September 30th, 2014Hope at Hopeby Joseph Pearce
Three weeks ago I had the privilege and pleasure of giving talks on consecutive days at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids and at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. I am extremely gratified to have just received a delightful report of the visit to Hope College, written by a student with whom I had lunch. The report also contains links to videos of two of the talks that I gave at Hope:
September 27th, 2014Kairos and Chronosby Dena Hunt
Msgr. Charles Pope posted this brief reflection on, as it turns out, my birthday. I’d been hoping for some kind of little present from the Lord, and I think this may be it. Msgr. Pope says,
“I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done (Eccles 3:10-11).
“Somewhere in our hearts is something that the world cannot, and did not give us. It is something that is nowhere evident in the world, and yet, though not perceiving it, we still know it. This passage from Ecclesiastes calls it ‘the timeless.’ We also often refer to it as eternity, or even infinity.”
He goes on to explain the difference between kairos (the “timeless,” or eternity) and chronos. I recall teaching my students about the six points in time of which the indicative mood of the English language permits us to speak. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any other points in time, only that we cannot refer to any other points in language. After all, time is not “real”; it’s something we made up so that we could set our clocks and mark our calendars (and have our birthdays). It’s a necessary and very clever invention of humanity that has allowed us to establish order (however artificial) sufficient for communication, and therefore, for civilization. Without it, there is no order, no communication beyond the very primitive, and consequently, no civilization.
Yet we are all aware that it isn’t really “real.” We all know somewhere in our hearts that that linear bit we call a “chronology of events” signifies nothing. In fact, we know it to be a false reality—we just don’t know how to “say” it. Indeed, without a consciousness of God, we are almost forbidden to speak of it—yet another example of the many limitations on human intelligence that materialistic science has imposed on us. Thus does science fiction come up with such things as “time travel.”
I think it is this consciousness of something inarticulable that accounts for the gnostics’ (both ancient and modern “new-agers”) belief that they have access to “secret” knowledge. Something common to every person who ever lived they take to be something that sets them apart and makes them superior to believers. This is one of several examples of the fallacy of narcissism, which, rightly understood, is not a character flaw so much as an intellectual one. I remember watching a film called “Eat, Pray, Love,” in which the character played by Julia Roberts discovers God. She’s asked, So who is God? and she answers, “I am.” It’s a clever allusion to God’s words to Moses on Sinai, but it’s more revealing than it is clever, and provides fresh understanding of why those words were forbidden to the Hebrews. Lucky Hebrews; unlucky Julia. The discovery of the Infinite within you doesn’t make you “it.” If you believe it does, as narcissism must, that belief will lead not to unity with God or with others but to utter desolation, for it is its unspeakable Otherness that makes intimacy conceivable. (But that awareness is impossible humility is absent.)
I’m 72 this September 25 on our human calendar. Why has God allowed me to live this long? I must have done a lot in my past that I need to atone for today, for we know that the good die young. We old people know it is his mercy, granting us yet another day, another hour, to get it right, because heaven knows, we’ve certainly messed up so far. I know I’ll try again today, mess up again today, and ask his mercy again tonight, and his forbearance for tomorrow, for that is how we in chronos must speak to kairos, locked as we are into the verb tenses of our own making. What makes this bearable is the knowledge that he too once lived here, where we are, in time. He knows our helplessness, and he knows in the only way we recognize anything as really “known”—via experience. Thus are we able to rely on his mercy, a grace self-denied to the gnostics and others. A non-believing friend once asked, “How can you endure all that Catholic guilt?” to which I replied, “It’s a gift,” an answer I’m sure she misunderstood.
Here is a link To Msgr. Pope’s post on kairos and chronos: http://blog.adw.org/2014/09/god-has-put-the-timeless-in-our-hearts-a-meditation-on-a-saying-from-ecclesiastes/
September 26th, 2014Little Gidding’s Comedyby Daniel J. Heisey
More than forty years ago Russell Kirk wrote Eliot and His Age, and in it he argued that future literary historians will see the twentieth century as the Age of Eliot, since “what Dante was to the fourteenth century, or Shakespeare to the sixteenth, Eliot became to the twentieth century.” Recipient of the Nobel Prize and the Order of Merit, T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) still has his ardent admirers, but the jury remains out on whether he dominated an era and will have his name attached to it.
