Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mary: Queen of Science, Queen of Fairy Tales

With this essay - and indeed with the next several - I shall be getting into hotter and hotter water. Of course we know what Chesterton said about that:
I believe in getting into hot water. I think it keeps you clean.
[GKC ILN March 10 1907 CW27:142]
And, as you may be able to tell from my title, this will be some very hot water, since it will get into two extremely debated matters: Mary and Science.

Last week we touched upon the Incarnation. Mary spoke twice in that scene, and we barely treated her last words, her fiat, the greatest message of all time. Today, we shall touch her first line - "How can this be?" in order to proceed into the next scene, that of the Visitation.

That question - "How can this be?" - which is not so much a challenge as a request for details, suggests something quite scientific to me. But for now I will defer a lengthy discussion, since there is far more lengthy matters to address. I shall also defer an examination of Father Jaki's insights into the liturgical connections between the Annunciation and the Visitation, and how a change to the schedule (as unwieldy as it would undoubtedly be to implement) would aid in addressing the grave evils of today, namely, abortion. (If you wish to know about this, see his essay "Christ, Catholics and Abortion" which appeared in Homiletic and Pastoral Review 85/6 (March 1985), pp. 7-15, and was reprinted in SLJ's collection Catholic Essays.) However, I must bring up a certain aspect of his discussion, which somehow escapes observation, and we as Chestertonians know how critical it is to see clearly. I will give you Fr. Jaki's own words:
As for Mary's "proceeding in haste," the Greek spoudazein leaves no room for any slowness or tarrying. What St. Luke says implies therefore that at most a few days after the Angel's visit to her, Mary was on the road. Since quite possibly she traveled on a donkey, the less than a hundred miles from Nazareth to Ain Karim could not have taken her more than ten days.
[SLJ Catholic Essays 67 citing Lk 1:39]
There is something dramatic about that, and it forms the first part of my exploration.

Science, alas, is so misunderstood these days, and it seems to parallel the misunderstanding of Christianity, since the errors fall on both the "too much" and the "too little" sides - but we are not arguing that matter here. Science is, however, a difficult topic to address "in the large" and has been so for some seven centuries, if not longer. Scholars such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Hugh of St. Victor, and Henry of Langenstein considered ways of organizing the various disciplines, and as recently as the 1850s we find Blessed John Newman examining the place of the sciences in a Catholic University. Again we cannot deal with this important topic today - though we are now much closer to my topic!

You see, we all "know" what science is, right? We might even have a popular song about it:
Lab coats and test tubes and monkeys in cages
Radar and radon and stained notebook pages,
Oceans and stars and the tension of springs:
These are a few of a scientist's things...
Ahem. (Or would you prefer a chorus of "How Do you Solve a Problem like Maria"? Hee hee.)

But just what does "science" mean?

You can find this written up in various places, but I would like to try it another way. Science really consists of two parts, and you don't need a lab coat for either one. The first is the humility to stare in contemplation of That Which Is Real, observing it as best you can, in every way that you can - for by that means you will acquire the truth. (Note, this means you have your EYES WIDE OPEN. You are not navel-gazing. See GKC for more on that in Orthodoxy CW1:336. I must report that the same matter is indirectly examined in Jaki's Science and Creation.) Granted you may need to build tools to see more, and perhaps you might need to wear a lab coat - but the point is that you are LOOKING at the Real World, and not into your own imagination.

And the second part is this. Once you have found truth, you must be its apostle, that is, to Go Forth and Teach: to proclaim the truth you have found. It's not "science" until it is taught to another. This might happen by your writing careful notes, or by a journal article, or by a public lecture, by a doctoral dissertation and its defense, or even by teaching your children about the stars and the trees. But when one has "done" science, it is a DISCOVERY - and a discovery isn't really a discovery until others know about it. (We could veer off here and examine this further, but this isn't the time for that.)

It seems to me very fitting that the scene of the Visitation should present something of that drama of science: Mary knew something, and there was only one other person who could conceivably (no pun intended) be able to handle the topic: her cousin Elizabeth.

By this point you are wondering where Chesterton comes in. The problem is that, as in the case of the Annunciation, GKC doesn't mention the Visitation explicitly, though he gets at it another way, as you shall shortly see. I happened to investigate GKC's use of the word "Elizabeth" and in over 400 appearances, it never refers to the mother of John the Baptist. It was actually funny to think how strange someone who relies on "word search engines" (or whatever they are called) would feel when he comes across a sentence like "It seems highly probable that Elizabeth did not plot to kill Mary." [GKC The Thing CW3:291] but in that instance the names refer to English political figures, not biblical ones.

You can say that this idea of proclaiming your science begins to smack of popular journalism, if not mere advertising, and not the dignified intellectual thing which the lab-coat-clad scientists mean by "Publication of One's Results". But then they are really the same thing, and a good thing, too. This is what our Lord wanted when He told his disciples to "Go Forth and Proclaim the Good News". Or, if you like a more dramatic touch, see St. Paul writing to the Romans:
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? [Rom 10:14]
It is strange to report that in Mary's case, her news was received even as she greeted her cousin:
And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she cried out with a loud voice and said: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. [Lk 1:41-44, emphasis added]
As you will note from the emphasized words, Elizabeth was aware of Mary's discovery, which would have otherwise been impossible. A pregnancy of a few days is hardly detectable even now.

Now you will say (again) where is Chesterton in all this? I think you have missed my point about the journalism and the reporting - and possibly you have missed the point about the nature of evangelism, which is one of the great links between science and religion. Besides, if this isn't working, you will find it even more difficult to delve into the next part of this amazing matter, which links science to fairy tales.

Of course, you think to yourself, this must be connected with that chapter called "The Ethics of Elfland" which Martin Gardner reprinted under the title "The Logic of Elfland" in his 1957 collection called Great Essays in Science. (See Jaki's Chesterton a Seer of Science for more on this.) Or you are pretending that (as so many people do these days) that science really is magic, or magical - or something beyond human understanding. I can't go into why that is wrong, and how grave an error Arthur C. Clarke committed in his epigram about the indistinguishability of technology and magic. (Rather, I won't do it here and now, as I have already written it, and please God it will get published soon.)

