Thursday, November 04, 2010

Vir and Vis - Closer Than in the Dictionary

I was going to call this something like "A Bold and Manly Incarnation" but that didn't give quite the image, so I went to those two Latin words, vir which means "man, the male" (as opposed to homo which is "man the species") and vis which means "force, power, strength".

I deal with this here, while we are considering the mystery of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56) since there are two incarnations going on at this point: our Lord and John the Baptist. Two great men, manly men, powerful men. I must also point to the word "virtue" and note that it descends to us fromt he Latin virtus, which is connected to the first of our title's pair, even though one might expect it to be linked to the second. (In case you are wonderined the two Latin terms of our title themselves arise from different predecessors, at least according to my references.)

Why would I bring up "man" or "power" in such a context? Jesus is only a very few cells, though in the three months He and Mary reside at Zachary and Elizabeth's, He is clearly a Man:
At three months the progressive modeling of the external genitalia has attained characteristics that are recognizable as distinctively male or female.
[Arey, Developmental Anatomy, 335]
This may seem entirely inappropriate to bring up in such a context - or perhaps it provides a most grand and mystical insight. Indeed, if you are able to locate an authentic text on human development, you will be astounded, and it will provide much for your meditation: for example, just 3 weeks after the Annunciation, the Sacred Heart of Jesus began to beat - a beat which continued until 3PM on Good Friday... another time I may provide some more for you about this. But let us resume today's topic.

You will, perhaps, recall one of my favourite GKC quotes (oh how many I have! Like my best friends, I have many, how can I rate one ahead of another?) which comes from his letter to his fiancee, Frances Blogg, July 8, 1899:
... I am black but comely [Canticle of Canticles 1:4] at this moment: because the cyclostyle has blacked me. Fear not. I shall wash myself. But I think it my duty to render an accurate account of my physical appearance every time I write: and shall be glad of any advice and assistance...

To return to the Cyclostyle. I like the Cyclostyle ink; it is so inky. I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such a fierce pleasure in things being themselves as I do. The startling wetness of water excites and intoxicates me: the fieriness of fire, the steeliness of steel, the unutterable muddiness of mud. It is just the same with people.... When we call a man "manly" or a woman "womanly" we touch the deepest philosophy.
[quoted in Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 108-9]
Ah, the deepest philosophy. Now, what does this "manly" quality have to do with the larger topic, that of the Incarnation?


That happens to be presented by GKC himself in the firey "Blatchford Controversies" which you can find in CW1:
Now when Christianity came, the ancient world had just reached this dilemma. It heard the Voice of Nature-Worship crying, "All natural things are good. War is as healthy as the flowers. Lust is as clean as the stars." And it heard also the cry of the hopeless Stoics and Idealists: "The flowers are at war: the stars are unclean: nothing but man's conscience is right and that is utterly defeated."
Both views were consistent, philosophical and exalted: their only disadvantage was that the first leads logically to murder and the second to suicide. After an agony of thought the world saw the sane path between the two. It was the Christian God. He made Nature but He was Man.
Lastly, there is a word to be said about the Fall. It can only be a word, and it is this. Without the doctrine of the Fall all idea of progress is unmeaning. Mr. Blatchford says that there was not a Fall but a gradual rise. But the very word "rise" implies that you know toward what you are rising. Unless there is a standard you cannot tell whether you are rising or falling. But the main point is that the Fall like every other large path of Christianity is embodied in the common language talked on the top of an omnibus. Anybody might say, "Very few men are really Manly." Nobody would say, "Very few whales are really whaley."
[GKC "Why I Believe in Christianity" CW1:384-5]
Amazing, isn't it? Indeed, very few men are really Manly - but we have a standard, a measure, even though at this point in our study, both Jesus and John are yet hidden from our view.

Indeed, He is hidden - and yet His presence is acknowledged. Elizabeth herself asserts that presence: since Mary "proceeded in haste", and even allowing for travel time, we expect that she was barely a month pregnant: something unknowable without modern biochemistry. Yet Elizabeth proclaims her as mother. [Lk 1:43]

I am well aware of how close I come to one of the Great Secrets, which we must not speak of - this one in particular which all know, and on which most preserve its dignity by keeping silent. I must, however, give you GKC's own relevant words, even as it comes close to this grave matter, for it is something we need to speak about:
In the dull, dusty, stale, stiff-jointed and lumbering language, to which most modern discussion is limited, it is necessary to say that there is at this moment the same fashionable fallacy about Sex and about Property. In the older and freer language, in which men could both speak and sing, it is truer to say that the same evil spirit has blasted the two great powers that make the poetry of life; the Love of Woman and the Love of the Land. It is important to observe, to start with, that the two things were closely connected so long as humanity was human, even when it was heathen. Nay, they were still closely connected, even when it was a decadent heathenism. But even the stink of decaying heathenism has not been so bad as the stink of decaying Christianity. The corruption of the best...

