Wednesday, September 14, 2011


(a prose meditation in the style of St. Francis for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross)

"Behold the Iron of the nails on which hung the Savior of the World."
[paraphrased from the Good Friday liturgy]

...if we were even to print the words without a capital G, as if it were the cult of some new and nameless tribe, many would realize the idea for the first time. Many would feel the thrill of a new fear and sympathy if we simply wrote "the story of a god who died for men." People would sit up suddenly and say what a beautiful and touching pagan religion that must be.
[GKC The Thing CW3:237]

...a religion really has survived out of ancient Roman times. But nobody notices it, because it is not secret but public; because it is not cruel but humane; and because in that antique Italian idolatry, it is not the priest but the god that died.
[GKC The Resurrection of Rome CW21:455]

O Iron, thou gift of God... how splendid you are!

So stable, so strong, with thy 26 protons, 30 neutrons, brewed up in the plasmic stew of distant stellar furnaces, the deepest point in the "stability valley" of the isotopes of the chemical elements.

And so useful to the cosmos, to our planet, to life both biological and supernatural.

Thou art the core upon which our earth rotates, from whose motion spans forth a huge magnetic field warding off the dangerous charged particles which spew continually from our sun...

Thou art the central atom caged within a porphyrin ring, like a virtuoso dancer among a troupe of carbons and nitrogens, one electronic hand held aloft to gently tug along a molecule of oxygen, even from the lungs to the furthest toes of man or mole or giraffe or whale...

Thou for Romans form the clavus, the spike, which signifies firmness (for ferrum is related to firmus firm ) and an attribute of Necessity; the nail driven every Ides of September (that was yesterday) into the wall of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus at Roma, thus marking the passage of time...

And once, as a Roman nail, thou didst hold more... thou, O Iron, became the firm core of creation itself, the carrier of a new life-breath, and henceforth marked the pivot of all human time which not even the threat of Y2K could abolish...

Three spikes of iron, upon which was suspended the price of the cosmos...

Crux fidelis, inter omnes
Arbor una nobilis,
Silva talem nulla profert
Fronde, flore, germine:
Dulce ferrum, dulce lignumm,
dulce pondus sustinent.

Faithful Cross! above all other,
One and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peers may be;
Sweetest Wood and sweetest Iron!
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee.

[Venantius Fortunatus, Pange lingua gloriosi; tr. J. M. Neale; from The Hymns of he Breviary and Missal, by Matthew Britt, OSB]


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