But there is more, and I am going to tell you about it, for this is where Chesterton's powerful insight comes into play. And indeed you are right, it starts with GKC's writing excerpted by Gardner, of which this is the critical part for us today:
But I deal here with what ethic and philosophy come from being fed on fairy tales. If I were describing them in detail I could note many noble and healthy principles that arise from them. 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. For the rebel is older than all the kingdoms, and the Jacobin has more tradition than the Jacobite. There is the lesson of "Cinderella," which is the same as that of the Magnificat exaltavit humiles. There is the great lesson of "Beauty and the Beast"; that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. There is the terrible allegory of the "Sleeping Beauty," which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep.
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:253]
Here, here, here, as Martin Gardner (may he rest in peace) discerned, is True Science. Here is the great link from ancient childhood fairy tale to modern mature technology - and it is found in the scene we are examining today.

For in this simple Latin phrase, "exaltavit humiles" which means "He has lifted up the humble." [Lk 1:52] we find the mystery of science itself: You can only have Science if you specifically choose to be humble and submissive before Reality. (Otherwise you have a lie, and things will quickly become distorted and broken and useless.)

This idea comes up in other places, and Chesterton remarks upon them. The obvious corollary is this:
The statement that the meek shall inherit the earth [Mt 5:4] is very far from being a meek statement. I mean it is not meek in the ordinary sense of mild and moderate and inoffensive. To justify it, it would be necessary to go very deep into history and anticipate things undreamed of then [at the time of the Sermon on the Mount, that is] and by many unrealised even now; such as the way in which the mystical monks reclaimed the lands which the practical kings had lost. If it was a truth at all, it was because it was a prophecy. But certainly it was not a truth in the sense of a truism. The blessing upon the meek would seem to be a very violent statement; in the sense of doing violence to reason and probability. And with this we come to another important stage in the speculation. As a prophecy it really was fulfilled; but it was only fulfilled long afterwards. The monasteries were the most practical and prosperous estates and experiments in reconstruction after the barbaric deluge; the meek did really inherit the earth.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:323-4]
Perhaps that was an aside, but it seems to me that it helps to understand the paradox we are considering.

That fragment from Orthodoxy, written some 14 years before GKC became a Catholic, is not the only place where GKC considers the matter. Here is a more enlarged view, written after his conversion:
[My idea is that] what represents good in this world must be first concrete and second compact. The idealists and the professors of abstractions can never understand it being concrete. The imperialists and the greedy megalomaniacs can never understand it being compact. The pearl of great price, in the parable, is as valuable as a field or a kingdom, but it is not as vast as a field or a kingdom. On the other hand, it is quite a mistake to suppose that because it is not more vast than the field, it is not more solid than the sky. The pearl is a possession, it is a positive and solid thing, it is an incomparably precious and priceless thing, only it is a small thing. But a thing; not a theory. And here indeed my thoughts began to drift towards deeper parallels where I dare hardly follow them, or at any rate follow them here; for the great supreme riddle or mystery which concentrates on that high place, or gathers against that citadel, in sunlight and lightening, all the blessings and curses of the world, is indeed the doctrine that what is most divine does truly offer itself as something as material and as small. Perhaps a truly great thing always tries to grow small; and there is hidden here a mystery of microscopic ambition. For though the Magnificat magnifies the Lord, it is only just after the Lord has minimized Himself. And there is here a mansion within a mansion, a new Bethlehem or House of Bread, and in the smallest of the tabernacles something yet a little more than a child.
[GKC The Resurrection of Rome CW21:445]
There is another, and far more mystical reference to the matter. I fear it will be misunderstood, but I give it to you anyway:
Thus, the first thing that such people will probably tell you today is that Christmas is really a Pagan festival; because many traditional features of it were taken from Pagans. What they do not seem to see is that, in so far as this is in any sense true, it only proves that the ancient Pagans were much more sensible than the modern Pagans. There are many psychological truths about such a human habit, which are hidden from those who talk day and night about psychology; but who do not really care about any psychology except what they call the psychology of salesmanship. The old Pagans knew that such a ritual must be old, that it must be religious, that it must be concerned fundamentally with simple elements like wood or water or fire, but that it must also be, in a queer way of its own, revolutionary: exalting the humble or putting down the mighty from their seat. That was expressed in a hundred ways, both among heathens and Christians. The Saturnalia was made for a society of slaves; but it gave one wild holiday to those slaves. The medieval Christmas had to exist in a feudal society; but all its carols and legends told again and again a story in which angels spoke to shepherds and a devil inspired a king. An ancient revolt is enshrined in an ancient ritual. Now the reason why Christianity found it quite easy to absorb these Pagan customs is that they were in this way almost Christian customs. The man who does not see that the Saturnalia was almost Christian is a man who has never read the Magnificat.
[GKC "The Winter Feast" in The Apostle and the Wild Ducks]
Ah, but Doctor, just what does that have to do with Science, you ask.

