Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Another View of My Favourite Quote

Not too long ago I posted my favourite Chesterton quote, from his stupendous The Everlasting Man. The quote refers to the moment which is the pivot of all history, and the strange news of a God who dwelt with us.

There are some works of historical fiction - books like Ben Hur and Dear and Glorious Physician - which are set in that time period, and I wonder why there aren't more which explore this era from the Roman side.

(I'd be interested in any recommendations if you have any, or perhaps you're working on a new story? Let me know.)

Anyhow, recently I found the following excerpt which hints at this most dramatic revelation. Coming as it does from a writer who is both a theologian and a nuclear physicist, but who works as a historian of science, it may give a variant view of the same picture.
--Dr. Thursday

All systems, indeed all fixed ideas, are so many witnesses to this natural urge in man. In the middle of the second century B. C. the Roman playwright, Terence, could still think that his dictum, homo sum; humani nil alienum puto, [I am man (human) - human [things] I reckon not as alien.] could raise no questions about the completeness of humanism. There must have been a great appeal to the view that man as a microcosmos was a condensation of the macrocosmos and therefore human nature comprised everything and was wholly sufficient to itself.

When about that time the Romans first made an official contact with a small and strange people off the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean, they did not suspect how differently that people, or at least some of them, kept thinking of nature, including human nature. It must have appeared enormously strange that the Maccabees refused to fight at the end of the week as they counted it. But even stranger had to appear their reason for doing so. The reason was an experience which by then the Jews had shared for over a millennium, an experience utterly transcendental to all humanism. They were convinced that they, or rather their forefathers, had been exposed to something really supernatural. It burst the framework of what is merely human and natural.

This experience, which kept the Jews in its grip, received an even more powerful manifestation in those whom the Romans first took for a Jewish sect. At the time they were still Jews in great numbers, but the other Jews had already disavowed them in no uncertain terms. What could not be ignored, either by the Jews or by the Romans, was that members of that sect, whose supreme allegiance was to a Jew, Jesus the Christ, displayed even more concretely and persuasively the grip of the supernatural. By the time of Decius the Roman Empire itself felt threatened by the growth of the Christian Church, and within another two generations the Empire capitulated, without knowing what that outcome was really about.

But almost exactly at that point, at the Council of Nicaea, the Church itself was forced, by an internal dissension within it, to take stock of what that supernatural was ultimately about. It meant nothing less than that the heavenly Father effected a most spectacular entry of the supernatural into the natural by sending His only Son in the form of man among men in the fullness of time. However human, the Son remained what He always was, consubstantial with the Father, having joined a human nature to a divine nature in one single divine person.

The dogma defined at Nicaea was therefore, among other things, also a thorough corrective to the humanist perspective as capsulized in Terence's dictum. There was now on hand a human experience that demanded a rewriting of that dictum. In order to do justice to the completeness of his experience man henceforth had to say: homo sum; humani divinique nil alienum puto. [I am man (human); human and divine [things] I reckon not as alien.]

[S. L. Jaki, A Mind's Matter: an intellectual autobiography viii-ix]


At 30 May, 2006 08:21, Blogger rhapsody said...

Hi Dr. Thursday,

One of my mother's most-favorite books is one that you mentioned- Dear and Glorious Physician- which she pestered each one of us for years to read:) I think I might have been ten when she started recommending it to me- but I wasn't quite ready...

Well, at last month's Chesterton conference I had a few books for Mr. Pearce, which he kindly accepted- my mom had asked me, when I spoke with him in January, if I had recommended this favorite book of hers. LOL!!! Somehow, I had. I can talk very fast after a few cups of coffee:)

This book influenced my mom to the point where each one of us, in utero, was Luke. Although the name never got an official stamp of approval, two of my siblings picked Luke's name for their confirmations- whew!

My mom had requested that if I were to approach Mr. Pearce with one book, it be that one. However, I did take I, Judas & Dialogues with the Devil- both by Taylor Caldwell, also. I, Judas, told in first person by Judas Iscariot, takes you to Christ's time. It is, in my opinion, heartbreaking as it transports you directly as an eye-witness to the Crucifixion, and although I wasn't quite twenty when I read it, I seem to remember that it did seem faithful to the Gospels accounts.

Dialogues with the Devil is really a quick read- but an unbelievable tale. The author explains that the story did not evolve as she intended- it consists of letters exchanged between Michael the Archangel & Lucifer, with Lucifer detailing how he's destroyed other peoples and planets, and how he has it in for us on Terra- us being, in his opinion, God's basest of creatures. Someone has borrowed my copy, so I can't look it up, but I believe it was written in the fifties- some of the subject matter written about was culturally ahead of its time. Creepy albeit accurate to some degree, I'm sure. There is a lot of info on the internet about Taylor Caldwell- one of the questions I eeked out to Mr. Pearce was if he had ever read her work, & if he'd ever consider writing a bio about her... he said he'd have to live to be 106 to write about all the people he's interested in:) However, there is much information available already...

Those are my recommendations- & I do believe that that's enough caffeine for me!

At 30 May, 2006 18:58, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my mother's most-favorite books is one that you mentioned- Dear and Glorious Physician- which she pestered each one of us for years to read:) I think I might have been ten when she started recommending it to me-

Might we have the same mother?
My mother kept sticking that book on my night stand throughout my teenage years. I have started it and almost finished it a million times. I don't know why I stopped reading it each time.

Dialogues with the Devil is a great story and it makes it more compelling because of the authors thoughts on it.

I have most of Taylor Caldwell's books. Mostly given to me by my mother. God bless her.

At 30 May, 2006 19:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI: Dialogues With The Devil...my book has the copyright 1967.

At 31 May, 2006 07:35, Blogger rhapsody said...

They must have been separated at birth:)

My mother's one & only copy of Dialogues fell apart as it was a paperback- the copy that I have was given to me by my brother new, a hard-cover special edition- but I can't look it up as someone has borrowed it...

One of my other brothers obtained the hard-cover edition for Joseph Pearce, although it was a used copy. He also found the other two books, used, but in paperback.

Although my mom read most of Taylor Caldwell's books, Dear and Glorious Physician was her favorite. She's given away dozens of copies over the years, and would continue to do so if it was available.

However, although this book has been a favorite of hers for decades, she has read many other authors. So I wasn't too surprised when she said that, in her opinion, Alexander Solzhenitsyn is the greatest writer of the twentieth century-

& Joseph Pearce is the greatest writer of the 21st!

At 31 May, 2006 18:18, Blogger rhapsody said...

Hello again-

Don't know why I remember Dialogues as originally being published in the fifties-

Thank you for the copyright:)


Post a Comment

<< Home