Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Little Novena - from Ignatius to Dominic

Please join us in a little novena, to begin on Friday July 31 (St. Ignatius of Loyola) and continue to Saturday August 8 (St. Dominic). You can use your choice of prayers - our intention is to request the intercession of these great saints to assist us in our needs.

Note: there will be another novena to follow, from August 9 to August 17, which will be for the repose of Father Stanley L. Jaki, OSB. More on that shortly.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bloggs - and knowing the causes

A very recent posting on the ACS blogg contains a link to a French Chesterton blogue... which I found very interesting.

Alas, I cannot read French, except critical words like burgundy and champagne. But I did note their spelling of "blogue" happens to agree with the Chestertonian purview:
[GKC wrote in his Notebook:]
You are a very stupid person.
I don't believe you have the least idea how nice you are.
F.B. was Frances, daughter of a diamond merchant some time dead. The family was of French descent, the name de Blogue having been somewhat unfortunately anglicised into Blogg.
[Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 84-5]

Now, there was something else in that posting which I felt it worthwhile to mention. Specifically, GKC's quote of Virgil's famous line:
felix qui potuit cognoscere causas rerum
[Virgil, Georgics Book II line 490]
which comes up directly in this context:
Many must have quoted the stately tag from Virgil which says, "Happy were he who could know the causes of things," without remembering in what context it comes. Many have probably quoted it because the others have quoted it. Many, if left in ignorance to guess whence it comes, would probably guess wrong. Everybody knows that Virgil, like Homer, ventured to describe boldly enough the most secret councils of the gods. Everybody knows that Virgil, like Dante, took his hero into Tartarus and the labyrinth of the last and lowest foundations of the universe. Every one knows that he dealt with the fall of Troy and the rise of Rome, with the laws of an empire fitted to rule all the children of men, with the ideals that should stand like stars before men committed to that awful stewardship. Yet it is in none of these connections, in none of these passages, that he makes the curious remark about human happiness consisting in a knowledge of causes. He says it, I fancy, in a pleasantly didactic poem about the rules for keeping bees. Anyhow, it is part of a series of elegant essays on country pursuits, in one sense, indeed, trivial, but in another sense almost technical. It is in the midst of these quiet and yet busy things that the great poet suddenly breaks out into the great passage, about the happy man whom neither kings nor mobs can cow; who, having beheld the root and reason of all things, can even hear under his feet, unshaken, the roar of the river of hell.
[GKC The Outline of Sanity CW5:136]
GKC refers to it in several other places such as The Everlasting Man CW2:289, and in an ILN essay from April 6 1935 (also collected in As I Was Saying).

I have no time just now to meditate on all this, except to mention how Virgil starts much as Aquinas does - with in the real world, with the senses. He deals (like Sherlock Holmes) with bee-keeping, and with wine-making, with sheep and shepherds, agriculture and husbandry and the rus - the country things... from which he is led to greater things. The point will be missed unless one has read GKC's The Everlasting Man - or his Aquinas - so perhaps I must quote that too:
The Body was no longer what it was when Plato and Porphyry and the old mystics had left it for dead. It had hung upon a gibbet. It had risen from a tomb. It was no longer possible for the soul to despise the senses, which had been the organs of something that was more than man. Plato might despise the flesh; but God had not despised it. [Compare with the verse in the Te Deum: Non horruisti virginis uterum - "You (God) did not despise the Virgin's womb."] The senses had truly become sanctified; as they are blessed one by one at a Catholic baptism. "Seeing is believing" was no longer the platitude of a mere idiot, or common individual, as in Plato's world; it was mixed up with real conditions of real belief. Those revolving mirrors that send messages to the brain of man, that light that breaks upon the brain, these had truly revealed to God himself the path to Bethany or the light on the high rock of Jerusalem. These ears that resound with common noises had reported also to the secret knowledge of God the noise of the crowd that strewed palms and the crowd that cried for Crucifixion. After the Incarnation had become the idea that is central in our civilisation, it was inevitable that there should be a return to materialism, in the sense of the serious value of matter and the making of the body.
[GKC St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:493]
There is far more here, but I have no time to write more on it just now. Please try to think about it - and perhaps you will be led to the causes of things...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Writing, Light, and Mark 13:33

Yes, I have been busy, and my work is proceeding apace - I am into the concluding part of my fantasy, The Three Relics, which you've heard about before - this is the story which begins with the part called "Black Hole in the Basement". It is of course Chestertonian, and has comparatively little of what most would call High Technology, though I have been using some very sophisticated... uh, perhaps I ought not spill any secrets just yet. I can't tell you how or when it will be published - at least not yet - but you can always check with Loome and ask if you get desperate for something good to read. Hee hee.