Well... I hesitate to present this, since it is dramatic, and I feel something lies unstudied here, something which Father Jaki would thrill to pursue. Yet such is Science... there will always be more. So please read this and see for yourself:
Science boasts of being based on Nature; and Protestants, when they were Protestants, boasted of being based on the Bible. Christian Rome boasts of being built on Pagan Rome; or surmounting and transcending, but also of preserving it. From the thousand carven throats of the city, from the hollow wreathing horns of the Tritons, from the golden mouths of the trumpets, from the jaws of flamboyant lions and the lips of rhetorical attitudinizing statues, from everything that can be imagined to speak or testify, there is as it were one solid silent roar of exultation and victory: "We have saved Old Rome; we have resurrected Old Rome; we have resurrected Pagan Rome, save that it is more Roman for not being Pagan." There is no question of hiding the connection between the two epochs; the new epoch emphasizes every point at which it touches the old. Nearly every Christian Church is carefully built on the site of a Pagan temple. In one place it distinguishes a particular church by combining the name of Maria with that of Minerva. In another place it preserves the seven niches of the Pagan Planets for seven corresponding Christian Saints. Up on the rock of the Ara Coeli the little broken altar of the temple of Augustus is carefully preserved, like a relic, inside the larger Christian building; that men may remember how even a heathen looked in that place for an altar of heaven. There is no question of the Church disguising Pagan ideas as Christian ideas, for there never was any disguise about the matter. The heathen things the Church preserved she preserved openly. The heathen things she destroyed she destroyed openly. If on the whole she destroyed first and preserved afterwards there was a frank and rational reason, as we shall see. And she preserved some things and destroyed others for a reason which these dismal rationalists cannot use their reason enough to understand. Science finds its facts in Nature, but Science is not Nature; because Science has coordinated ideas, interpretations and analyses; and can say of Nature what Nature cannot say for itself. The Faith finds its facts and problems in humanity, even heathen humanity; but the Faith is not merely humanity; because it brings to it principles of life and order and understanding, and comprehends humanity as humanity cannot comprehend itself.
[GKC The Resurrection of Rome 357-8]
What is the revolt in Science? GKC said it simply: Science can say of Nature what Nature cannot say for itself. Such is the result of that other phrase from Mary's canticle, which GKC considers elsewhere, and which I shall leave you to ponder:
The meaning of "Cinderella" is something infinitely deeper and more elemental than any cheap formula of the dignity of modern labour or the value of Smiles and Self-help; it is a cry out of the ancestral heart of humanity. It is one of those cries so profoundly common that only religion has answered it. It is one of those things so human that nothing but the superhuman will satisfy it. "Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles." Cinderella is not set high because she is industrious; she is set high because she is low, or, at any rate, because she is lowly. The ugly sisters are not put down because they are idle; they are put down because they are up; at any rate, because they are uppish. When men are enraged against tyrants, it is always and most justly against their pride, which is a sin - not against their misgovernment, which may be an accident. Well, here is an instance of the difficulties of ethical instruction. "Cinderella" seems a piece of very ordinary nursery gossip. "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek": surely that might be called simple Bible teaching.
[GKC ILN Jan 26 1907 CW27:384 citing Luke 1:52]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Bit of Latin: atqui sciebat

Today let us see how GKC uses a line from Horace. Horace, you may know, wrote a number of Odes, those odd Latin rhymeless poems. You may recognize several famous phrases which come from Horace: carpe diem, in medias res, aurea mediocritas, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori and others. One which I particularly enjoy - and which it is said applied to our Mr. Chesterton - is parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus: "The mountains labor, it gives birth to a ridiculous mouse", which was proposed as an allegory on the discrepancy between GKC's size and his voice.

Today, let's see a very curious phrase from Horace's Ode 5 in Book III, which says:
Atqui sciebat quae sibi barbarus totor pararet
that is:
Nevertheless he knew what the barbarian torturer was preparing for him.
This may sound a bit strange, but it refers to a Roman hero named Regulus. He was captured by the Carthaginians during the Punic War and released as an emissary to the Roman Senate to plead a peace treaty. Instead Regulus argued against this, urging the Senate to work until Carthage was destroyed. He nobly returned to captivity, knowing full well what his fate would be at the hands of Carthage...

We might, if we had time, examine this interesting topic of Rome and Carthage and the Punic Wars, which (even more than America's Civil War) people have discussed for more than two millennia. We must also recall that for GKC, Carthage symbolises a "certain attitude about children" which is still prevalent in our world... but we shall consider that under another article. (See his discussion in "The War of the Gods and Demons" in The Everlasting Man if you wish to know more.) But let us return to today's excerpt.

It appears in an interesting context, which was printed just a little over exactly one hundred years ago, in one of Chesterton's amazing critques of the disciplines. Father Jaki, the great historian of science, might have just as readily written a book titled Chesterton a Seer of History, and perhaps someone ought to try it. This essay is a great starting point:
We most of us suffer much from having learnt all our lessons in history from those little abridged history-books in use in most public and private schools. These lessons are insufficient - especially when you don't learn them. The latter was indeed my own case; and the little history I know I have picked up since by rambling about in authentic books and countrysides. But the bald summaries of the small history-books still master and, in many cases, mislead us. The root of the difficulty is this: that there are two quite distinct purposes of history; the superior purpose, which is its use for children; and the secondary or inferior purpose, which is its use for historians. The highest and noblest thing that history can be is a good story. Then it appeals to the heroic heart of all generations, the eternal infancy of mankind. Such a story as that of William Tell could literally be told of any epoch; no barbarian implements could be too rude, no scientific instruments could be too elaborate for the pride and terror of the tale. It might be told of the first flint-headed arrow or the last model machine-gun; the point of it is the same: it is as eternal as tyranny and fatherhood. Now, wherever there is this function of the fine story in history we tell it to children only because it is a fine story. David and the cup of water, Regulus and the atqui sciebat, Jeanne d'Arc kissing the cross of spear-wood, or Nelson shot with all his stars - these stir in every child the ancient heart of his race; and that is all that they need do. Changes of costume and local colour are nothing: it did not matter that in the illustrated Bibles of our youth David was dressed rather like Regulus, in a Roman cuirass and sandals, any more than it mattered that in the illuminated Bibles of the Middle Ages he was dressed rather like Jeanne d'Arc, in a hood or a visored helmet. It will not matter to future ages if the pictures represent Jeanne d'Arc cremated in an asbestos stove or Nelson dying in a top-hat. For the childish and eternal use of history, the history will still be heroic.
[GKC ILN October 8 1910 CW28:609-10]
There is one other, a rather passing allusion, but I give it to show how GKC used it in another medium:
SWIFT: Mr. Wilkes, I heard you remark that you were not a coward. I am very willing to believe it; but I may have the occasion to ask you to prove it.
WILKES (standing up): Sir, I am firm as Regulus. Do you propose to read me one of your own pamphlets? Atqui sciebat quad sibi barbarus - Well though he knew of what an American is capable -
[GKC The Judgement of Dr. Johnson CW11:255]
Clearly fighting words... but you will need to read the play (or see it staged) if you desire to know more.

Monday, October 25, 2010

GKC's rhymeless "poem"

Some time ago someone asked Does Anyone Care About Poetry?

And apparently someone does.

Someone - a disbeliever, alas - was wondering about the "poem" Chesterton wrote which did not rhyme. I know how odd that sounds - but he did, and it's hilarious. I posted it quite some time ago, and I expect you might find it else where - but here is the link again in case you lost it.

Just to counterbalance, here are two of my favorites of his which DO rhyme.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Alpha and Omega - and Omicron?

