Materialist, for that escapes him as completely as it does every other kind of material analysis, including that of the old Materialist himself. What he abolishes is not the soul, but the cells on which his predecessor depended for the denial of the soul. If ever we do really come to talk about a brilliant idea flashing through our biceps, or a curious and original theory creeping up the calf of our leg, it may sound to some a little funny, or even fantastic. It will not make the slightest difference to those who believe that God made an invisible spirit as part of an invisible order. But it will make nonsense of pages and pages of recent realistic literature, in which the crumbling grey matter proved that nothing but death awaited even the primary form of mind, or in which the soul was supposed to have been tracked to its lair and killed in a cell under the cavern of the skull. Libraries of nineteenth-century scepticism would become as much lumber; but the mystical passage in St. Paul about the glorified body would not be in the least affected either way. It would be amusing, to irreverent persons like Mr. Harvey Wickham, if men ever began to look for the Differential Calculus in their deltoid muscles or to conceal a joke somewhere near the joint of the elbow. But it would only contradict the man who said that all truths were in the human skull or all jokes a decay of brain-stuff; not the man who says that jokes come from man, or that man and mathematical truths come from God.
[GKC ILN July 5 1930 CW35:335-337]


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