Anyway, at a particular exciting moment, I needed a reference to Chesterton, and found what I did not expect to find - a magnificent mystical poem of philosophy and physics and bible-scholarship, of the kind only Chesterton writes. Moreover, if you are really curious about my writing, it will give you a LOT about the underpinnings and the - let us call it - design methodology, which of course I get from many other sources too. But read it and see:
There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we ourselves are incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real. It is the fundamental fact of being, as against not being; it is unthinkable, yet we cannot unthink it, though we may sometimes be unthinking about it; unthinking and especially unthanking. For he who has realized this reality knows that it does outweigh, literally to infinity, all lesser regrets or arguments for negation, and that under all our grumblings there is a subconscious substance of gratitude. That light of the positive is the business of the poets, because they see all things in the light of it more than do other men. Chaucer was a child of light and not merely of twilight, the mere red twilight of one passing dawn of revolution, or the grey twilight of one dying day of social decline. He was the immediate heir of something like what Catholics call the Primitive Revelation; that glimpse that was given of the world when God saw that it was good; and so long as the artist gives us glimpses of that, it matters nothing that they are fragmentary or even trivial; whether it be in the mere fact that a medieval Court poet could appreciate a daisy, or that he could write, in a sort of flash of blinding moonshine, of the lover who 'slept no more than does the nightingale'. These things belong to the same world of wonder as the primary wonder at the very existence of the world; higher than any common pros and cons, or likes and dislikes, however legitimate. Creation was the greatest of all Revolutions. It was for that, as the ancient poet said, that the morning stars sang together; and the most modern poets, like the medieval poets, may descend very far from that height of realization and stray and stumble and seem distraught; but we shall know them for the Sons of God, when they are still shouting for joy. This is something much more mystical and absolute than any modern thing that is called optimism; for it is only rarely that we realize, like a vision of the heavens filled with a chorus of giants, the primeval duty of Praise.
[GKC Chaucer CW18:172-3]

Then I must tell you one other bit - which just about knocked off my socks when I read it.

As I said, I have a certain design methodology in mind, something rather like a cross between Tolkien and the Book of Proverbs, which will get a lot of people scratching their heads. (I actually had to write a kind of "explanation to the reader" so the trick would not get lost, or give rise to all kinds of complications, etc. ) You see, I was really sure that few people had ever come up with just the very curious design I had come up with.

And then I had to go and consult the Gospels for a certain quote related to something else - and I found I was wrong. God had already used it.

Here's the quote. You won't catch how it relates to the story, even once you've finished it up to the duel - (oh, there's to be a duel? yes, yes...) but you might once you've finished it all the way through. Note that the translation is from the Douay-Rheims...
Take ye heed, watch and pray. For ye know not when the time is.
-- Mark 13:33
Stunning. But then God thought me up, I'd expect Him to use the same scheme somewhere else, He does it with so many other curiosities in the kosmos. (Note the "watch and pray" occurs elsewhere, in particular Mk14:38, in the garden of Gethsemani; in that case the translation is perhaps more accurate. But the fact that the DR version gives it in this place is what makes it so stunning.)

PS. Yes, as you may surmise, I break one of the Great Laws of Fantasy - the shocking thing is (as I said) I see that God already had already hinted at that in the above-quoted verse. This is so cool, talk about cunning predictions.

I'd like to tell you more, but I have to get back to work.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Were you wondering about The Everlasting Man?

I overheard that someone was trying to learn more about GKC's masterwork, The Everlasting Man, specifically why the book has that title.

It is simple GKC's wonderful title for our Lord, Jesus Christ, and can be derived from the twin titles of the twin halves of the book: the first half is called "On the Creature Called Man" and the second half is called "On the Man Called Christ".