Oh my. (hee hee!) Although I try to plan things in advance it often seems futile. However, every so often things do work out to form some mystical pattern, far greater than even I could imagine. (I speak as both a computer scientist and as a writer of fiction.) For example: I just checked the calendar, and after today there are exactly NINE Thursdays until Christmas. This numerical synchrony to the usual period of human gestation will permit a handy way of dealing with the various matters of the Gospels from the time of the Annunciation up to the time of the Nativity. At first this nine-week "novena" of Thursdays may seem far too short. It is - I admit it. In fact, in beginning to gather my thoughts about the Incarnation and Chesterton's own comments about it, I decided that there could be an entire book on just this one topic... There is so much work to do, yes.

But let us proceed.

If you count today you see there are ten weeks. That is in keeping with the usual designation, seen in both the Bible (e.g. Wisdom 7:2) and in modern science:
The average time for delivery is ten lunar months, or 280 days.
[Arey, Developmental Anatomy 105]
Granted, by application of the "fencepost" rule (an important dictum of computer science) today's essay ought to represent the Incarnation, and thus in ten weeks, the 30th of December, I should address the Birth itself - and so that shall be my plan.

(I am fully aware that there are gospel events which precede the Incarnation - that is, the Annunciation. Specifically, there is the "lesser annunciation" to Zachariah about John the Baptist... but I shall address this in one of the weeks to come.)

But here I must note a curious thing: as far as I am able to discern, Chesterton does not mention the Annunciation itself directly, though this comes very close:
...the cult of Mary is in a rather peculiar sense a personal cult; over and above that greater sense that must always attach to the worship of a personal God. God is God, Maker of all things visible and invisible; the Mother of God is in a rather special sense connected with things visible; since she is of this earth, and through her bodily being God was revealed to the senses. In the presence of God, we must remember what is invisible, even in the sense of what is merely intellectual; the abstractions and the absolute laws of thought; the love of truth, and the respect for right reason and honourable logic in things, which God himself has respected. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas insists, God himself does not contradict the law of contradiction. But Our Lady, reminding us especially of God Incarnate, does in some degree gather up and embody all those elements of the heart and the higher instincts, which are the legitimate short cuts to the love of God. Dealing with those personal feelings, even in this rude and curt outline, is therefore very far from easy.
[GKC The Well and the Shallows CW3:461]
Of course I may have missed some allusion - it is easy enough to do. But there does not seem to be any literal statement about Gabriel or Mary - or even some allusion to her fiat voluntas tua. There are, however, plenty of allusions, direct and indirect, to the Incarnation: that is, to the Great Mystery that God was Made Man, which is what the Incarnation means, and which happened directly upon Mary's affirmation to Gabriel by her fiat.

Obviously, this is significant - or at least in one particular way it is. It seems to be an application of GKC's own rules about secrecy, which I have mentioned often. [see GKC ILN Aug 10 1907 CW27:523 et seq] But it is also another part of his technique, wherein he resembles the Gospel of St. John: that is, he omits things others have written, and discourses on things others have neglected. Of course it is possible that he hesitated to address this great event, perhaps from some personal delicacy, or for some other mystical reason - but for now, let us decide that he has addressed it by his grand and powerful comments about the Incarnation which you will find scattered all over his many books and essays.

The Annunciation is indeed a mystery which makes even a bold and adventurous writer hesitate. However! Listen to this:
...the event [of the Incarnation] had fulfilled not merely the mysticism but the materialism of mythology. Mythology had many sins; but it had not been wrong in being as carnal as the Incarnation.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:308]
I am aware that you will say, "but that is from his Christmas chapter! Yes, indeed. But you see Christmas is predicated upon the Annunciation! Predicated in the most full and complete sense, not merely grammatical nor logical. We do often confuse the term, and call Christmas the "feast of the Incarnation" - but we are not being abortionists here; we are not pretending that God was made man in the cave of Bethlehem. He was visible there for the first time, yes - and that is what follows in GKC's very next line. And here we understand a bit of GKC's hesitancy. The Annunciation was of a mystical privacy: it concerned Mary alone, and even Gabriel - that high angel, chosen to carry the greatest message ever to exist in all of literature or information processing - yes, even Gabriel was abased to be a "medium" - the air which shakes with a voice, a paper and ink, or a telephone wire or a radio wave... It was not Gabriel who accomplished anything on that day, and he would be first to admit it! We do not understand the poetry of joy in the inanimate, or grasp how air or a paper or a wire or an energy wave might rejoice in its service to the Laws which God arranged for its existence... but here we see an Angel, at the other end of the scale of Being, acting merely as a phone line or a telegram form or a piece of stationery - to act for God, and rejoicing to serve, even in this lowly manner. But also, and here is indeed the great mystery - he was also privileged to act for Mary. It was not God's invitation which was the great message he was to carry. No. It was her fiat - her acceptance. No other message in all the cosmos has, or can have, such importance. Now you understand why I said Christmas was predicated upon the Annunciation.

I might as well give up here. This sort of digression into Praise of the Media could form yet another book, even if all I do is quote and comment on Chesterton's own thoughts. Ah, Doctor, you say: but didn't GKC speak against Fleet Street? (That is the famous London thoroughfare of newspapers and printing houses. When you see GKC say "Fleet Street" you might understand it as we now say "The Media".) Well - only in the sense that a greater writer - St. James - spoke against the wrongful uses of the tongue, that is, of human speech. The mystery of speech, like that of writing and print, is a great gift - why else did God make lies sinful? (And even there we know that fiction is permitted! You see how vast a topic this opens - and indeed we shall hear more on it.)

