Thursday, November 08, 2012

Good News!

Good News! The good news today is that Three Things Which Go Well - the sixth installment of my great Saga, De Bellis Stellarum, is now available. You can go here to learn more or to order.

Now, you may be wondering about that title. I heard someone say it's not good English. I wouldn't know, I use English, though I certainly cannot profess to be an expert on its theoretical rules; I know it far better in practice. However, as I looked around, I saw that Chesterton used it in that manner, and so did his brother. One of the GKC quotes happens to be quite apropos, ludicrously so, and I will give it to you for your amusement:
Men grow angrier with him for the two or three things which he states wrongly than for the two or three hundred that he states rightly...
[GKC "John Ruskin" in A Handful of Authors]
There are eight other instances... but these do not concern us now, since I was not quoting GKC with my title, but another Author.

Indeed, these five words are the first words of a strange and mystical "numerical proverb" which I use as a motive-centerpiece for a significant portion of my Saga. Here you go:
There are three things, which go well, and the fourth that walketh happily: A lion, the strongest of beasts, who hath no fear of any thing he meeteth: A cock girded about the loins: and a ram: and a king, whom none can resist.
[Proverbs 30:29-31]
It is sufficiently curious for it to be examined and considered - but I shall not do so here. I simply use it as a launching mechanism to get to the Good News of today's essay: just as last week we had a quick look at the languages GKC used, today we shall make a very brief study of the biblical references he makes.

This is a bit awkward; I am not going to give the nearly 300 entries my machinery was able to find, some of which are duplicates. (Recall, for example, that the essays of All Things Considered and The Uses of Diversity are more-or-less duplicates of his ILN essays.) However, even just a cursory examination will be enlightening.

Proverbs (No, he does not refer to the quote above given!)
Song of Songs

That last one is a very curious one which he liked, and referred to in three places, which I shall give you the one which has two references:
The prophecy that has come true is a dead prophecy. A prophecy that has not come true is a living prophecy. The same applies to that other elemental metaphor of the same prophet, that all swords shall be beaten into ploughshares, [Isaiah 2:4] or that less-known but admirable poem in praise of domesticity, which perhaps the lady Suffragists will not like: "In that day all the vessels in the houses shall be as the bowls before the altar, and on every pot in Jerusalem shall be written, Holiness unto the Lord." [Zachariah 14:20-21]
[GKC ILN Feb 9 1907 CW27:393]
It's this sort of enumerating thing which he suggests in a letter to Frances: idea (which is much cheaper) is to make a house really allegoric really explain its own essential meaning. Mystical or ancient sayings should be inscribed on every object, the more prosaic the object the better; and the more coarsely and rudely the inscription was traced the better. 'Hast thou sent the Rain upon the Earth?' [Job 37:6?] should be inscribed on the Umbrella-Stand: perhaps on the Umbrella. 'Even the Hairs of your Head are all numbered' [Luke 12:7] would give a tremendous significance to one's hairbrushes: the words about 'living water' [John 4:10] would reveal the music and sanctity of the sink: while 'Our God is a consuming Fire' [Hebrews 12:29] might be written over the kitchen-grate, to assist the mystic musings of the cook...
[Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 99]
Ah, does that strike you as being very Who-like, in their decorating all things for Christmas? Very fitting indeed.

I must stress that this list is quite approximate - also that it errs by omission, since there are definitely other quotes and references which are not registered. But I would suggest that the gospels are quite easily first in frequency - it is hard to be fair in distinguishing, since so often the Synoptics say the same thing - but John does appear often also. And after that, perhaps, the Psalms would be the most frequent. I do not have the energy to examine the specific translation - though sometimes the quotes are - eh - Chestertonian in that he is quoting from memory, and does make minor (and trivial) adjustments as we hear so often at Holy Mass... but this will also get into whines which we do not need.

Rather, I think it would be far more useful for us to read the Bible - and later, perhaps examine what GKC had to say. This sort of thing has been done previously - there is a VERY famous set of volumes called the Catena Aurea (that's Latin for "Golden Chain") written by St. Thomas Aquinas - er - in his "spare time". Oh my, it's hard to believe... It consists of a repetition of the text all four gospels interspersed with a huge helping of the commentary of many Fathers of the Church upon the preceding excerpt. It is absolutely fantastic, and anyone who is interested in Christ will be amazed to explore it. It appears that GKC did not ever refer to it (at last I can find no use of that term) - and yet one might imagine an updated form... after all, we have another seven hundred years of great writers who have busied themselves with the Gospels. But let me remind you again - and it bears repeating - even if I sound a little like St. Paul here. PLEASE! please read the Gospels in preference to GKC or to lesser (and far more slovenly and sinful) writers like me. Let us always try to be Christians who also read Chesterton, not Chestertonians who - ah - know of the gospels. Yet I feel confident in using GKC as an assistant, since he, like St. Paul, did often speak of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.[See 1Cor 2:2]
The person who is really in revolt is the optimist, who generally lives and dies in a desperate and suicidal effort to persuade all the other people how good they are. It has been proved a hundred times over that if you really wish to enrage people and make them angry, even unto death, the right way to do it is to tell them that they are all the sons of God. Jesus Christ was crucified, it may be remembered, not because of anything he said about God, but on a charge of saying that a man could in three days pull down and rebuild the Temple. Every one of the great revolutionists, from Isaiah to Shelley, have been optimists. They have been indignant, not about the badness of existence but about the slowness of men in realizing its goodness.
[GKC Introduction to The Defendant]
No; that is good, but not quite what I wanted here. At the risk of repetition - and it deserves repetition - oh if only it was made into a "Sequence" or at least a great cantata for choir to render! No, this is perhaps the most astounding of all GKC's writing about that topic:
The members of some Eastern sect or secret society or other seemed to have made a scene somewhere; nobody could imagine why. One incident occurred once or twice again and began to arouse irritation out of proportion to its insignificance. It was not exactly what these provincials said; though of course it sounded queer enough. They seemed to be saying that God was dead and that they themselves had seen him die. This might be one of the many manias produced by the despair of the age; only they did not seem particularly despairing. They seemed quite unnaturally joyful about it, and gave the reason that the death of God had allowed them to eat him and drink his blood. According to other accounts God was not exactly dead after all; there trailed through the bewildered imagination some sort of fantastic procession of the funeral of God, at which the sun turned black, but which ended with the dead omnipotence breaking out of the tomb and rising again like the sun.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:295-6]
And now, whenever I go up to receive Holy Communion, I try to recall this - even at the risk of having a very goofy grin on my face. But we ought to be quite unnaturally joyful...


At 15 November, 2012 09:55, Blogger Banshee said...

Re: variant quotes

If one reads a lot of translations of the Bible, and if one reads patristic and medieval works which include Old Latin versions of the Bible, one has one's head filled with many curious versions of Bible verses!

And quoting by memory, possibly with a few words bent to the occasion to show connections, is something many of these folks do. There's also a lot of quoting two relevant bits that are close together without indicating ellipses, and quoting the beginning of a verse and expecting the reader to get the point from the second unquoted bit. This was entirely fair for people soaked in the Bible, who expected the reader to be soaked also, but it means a lot of annotation for the rest of us!


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