For instance, there were throughout antiquity, both in its first stage and its last, modes of idolatry and imagery of which Christian men can hardly speak. "Let them not be so much as named among you." [Ephesians 5:3] Men wallowed in the mere sexuality of a mythology of sex; they organised prostitution like priesthood, for the service of their temples; they made pornography their only poetry; they paraded emblems that turned even architecture into a sort of cold and colossal exhibitionism. Many learned books have been written of all these phallic cults; and anybody can go to them for the details, for all I care. But what interests me is this:
In one way all this ancient sin was infinitely superior, immeasurably superior, to the modern sin. All those who write of it at least agree on one fact; that it was the cult of Fruitfulness. It was unfortunately too often interwoven, very closely, with the cult of the fruitfulness of the land. It was at least on the side of Nature. It was at least on the side of Life. It has been left to the last Christians, or rather to the first Christians fully committed to blaspheming and denying Christianity, to invent a new kind of worship of Sex, which is not even a worship of Life. It has been left to the very latest Modernists to proclaim an erotic religion which at once exalts lust and forbids fertility. The new Paganism literally merits the reproach of Swinburne, when mourning for the old Paganism: "and rears not the bountiful token and spreads not the fatherly feast." The new priests abolish the fatherhood and keep the feast - to themselves. They are worse than Swinburne's Pagans. The priests of Priapus and Cotytto go into the kingdom of heaven before them.[cf Mt 21:31]
[GKC The Well and the Shallows CW3:501-2, emphasis added]
Yes, alas, there are people today who dislike hearing about pregnancy, and yet how else did they arrive here on earth? Let us return to our scene, the old Jewish mother and the young Jewish mother, both rejoicing in their fertility, so much so that Mary could sing how she achieved something as impossible as her Divine maternity: the mystery of the Magnificat: her soul made even God Himself look bigger. (Don't you think of Mary when you see those silly inscriptions on your car's mirrors: "objects appear larger than they are" or whatever it is. Hee hee.)

Moreover, the unborn John "leaped for joy" as Mary's greeting was heard by Elizabeth [Lk 1:44] What does that mean? It was simply an acknowledgement of the presence of the Unborn God-Man, hidden in the tabernacle, the Ark of the New Covenant, which is Mary. And the leap is "type" for any and all acts of adoration, acts which are among the most manly of all possible actions for a man:
The crux and crisis is that man found it natural to worship; even natural to worship unnatural things. The posture of the idol might be stiff and strange; but the gesture of the worshipper was generous and beautiful. He not only felt freer when he bent; he actually felt taller when he bowed. Henceforth anything that took away the gesture of worship would stunt and even maim him forever. Henceforth being merely secular would be a servitude and an inhibition. If man cannot pray he is gagged; if he cannot kneel he is in irons.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:244]
Now, you may recall that last week I quoted the famous bit from Orthodoxy which links this scene to the fairy tale called "Cinderella": the phrase exaltavit humiles = "He has lifted up the humble" from Mary's Magnificat [Lk 1:52] Today, we see in this same scene another verse from the same context, but this time about another fairy tale:
There is the chivalrous lesson of "Jack the Giant Killer"; that giants should be killed because they are gigantic. It is a manly mutiny against pride as such.
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:253]
I have just one more item to present, and it ties off both the Blatchford matter as well as the one I alluded to with the excerpt from The Well and the Shallows, and yet unites the sense of the manly character - the Power of the Man - to that necessary trait of Christianity which gives us the term "Church Militant": the idea that we Christians (both male and female) are at War - with "the world, the flesh and the devil":
These can be called the essentials of the old orthodoxy, of which the chief merit is that it is the natural fountain of revolution and reform; and of which the chief defect is that it is obviously only an abstract assertion. Its main advantage is that it is the most adventurous and manly of all theologies. Its chief disadvantage is simply that it is a theology. It can always be urged against it that it is in its nature arbitrary and in the air. But it is not so high in the air but that great archers spend their whole lives in shooting arrows at it - yes, and their last arrows; there are men who will ruin themselves and ruin their civilization if they may ruin also this old fantastic tale. This is the last and most astounding fact about this faith; that its enemies will use any weapon against it, the swords that cut their own fingers, and the firebrands that burn their own homes. Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church. This is no exaggeration; I could fill a book with the instances of it. Mr. Blatchford set out, as an ordinary Bible-smasher, to prove that Adam was guiltless of sin against God; in manoeuvring so as to maintain this he admitted, as a mere side issue, that all the tyrants, from Nero to King Leopold, were guiltless of any sin against humanity.
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:343-4]


At 09 November, 2010 17:02, Anonymous some guy on the street said...

I would like to repeat, as I have mused elsewhere (and is surely not original to me, but it was an engaging thought) that John's leap is in fact his first prophetic exercise in proclaiming the Coming of the Lord. May we say that blessed is John, for flesh and blood had not revealed it to him, but the Holy Spirit?


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