But let me try to return to the topic... and let me try to find a text other than The Everlasting Man which we shall be mining steadily as time goes on - indeed there are many, as I told you. Behold this remarkable excerpt: is best perhaps to take in illustration some daily custom we have all heard despised as vulgar or trite. Take, for the sake of argument, the custom of talking about the weather. Stevenson calls it "the very nadir and scoff of good conversationalists." Now there are very deep reasons for talking about the weather, reasons that are delicate as well as deep; they lie in layer upon layer of stratified sagacity. First of all it is a gesture of primeval worship. The sky must be invoked; and to begin everything with the weather is a sort of pagan way of beginning everything with prayer. Jones and Brown talk about the weather: but so do Milton and Shelley. Then it is an expression of that elementary idea in politeness -equality. For the very word politeness is only the Greek for citizenship. The word politeness is akin to the word policeman: a charming thought. Properly understood, the citizen should be more polite than the gentleman; perhaps the policeman should be the most courtly and elegant of the three. But all good manners must obviously begin with the sharing of something in a simple style. Two men should share an umbrella; if they have not got an umbrella, they should at least share the rain, with all its rich potentialities of wit and philosophy. "For He maketh His sun to shine..." [Mt 5:45] This is the second element in the weather; its recognition of human equality in that we all have our hats under the dark blue spangled umbrella of the universe. Arising out of this is the third wholesome strain in the custom; I mean that it begins with the body and with our inevitable bodily brotherhood. All true friendliness begins with fire and food and drink and the recognition of rain or frost. Those who will not begin at the bodily end of things are already prigs and may soon be Christian Scientists. Each human soul has in a sense to enact for itself the gigantic humility of the Incarnation. Every man must descend into the flesh to meet mankind.
[GKC What's Wrong With the World CW4:93-4]
Next time you hear someone say "a fine day" or "looks like rain" or any such thing - please recall this excerpt, and then you will feel a surge of mystic emotion as you also touch the mystery of the Annunciation: you have acted like God, descending into the flesh to meet mankind! Oh, why is there no poem, no hymn, on this? Is it that this is too terrifying? Or is it that we have not yet begun to love our neighbor as ourselves?

I gave this essay a very strange title, since I happened one day to start chuckling about the hilarious "metric system" letters of the Greek alphabet, and as I thought about the Incarnation, I happened to see a curious truth. Now, you no doubt know that our Lord says "I am the Alpha and Omega" in Apocalypse/Revelation - three times, in 1:8, 21:6 and 22:13. You may also know that unlike English, the Greek letters have their own spelling: in a curiously Chestertonian paradox those letters are also WORDS. We rarely "spell" our letters, but the Greeks do: the thing that looks like A is spelled "alpha" and the circle with a horizontal bar is spelled "theta" - the one GKC called Saturn [Autobiography CW 16:60] Now there is something very curious about this particular title of our Lord... the odd fact that in the Greek, the first letter is spelled out, but the last letter merely stands by itself. Incidentally, in all three cases, the two letters have the Greek article: thus our Lord's phrase might be written "I am the alpha and the (big) O."

Ah, the Big O. Yes, this is the meaning of the letter omega. We who are scientists hear the metric prefix "mega" meaning a million or 106, and you may have heard it in the form of "megabytes" or other such things.

Now, if you are a child (or at least childlike) you will undoubtedly ask "if there is a Big O, is there also a Little O?" Yes, there is - and it is called omicron. Here you find the opposite metric prefix, "micro" meaning a millionth, or 10–6.

What does this have to do with anything? Is this somehow a prelude to a "Metric Christ"? Well... yes, in a sense. Aristotle (or some other Greek) speaks of man as the metron, the measure - as GKC says "Man is the microcosm; man is the measure of all things; man is the image of God." [TEM CW2:167] And this idea of measure is some of the reason behind the ISO and the metric system and all that. It means a consistent way of dealing with reality:
A man might measure heaven and earth with a reed, but not with a growing reed.
[GKC Heretics CW1:117, see Ezechiel 40:3 et seq]
But now, because of the Incarnation, there is something more in this truth: something which does not destroy measure, but ratifies it:
...there is a permanent human ideal that must not be either confused or destroyed. The most important man on earth is the perfect man who is not there. The Christian religion has specially uttered the ultimate sanity of Man, says Scripture, who shall judge the incarnate and human truth. Our lives and laws are not judged by divine superiority, but simply by human perfection. It is man, says Aristotle, who is the measure. It is the Son of Man, says Scripture, who shall judge the quick and the dead.
[GKC What's Wrong With the World CW4:51]
I am not done. God help me, I hope I shall never be done... I may know the truth of A* (the symbol from computer science which collects all possible finite strings formed from a finite alphabet) - and yet hope for Heaven to use them to proclaim the wonders of the Incarnation. And you thought I was a verbose writer, a producer of lengthy blogg-postings? Indeed, I am, but there is good reason for it. I may have used the word "unspeakable" - but it merely stands for a helplessness of trying to compress many thoughts into words which another can read. It is not philosophy but science: we are also evangelists, our discipline compels us to proclaim the truths we have acquired at such labor and cost. Imagine, then my shock as I discover that this also has been declared by Chesterton, and likewise bound to my topic! It is true, and I shall leave you with it to meditate upon:
Whenever you hear of things being unutterable and indefinable and impalpable and unnameable and subtly indescribable, then elevate your aristocratic nose towards heaven and snuff up the smell of decay. It is perfectly true that there is something in all good things that is beyond all speech or figure of speech. But it is also true that there is in all good things a perpetual desire for expression and concrete embodiment; and though the attempt to embody it is always inadequate, the attempt is always made. If the idea does not seek to be the word, the chances are that it is an evil idea. If the word is not made flesh it is a bad word.

Thus Giotto or Fra Angelico would have at once admitted theologically that God was too good to be painted; but they would always try to paint Him. And they felt (very rightly) that representing Him as a rather quaint old man with a gold crown and a white beard, like a king of the elves, was less profane than resisting the sacred impulse to express Him in some way. That is why the Christian world is full of gaudy pictures and twisted statues which seem, to many refined persons, more blasphemous than the secret volumes of an atheist. The trend of good is always towards Incarnation. But, on the other hand, those refined thinkers who worship the Devil, whether in the swamps of Jamaica or the salons of Paris, always insist upon the shapelessness, the wordlessness, the unutterable character of the abomination. They call him "horror of emptiness," as did the black witch in Stevenson's Dynamiter; they worship him as the unspeakable name; as the unbearable silence. They think of him as the unbearable silence. They think of him as the void in the heart of the whirlwind; the cloud on the brain of the maniac; the toppling turrets of vertigo or the endless corridors of nightmare. It was the Christians who gave the Devil a grotesque and energetic outline, with sharp horns and spiked tail. It was the saints who drew Satan as comic and even lively. The Satanists never drew him at all.
[GKC "The Mystagogue" in A Miscellany of Men]

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Bit of Latin: sic itur ad astra

Today we again find Chesterton quoting Virgil's Aeneid. It is not an easy book to read - I (alas) read it in an English translation, as I am far from fluent in reading Latin. But even so - it is WORTH your time to read Virgil - just as it is worth your time to read Homer or Dante, in translations, even insipid translations.