But this may not be enough for you. There is one place that I know of in Chesterton's writing where he uses the phrase as a title of a person, and not of a book, and there is only one possible solution to Whom the title refers to. Read it for yourself:
...the doctrine of the Dual Nature of Christ is in the most genuine sense interesting; it ought to be interesting to anybody who can understand it, long before he can believe it. It has what can be called with all reverence a stereoscopic interest; the interest of having the two eyes in the head that create an object; of having the two angles in the triangle that determine the third. The old Monophysite sect declared that Christ had only the one divine nature. The new Monophysite sect declares that He has only the one human nature. But it is not a pun or a trick but a truth to say that the Monophysite is by nature monotonous. In either of his two forms, he is naturally on one note. The question of objective historical truth is another question, which I am not arguing here, though I am ready to argue it anywhere. I am talking about intellectual stimulation and the starting point of thought and imagination. And these, like all living things, breed from the conjunction of two, and not from one alone. Thus I read, with sympathy but a sympathy that hardly goes beyond sentiment, the studies of the modern Monophysites in the life of the limited and merely mortal Jesus of Nazareth. I respect their respect; I admire their admiration; I know that all they say about human greatness or religious genius is true as far as it goes. But it goes along one line; and cannot convince like the things that can converge. And then, after reading such a tribute to an ethical teacher in the manner of the Essenes, perhaps I turn another page of the same or some similar book; and come upon some phrase used about a real though a pagan religion; perhaps some supposed parallel of what is called a Pagan Christ. I find it said, if only of Atys or Adonis, "There was a conception that the god sacrificed himself to himself." The man who can read those words without a thrill is dead.

The thrill is deeper for us, of course, because it is concerned with a fact and not a fancy. In that sense we do not admit that there is any such parallel with the legends of the ancient pagans as is implied in the books of the modern pagans. And indeed we are surely entitled to call it mere common sense to say that there can be no complete parallel between what was admittedly a myth or mystery and what was admittedly a man. But the point here is that the truth hidden even in myths and mysteries is altogether lost if we are confined to the consideration of a man. In this sense there is an ironic and unconscious truth in the words of the modern pagan, who sang that "the heathen outface and outlive us," and that "our lives and our longings are twain." It is true of the modernists, but it is not true of us, who find simultaneously the realization of a longing and the record of a life. It is perfectly true that there were in many pagan myths the faint foreshadowing of the Christian mysteries; though even in saying so we admit that the foreshadowings were shadows. But, when all imaginative kinship has been explored or allowed for, it is not true that mythology ever rose to the heights of theology. It is not true that a thought so bold or so subtle as this one ever crossed the mind that created the centaurs and the fauns. In the wildest and most gigantic of the primitive epic fancies, there is no conception so colossal as the being who is both Zeus and Prometheus.

But I only advert to it here, not as arguing its truth against those who do not believe it, but only as insisting on its intense and intellectual interest for those who do believe it. I only wish to explain to those who are worried in this way, that a mind filled with the true conception of this Duality has plenty to think about along those lines and has no need to dig up dead gods to discredit the Everlasting Man. There is no necessity for me to be a Modernist in my own thoughts, or Monophysite in my own thoughts; because I think these views much duller and more trivial than my own. In the beautiful words of the love-song in The Wallet of Kai Lung, one of the few truly psychological love-songs of the world: "This insignificant and universally despised person would unhesitatingly prefer his thoughts to theirs."
[GKC The Thing CW3:301-2, emphasis added]
And this even more insignificant person thinks that that is a sufficient answer.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Nones of July

It has been a while since I posted here, as I have been busy. But since today is the Nones of July, which means I have now made a total of 2*3*3*3 = 54 orbits around old Sol, I am watching "Tron", with all its wonderful and deep mystical - and very Chestertonian - allusions...

"It is the purpose of every Program to know and serve its User..."
"If I don't have a User, who wrote me?"
"User requests are what computers are for."
"All that is visible must grow beyond itself and extend into the realm of the invisible..."

Of course I cannot recount the whole script here, so perhaps you ought to watch it for yourself. I do recommend it, as its insight into the larger truths of my own profession is profound, and I advise it if you are curious about computer science - or about Chesterton; "It is between light and darkness" is just as true on the Game Grid as it is in our world of Users.

And in the realm of fantasy, meaning the things Users write when we are not writing Programs. It is as Tolkien points out, the work of sub-creation. And so I thought you might like just a taste of what I have been working on. It is part three of The Three Relics! That part, called The Horrors in the Attic, is the sequel to The Creatures Who Live in the Walls, itself the sequel to The Black Hole in the Basement. Unfortunately if you wish to read the rest of that saga, and learn about the Order and its very curious coat of arms, you may have to wait a little longer. But it is in production, and I will let you know as it proceeds.

