Thursday, April 04, 2013

Thursday in the Octave

Alleluia! "The splendor of Christ risen from the dead has shone upon the people redeemed by His blood, alleluia!"

It has surely been a very long time since I had posting on a Thursday. (ahem!) But this is no time for me to be writing on bloggs, not when I have so many other things waiting for me to handle. So I shall merely give you a brief taste of Chesterton on Easter, since it appears that people are hunting for such references. Please resume eating your chocolates and other goodies, and continue to rejoice - for OUR GOD KNOWS THE WAY OUT OF THE GRAVE. Amen. Alleluia!

...will be noted that where there is tea, there is tea-time. Where it really exists as a beverage that can be drunk, it also exists as an institution that must be observed; and the name of it is not merely tea, but afternoon tea. This element of concentration in time as well as space reappears, as everywhere else in the human story. A certain stage in the slow descent of the sun, a certain line in the mathematical map of heaven that is traced in stars, a certain fine shade between afternoon and evening, is made and marked by the ancient human instinct even for the modern institution of tea. Tea is a libation to the sun in that quarter of heaven, to the gods of that condition of earth and sky, fully as much as Easter eggs are proper to Easter or Christmas puddings to Christmas. It is true that by the necessities of the case it has to vary somewhat with the seasons; and it will be found that the institution takes on a slightly different tone in consequence. In that respect it resembles rather Easter than Christmas, and marks what is, in this merely light and local sense, the practical advantage of Christmas over Easter. Christmas is, quite apart from all its really important elements, the central and supreme example of this idea of concentration and fixity; because it is not a movable feast. Many excessive schools of lunatics have tried in vain to move it, and even to move it away. In spite of all sorts of intellectual irritations and pedantic explaining away, human beings will almost certainly go on observing this winter feast in some fashion. If it is for them only a winter feast, they will be found celebrating it with winter sports. If it is for them only a heathen feast, they will keep it as the heathens do. But the great majority of them will go on observing forms that cannot be so explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly they will wake up nd discover why.
[GKC ILN Jan 3 1925 CW33:478]

Ahem... I must here intrude. The following is almost unsettling in its relevance to today - I have quite recently encountered some otherwise decent young people with college degrees who have never had courses in the basic theories underlying their disciplines - and that is horrifying, for that means they cannot appeal to first principles in any thing they may do... But GKC addresses the matter far better, and gives not only the solution, but reminds of of how Easter is part of that solution. But read it for yourself:
I believe a new and enormous number of people now have no opinions at all. Some have open minds; some have empty minds; but few have the positive and partisan opinions that prevailed in my boyhood. A few have convictions - indeed, there is some reasonable hope that the passing of opinions may be the coming of convictions. But most people have not yet got the convictions and have already lost the opinions.... In some ways it may well be said that this blank state of mind is a better thing than the bigotries and blatant slanders of the past. And up to a point, doubtless, it is a good thing. But there is a further difficulty which I do not think is very well understood. Not only have men lost their opinions, but many of them seem to have lost the power of forming opinions. They have seen all there is to be seen of the last stages of beliefs; but they do not seem even able to imagine what the beginning of a belief would be like. They seem to think there is something archaic and antediluvian about those first acts of the mind, by which it opens the open question of the world. It seems a mere mad negation to start from scratch. It seems a barbaric fantasy to begin at the beginning. They no more employ first principles than flint arrows, and regard the first proposition of Euclid as a palaeolithic drawing on a rock. They would almost as soon rebuild all our elaborate and toppling cities of civilisation all over again, from their first foundations, as really dig up one of their own reasons for one of their own opinions.
Easter, which is the spiritual New Year, should be a time for the understanding of new thoughts and the making of new things. The representatives of the rising generation can give us any number of negative reasons for not observing certain forms or traditions. They do not seem to see that it is their business as artists to create forms. They will not realise that it is their business as builders to found traditions. If the old conventions have really come to an end, the others have to do something much more difficult; they have to come to a beginning. I doubt if they have any clear idea about how to come to a beginning. They do not understand that positive creations are founded on positive creeds. To touch but lightly upon the great mystery that is most involved in the idea of Easter, we have seen lately a lively curiosity revolving round the ancient idea of the return of the dead. Perhaps it should rather be called the great and glorious doubt about whether the dead are dead. When that doubt came to trouble a generation of materialists, it naturally turned many of them into spiritualists. The spiritualist is nearly always a converted materialist. He is seldom or never a natural mystic. For most of these men it was enough of a revelation that any light of any sort gleamed through the cracks of the door of death, which they had assumed to be the blank wall at the end of a blind alley. The result on the mass of their sympathisers or semi-sympathisers was something very like what I have suggested as the attitude of the man staring with a blank face at the blue rosette. It is not so much the condition of having discovered something as of being ready for anything. It is not so much that most modern people have found a faith to set against the materialists as simply that they have lost faith in materialism. The sceptic is sure of nothing now, not even of his five senses. It is not so much a new vision as a new void to be filled with visions; and this is no place in which to argue about what the visions shall be.
[GKC ILN Apr 3 1926 CW34:73-74]

Postscript: Speaking as a computer scientist, who is at base a mathematician, it is very pleasant and satisfactory to hear GKC appeal to Euclid in relation to Easter... but you have heard it from me many times before, and this time I shall omit the footnotes and quote from memory: "Whether you are speaking of PIGS or the Binomial Theorem you are STILL talking about God." and also this one: "I never can really feel that there is such a thing as a different subject." GKC is a medieval man; so am I. I think such topics have EVERYTHING to do with Easter, and if God permits, one day I will try to write more about that too.


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