Today's phrase is just four words: sic itur ad astra. The literal translation is something like "Thus, (the) way/journey to (the) stars". I have two or three other references but they are pebbles compared to the jewel I have to offer you today. Oh yes! Oh how I look forward to the day whenI might cross the Atlantic and visit those twin islands - and chief among my visits must be to the place Chesterton adorns with these glorious words. Indeed - he gives a dramatic and powerful translation of Virgil - one which magically beckons to me from across the Atlantic. It is a lengthy quote, but such a glorious jewel deserves this grand setting. Please read it slowly, with your imaginator turned up to eleven (or as high as yours may go):
The beauty of Edinburgh as a city is absolutely individual, and consists in one separate atmosphere and one separate class of qualities. It consists chiefly in a quality that may be called "abruptness", an unexpected alternation of heights and depths. It seems like a city built on precipices; a perilous city. Although the actual ridges and valleys are not (of course) really very high or very
deep, they stand up like strong cliffs; they fall like open chasms. There are turns of the steep street that take the breath away like a literal abyss. There are thoroughfares, full, busy and lined with shops, which yet give the emotion of an Alpine stair. It is, in the only adequate word for it, a sudden city. Great roads rush down hills like rivers in spate. Great buildings rush up like rockets. But the sensation produced by this violent variety of levels is one even more complex and bizarre. It is partly owing to the aforesaid variety, the high and low platform of the place. It is partly owing to the hundred veils of the vaporous atmosphere, which make the earth itself look like the sky, as if the town were hung in heaven, descending like the New Jerusalem.

But the impression is odd and even eerie; it is sometimes difficult for a man to shake off the suggestion that each road is a bridge over the other roads, as if he were really rising by continual stages higher and higher through the air. He fancies he is on some open scaffolding of streets, scaling the sky. He almost imagines that, if he lifted a paving-stone, he might look down through the opening, and see the
moon. This weird sense of the city as a sort of starry ladder has so often come upon me when climbing the Edinburgh ways in cloudy weather that I have been tempted to wonder whether any of the old men of the town were thinking of the experience when they chose the strange and splendid motto of the Scotch capital. Never, certainly, did a great city have a heraldic motto which was so atmospherically accurate. It might have been invented by a poet - I might almost say by a landscape painter. The motto of Edinburgh, as you may still see it, I think, carved over the old Castle gate is, "Sic Itur ad Astra": "This Way to the Stars."

This element in a city is not a mere local oddity, or even a mere local charm. This abrupt sublimity, this sharp and decisive dignity, is in some sense the essential element of a city which is a city at all. The true nature of civic beauty is extraordinarily little understood in our own time.
[GKC "The Way to the Stars" in Lunacy and Letters]

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Beginning a New Series: GKC on the Gospels

So... it's Thursday and you are wondering - will Dr. Thursday be continuing his weekly columns now that the ACS blogg is gone?

Well, I cannot promise anything about the future. But I have several plans. Two different Chesterton series for this blogg - no, I ought to be realistic. I have considered one, which might be titled "GKC on the Gospels" - a kind of slovenly Diatesseron knit together from GKC's own works. Don't you just delight in that word "Diatesseron"? It is merely a fancy Greek-rooted term meaning "Through the Four" - that is, the four Gospels. I don't mean to perform the same task as Aquinas in his Catena Aurea, which links annotations from throughout the Church Fathers to the entire four Gospels; GKC never planned on accomplishing such a thorough commentary, but then again we may be surprised once we get started. Nevertheless, I don't actually expect to find coverage for the entire Gospel story, but there is plenty of material. Curiously, it divides quite elegantly along the seams of the OTHER four: the four sets of Mysteries of the Holy Rosary: the birth, the public life, the passion - and what comes afterwards. But only God knows if I will be able to get very far, it is very ambitious, and deserves someone with more time than I have. But at least I will start... So let us begin, as the Holy Mass once did, and always ought to, with that great scientific invocation for divine assistance:
V. Adjutorium nostrum + in nomine Domini.
R. Qui fecit caelum et terram.
Where, then, among the Four should I begin?

Hm... if I use that high-tech reference of Professor Dodgson and begin at the beginning... that is, I begin with the first chapter of the first Gospel - ah, the genealogy according to Matthew. It starts with Abraham and descends, going forwards through history. There is another in Luke, which ascends - that is, it goes backwards, and continues the list all the way back to Adam, and thus to God. There is always some fuss about these when they come up during Holy Mass. There are a fair number of tongue-twisting names, and most of them are obscure. There are some conflicts; serious scholars (those who actually study things and not simply try to destroy them) think that there may be omissions. But we are not trying to get to that level of scholarship here - we are trying to see what Chesterton said - or might have said - about the Gospels. And in this particular case, I think he said something astounding - something I have quoted previously in other contexts, but I think applies in its utmost sense to this particular fragment of Christ's story:
"A Social Situation."
We must certainly be in a novel;
What I like about this novelist is that he takes such trouble about his minor characters.
[GKC "The Notebook" quoted by Maisie Ward in Gilbert Keith Chesterton 63]
Astounding. But then the thought within that mystic line is also borne out by a kind of parallel numismatic reference:
For religion all men are equal, as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King.
[GKC Charles Dickens CW15:44]
In this case, we see a perfect Chestertonian inversion: from these genealogies we see that Christ the King bears the image of a long list of unknowns, of whom we now know nothing more than their names.

Certainly it is paradoxical that we find the great names like Abraham or David along with the total unknowns. We find clear sinners - again like David - and we get glimpses of the intrusion of world history, like those linked to "the time of the Babylonian Captivity".