Finally, it is a most special day for me to express my gratitude for those who have done so much for me - I shall not here enumerate those whom I must thank, but ask God to bless them always.

--Dr. Thursday.

Blazon: Sable, a mullet radiated argent; a double tressure flory-counter-fleury Or.
Motto: ouk eimi monos [Jn 16:32] "I am not alone"

Bernie Brown (born on July 6) and Marty Felsen (born on July 8), two of the best of all the best friends in Quayment, had been celebrating "their" birthday all day. Joe Outis and his friend Andy had taken them to lunch at Ray's, and then to Weaver's to poke through the books. Then they drove out to the jetty to watch the falling rain and the waves on the beach and see the lighthouse. Later in the day they had gone to the home of another friend, Mike Tronder, whose wife Bridget had made them dinner and a birthday cake. Full of food and bursting with the happiness of twelve-year-old friends, they had gone back to Bernie's for talk and an evening movie with Bernie's brother, Stever. But before they made their movie selection, Stever had gifts for them. (Older by three years, Stever was a friend and mentor to them - as long as either could remember, he had been giving them special tasks or odd duties, as if they were in training for some grand adventure or mysterious exploration.)

Up on the second floor of the Brown home, these two young friends were admitted to the most off-limits place they knew of - after the rooms of their sisters or their parents. But when they came in, it was mostly dark - Stever had only his desk lamp on, and it was turned so very little of its light could be seen. Curious things seemed to be hanging on the walls and ceiling, there were shadowy shelves of indiscernible objects, and an unusual though invigorating smell (Bernie guessed Stever had bought some aftershave, even though as yet he barely needed to shave.) Even the carpet felt odd. But Stever was there, shoving some old papers into his desk drawer - he was almost as hard to see as the rest of the room. Then he wished them both a happy birthday.

"I got something special for you guys," he said in a low voice as he handed them two identical packages. "This is the next part of your training."
They tore them open - it was a paperback book - no pictures! - a book called Kim. "You'll be surprised," he went on. "It's a great story about a kid - an Indian from India - who gets trained to be a spy... he's part of a secret club." The two made the usual noises of awe, and Stever went on.
"You see this shirt?" He pointed to the one he was wearing, the blue one with the logo he had worn at Weaver's. They nodded. He handed them something soft. "Now that you're twelve, you have to begin wearing it..."
"All the time?" asked Bernie.
"No. Just on the Nones of July."
"What's that mean?"
"It means the seventh of July. Today."
"Can't tell you that now. But I will, maybe soon. And yeah Marty I know you're not 12 until tomorrow. But you can put 'em on now."
They pulled on the new shirts - they fit perfectly - someone knew Marty was smaller than Bernie. They smelled fresh, and had a neat color, and the logo was cool... it was almost like joining some secret club!
"Is this a club? Do we... get to swear?" Bernie asked. "In blood?" added Marty.
"It's not time for that yet. But we can't talk about that part now. That's why you got those books. You have to have training... so you'll be ready." Stever sighed, but they didn't notice - he had been training them for a long time. He had his instructions, but most of it was a mystery to him too - he was only three years older than them. "That book is important. You'll start reading it soon, OK? "
"Right," they chorused, tingling with excitement.
"And no talking about any of this. You were never here, OK? You got it Marty?"
"Good. You got it Bernie?"
"Good. Happy birthday, guys. Go pick out a movie - I'll be down in a little while."

The audience was over; the special forces were dismissed. They went to Bernie's room to savor the intensity of the experience before they went down to select a movie which could prolong the thrill.

But Stever closed his door and lay down on his bed and buried his head in the pillow while silent tears poured out. Just fifteen years old, he was charged with a complex task - a task specified on a few scribbled sheets of horribly incomplete notes left to him by a man now dead - a gigantic task perhaps beyond even the abilities of grown men - one he longed for with the intensity of a heroic young man, and yet one from which he knew he would be forever excluded...

In Uncle's living room, Uncle and Auntie were weeping openly as they watched the secret session: behold, at long last, there were three, bearing the logo of the Order on the Nones of July! Then they got up to hug each other before they contacted the Dean with the good and terrifying news.

Half a world away, the bells of the cathedral again called the residents of the College to prayer. It was no burden to them, but a joy - for what member would dare to work in the Field without knowing this huge reservoir was always ready to pour out its power when bidden by the Dean?

[excerpted from The Horrors in the Attic, Part III. Text and artwork copyright © 2009 by Dr. Thursday]