But let us apply the usual scheme of Chestertonian optics - let us "zoom out" to see what else is in our view when we think of genealogy. Why - look at this!
It is curious that the romance of race should be spoken of as if it were a thing peculiarly aristocratic; that admiration for rank, or interest in family, should mean only interest in one not very interesting type of rank and family. The truth is that aristocrats exhibit less of the romance of pedigree than any other people in the world. For since it is their principle to marry only within their own class and mode of life, there is no opportunity in their case for any of the more interesting studies in heredity; they exhibit almost the unbroken uniformity of the lower animals. It is in the middle classes that we find the poetry of genealogy; it is the suburban grocer standing at his shop door whom some wild dash of Eastern or Celtic blood may drive suddenly to a whole holiday or a crime.
[GKC Robert Browning 7-8]
You know I am no lit'ry scholar, but I do read. And just a week or so ago I happened to look up a famous line from a Sherlock Holmes story for use in my Saga:
Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.
[ACD "The Greek Interpreter" in Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes]
There is hint of the same thing in Tolkien's The Hobbit - I don't recall an elegant line to quote, but you may recall how it is suggested that the very common and ordinary and unadventurous Bilbo Baggins may have inherited something remarkable from his Took forebearers... I am not suggesting that Christ inherited something remarkable - unless you call it the trait of "Common Man"-liness. Then again, that quality is the most remarkable of all. It surely leads to adventures - as we shall see in future installments of this study.

Here is another, almost incredible view - one which links so AWESOMELY to some of my own present efforts:
But whether or no everybody ought to have a sword, I feel sure that everybody ought to have a shield; I mean in the sense of armorial bearings. Here again is an instance in which the great revolutionary movement erred in equalising by extinguishing instead of by extending. The real error of the feudal tradition was not in having too much heraldry, but in having too little. For, properly understood, heraldry is one of the simplest ideas of humanity. In a certain sense, indeed, heraldry is humanity. It is what Mr. H. G. Wells called mankind in the making; it is life considered as a tissue of births. The genealogical tree is really a most common or garden sort of tree. It is only the tree of life; a mere trifle. The feeling of interest in one's own family is one of the most natural and universal feelings; it has nothing particularly oligarchical, or even aristocratic about it. And when the philosophers discovered that all men were important, they ought obviously to have discovered that all families were important; and even that all pedigrees were important. Nor can I see any reason why the genealogical tree should not bear flowers as well as fruit; why there should not be colours and emblems and external beauty to express the variations of the social group. The art of heraldry degenerated because it was turned from a real art to a sham science.
[GKC ILN Jan 1 1921 CW32:154-5]
Again, we must never lose sight of the fact that while we must exalt the Common Man, we must simultaneously exalt the Common Family... it is that mystic tree which Chesterton proclaims:
If we are not of those who begin by invoking a divine Trinity, we must none the less invoke a human Trinity; and see that triangle repeated everywhere in the pattern of the world. For the highest event in history, to which all history looks forward and leads up, is only something that is at once the reversal and the renewal of that triangle. Or rather it is the one triangle superimposed so as to intersect the other, making a sacred pentacle of which, in a mightier sense than that of the magicians, the fiends are afraid. The old Trinity was of father and mother and child and is called the human family. The new is of child and mother and father and has the name of the Holy Family. It is in no way altered except in being entirely reversed; just as the world which is transformed was not in the least different, except in being turned upside-down.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:186-7]
It gives me a most profound emotion to remind you that in computer science we always draw our trees like family trees - that is, with the root at the top of the page.

There is another excerpt I wish to give - it carries some sense of its context, but is definitely worth your pondering:
I say that the society does not fit into any of our social classifications, liberal or conservative. To many Radicals this sense of lineage will appear rank reactionary aristocracy. And it is aristocratic, if we mean by this a pride of pedigree; but it is not aristocratic in the practical and political sense. Strange as it may sound, its practical effect is democratic. It is not aristocratic in the sense of creating an aristocracy. On the contrary, it is perhaps the one force that permanently prevents the creation of an aristocracy, in the manner of the English squirearchy. The reason of this apparent paradox can be put plainly enough in one sentence. If you are really concerned about your relations, you have to be concerned about your poor relations. You soon discover that a considerable number of your second cousins exhibit a strong social tendency to be chimney-sweeps and tinkers. You soon learn the lesson of human equality if you try honestly and consistently to learn any other lesson, even the lesson of heraldry and genealogy.
[GKC Irish Impressions]
But there really is one single idea which is suggested by these genealogies - an idea which (in the old translations) resides in the verb "begat", now given a new dignity by "was the father of". Of course this mystery is one of the Three Great Human Secrets GKC studies in his famous essay [ILN Aug 10 1907 CW27:523 et seq] - the secret which ALL know, and which I therefore need not mention literally. It happens to be a most argumentative matter, and GKC talks about it in several places - some of which we shall see eventually. (If you need one, please see The Well and the Shallows CW3:501-2.) But for our study today, I shall conclude with his introduction to that same book:
The explanation, or excuse, for this essay is to be found in a certain notion, which seems to me very obvious, but which I have never, as it happens, seen stated by anybody else. It happens rather to cut across the common frontiers of current controversy. It can be used for or against Democracy, according to whether that swear-word is or is not printed with a big D. It can be connected, like most things, with religion; but only rather indirectly with my own religion. It is primarily the recognition of a fact, quite apart from the approval or disapproval of the fact. But it does involve the assertion that what has really happened, in the modern world, is practically the precise contrary of what is supposed to have happened there.

The thesis is this: that modern emancipation has really been a new persecution of the Common Man. If it has emancipated anybody, it has in rather special and narrow ways emancipated the Uncommon Man. It has given an eccentric sort of liberty to some of the hobbies of the wealthy, and occasionally to some of the more humane lunacies of the cultured. The only thing that it has forbidden is common sense, as it would have been understood by the common people. Thus, if we begin with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we find that a man really has become more free to found a sect. But the Common Man does not in the least want to found a sect. He is much more likely, for instance, to want to found a family. And it is exactly there that the modern emancipators are quite likely to begin to frustrate him; in the name of Malthusianism or Eugenics or Sterilisation or at a more advanced stage of progress, probably, Infanticide. It would be a model of modern liberty to tell him that he might preach anything, however wild, about the Virgin Birth, so long as he avoided anything like a natural birth; and that he was welcome to build a tin chapel to preach a twopenny creed, entirely based on the text, "Enoch begat Methuselah", [Genesis 5:21] so long as he himself is forbidden to beget anybody. And, as a matter of historical fact, the sects which enjoyed this sectarian freedom, in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, were generally founded by merchants or manufacturers of the comfortable, and sometimes of the luxurious classes. On the other hand, it is strictly to the lower classes, to use the liberal modern title for the poor, that such schemes as Sterilisation are commonly directed and applied.
[GKC The Common Man 1-2]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Bit of Latin: arma virumque

I don't expect to be able to maintain this "Bit" posting with any regularity, but I promised this one back when I wrote on the ACS blogg, so here it is.

I seem to recall that I was talking about the name "Smith" (or rather GKC was), as I quoted that wonderful encomium from Heretics. Just for your reference, there is a parallel essay which appeared in The Daily News and was reprinted in The Apostle and the Wild Ducks, and in my notes I find there is a link on the topic in the essay "What I Found In My Pocket" (Gollum would be curious...) which is in Tremendous Trifles. Anyway, in both the AWD and the Heretics you will find GKC quoting these two Latin words: arma virumque.

If Virgil's Aeneid had been a papal encyclical, that would be its title, since those are the first two words of his epic tale... did you ever realize that the Aeneid is a SEQUEL to Homer? Oh yes. But let us just explain the words and leave the cross-links for another time.

Actually you need the third word in order to make sense. The first line is:
Arma virumque cano...
which means:
Arms and the man I sing...
The man, of course is Aeneas. If you need help you can get your local Latin scholar to explain about the accusative, and about the enclitic -que which means "and". (What a cool trick.) And if you want to poke at a dull topic you can get into a lively discussion on how vir means "man-the-male" not "man-the-species". You can even go into some speculation about how the verb canere connects to lively-discussion-inducing words like "incantation" or "enchanted"... but also connects to "canticle" - which may cause some even more lively discussion.

You will also find these words in one other place, where GKC discusses them, rather than merely using them as an example or for classical support. They appear in his discussion of Shaw's play, "Arms and the Man":
No one who was alive at the time and interested in such matters will ever forget the first acting of Arms and the Man. It was applauded by that indescribable element in all of us which rejoices to see the genuine thing prevail against the plausible; that element which rejoices that even its enemies are alive. Apart from the problems raised in the play, the very form of it was an attractive and forcible innovation. Classic plays which were wholly heroic, comic plays which were wholly and even heartlessly ironical, were common enough. Commonest of all in this particular time was the play that began playfully, with plenty of comic business, and was gradually sobered by sentiment until it ended on a note of romance or even of pathos. A commonplace little officer, the butt of the mess, becomes by the last act as high and hopeless a lover as Dante. Or a vulgar and violent pork-butcher remembers his own youth before the curtain goes down. The first thing that Bernard Shaw did when he stepped before the footlights was to reverse this process. He resolved to build a play not on pathos, but on bathos. The officer should be heroic first and then everyone should laugh at him; the curtain should go up on a man remembering his youth, and he should only reveal himself as a violent pork-butcher when someone interrupted him with an order for pork. This merely technical originality is indicated in the very title of the play. The Arma Virumque of Virgil is a mounting and ascending phrase, the man is more than his weapons. The Latin line suggests a superb procession which should bring on to the stage the brazen and resounding armour, the shield and shattering axe, but end with the hero himself, taller and more terrible because unarmed. The technical effect of Shaw's scheme is like the same scene, in which a crowd should carry even more gigantic shapes of shield and helmet, but when the horns and howls were at their highest, should end with the figure of Little Tich. The name itself is meant to be a bathos; arms - and the man.
[GKC George Bernard Shaw CW11:416-7]

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Fun things about GKC's writing

Today is the fifth anniversary of the startup of one of my systems - the one we called "Denver" - and though it moved some 17,000 files inbound and 17,000 files outbound each day, it was not anywhere as interesting as the other system which performed Subsidiarity. But this is about me, and boring.

Far more important is today's feast, the feast of the victory of the navies of the West over the forces of the Turks in the battle of Lepanto - the victory attributed by Pope St. Pius V to the intercessory power of the Holy Rosary. I am sure you already know that Chesterton wrote a poem about it - and you may read it here.

At some point, I will try to get some thoughts together on the Rosary - this year marks the eighth since John Paul II proposed the "Luminous" mysteries, and since I have been doing them often recently, I ought to get some notes together for your consideration. There are some interesting ideas one can find in the serious exploration of the Public Ministry of our Lord, especially when put under the intense "Marian Magnifier" of the Rosary... Did you ever notice that we could just as easily call them the "Aquatic" or "Hydraulic" Mysteries? Er - those terms have their own very technical meanings, so maybe we might just say "the mysteries of water"... oh yes.

But I did promise you something fun about GKC's writing - and I have some odd things today. I got it from my computer. I mean, what good is a computer that just sits there and records your typing, or shows you the typing of other people? I still remember that hilarious line from "Back to the Future" where Marty's father-to-be says to Marty's mother-to-be, "You are my DENSITY". And I mention "density" because I was thinking about words, and how many letters a given word can have.

Oh, now, I don't mean that as a joke. Obviously a given word has as many letters as it has. It's grand that "four" has four letters, though it is really odd that "five" also has four letters, "six" has three letters and "three" has five letters. Oh well. But how many different letters are in a given word?

Consider the ratio of the number of different letters in a word to the total number of letters in a word - let us call that its "density". So a word like "cat" has three letters, and all three are different 3 divided by 3 is one - so the density of "cat" is 1.0. But a word like "noon" has four letters with only two different ones, so 2 divided by 4 is one half - the density of "noon" is 0.5.

The question before us, then, is what is the MOST dense and LEAST dense words in Chesterton's writing? (I don't bother asking about ALL words, let someone else do that project.)

After a little coding, the answers readily appear. (drum roll)

The least dense word in GKC's work as I presently have it is "senselessness" - which has four different letters in a thirteen-letter word, for a density of roughly 0.31.

There are a fair number of words which have density 1.0, but let us take the longest such words. There are still several, each has twelve different letters:


Very curious. Of course you can readily see that "ambidextrously" would have 14 letters, though GKC did not use that word. I wonder if there are any longer ones...