For example, despite occasional revivals of Murder in the Cathedral or The Family Reunion, Eliot’s verse dramas might not endure as long as Shakespeare’s. Meanwhile, Eliot’s other poems tend to feature in high school and college reading lists. Eliot himself said that the world of poetry divides between Dante and Shakespeare, and Dante especially holds the key to understanding some of Eliot’s poems.
In 1944, Eliot published a slim volume called Four Quartets. It comprises four poems written and published separately in the early 1940s. Together they achieve unity and coherence and can be seen as one long poem in four parts. In general, Kirk said that, “All that such a poem as Four Quartets may accomplish is to relate one remarkable man’s vision of time, self, reality, and eternity: to describe one person’s experience of transcendence.” It is a heavy burden, but the book’s forty-some pages can bear it.
The fourth of the four poems, “Little Gidding,” stands as a miniature version of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Oddly, Kirk seems to have missed this aspect of the poem. However, he did explain that Little Gidding is a remote village in eastern England, about thirty miles northwest of Cambridge. In the seventeenth century, the small church there was home to an Anglican religious community.
Eliot captures Little Gidding’s geographical isolation by referring to one’s getting there, “when you leave the rough road/And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull façade/And the tombstone.” As he puts it, “There are other places/Which also are the world’s end, . . . But this is the nearest, in place and time,/Now and in England.” The church at Little Gidding becomes Eliot’s equivalent to Dante’s dark wood, his portal into the mystical world.
Eliot underscores the spiritual reason for one’s journey there. “You are not here to verify,/Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity/Or carry report. You are here to kneel/Where prayer has been valid.” One is on pilgrimage, kneeling in obscurity and acknowledging and bewailing one’s manifold sins and wickedness, as the old Prayer Book has it.
Once one has entered this dimension, communication with the faithful departed can occur. There remains the mundane world, where “the dead leaves still rattled on like tin/Over the asphalt where no other sound was.” Yet, Eliot encounters the soul of a man who had been killed in the London Blitz. The second section of the poem sketches this interaction, so reminiscent of Dante speaking with tormented souls in Hell and restless souls in Purgatory.
The third section of “Little Gidding” reflects upon detachment, saying that the use of memory is for liberation. That liberation consists “not less of love but expanding/Of love beyond desire, and so liberation/From the future as well as the past.” Within that context, “History may be servitude,/History may be freedom.” Dwelling on the past is as much a trap as dwelling in the future.
Twice in this third section Eliot quotes a fifteenth-century English mystic, Julian of Norwich. Just as Dante in Heaven listens to numerous saints, Eliot hears the words of a holy woman whose hermitage was about seventy miles east of Little Gidding. Julian’s recurring assurance as quoted by Eliot is, “All shall be well, and/All manner of thing shall be well.” After the second quotation, Eliot adds, “By the purification of the motive/In the ground of our beseeching.” Purgation and detachment lead to the inner peace wherein all shall be well.
The fourth section of the poem refers to the Holy Spirit. “The dove descending breaks the air,” this section begins, “With flame of incandescent terror/Of which the tongues declare/The one discharge from sin and error.” The reference is to Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), and “the one discharge from sin and error” is Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. “The only hope, or else despair,” says Eliot, depends on one choosing “To be redeemed from fire by fire.” How one uses one’s gift of free will determines whether one will be saved from the fires of Hell by the fire of the Holy Spirit.
In the fifth and final section of the poem, historians perk up briefly at the following: “A people without history/Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern/Of timeless moments.” These lines are the sort of thing that makes Eliot’s fans swoon. In such cryptic phrases they find profundity proving that Eliot is not only the Bard of the modern world, but also its Delphic Oracle. For the rest of us, not yet on that lofty plane, it is gibberish. Until we can see what “a pattern of timeless moments” might be, it is best to return to clear allusions to Dante.
This pilgrimage has been spiritual exploration, and as was Dante’s poetic sojourn through the spiritual world, it has been transforming. “And the end of all our exploring,” says Eliot, “Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.” As is said of the Divine Comedy, once one has finished reading the poem, one is ready to begin reading it.
Eliot then quotes for a third and last time the line from Julian of Norwich, “And all shall be well/And all manner of thing shall be well.” This saintly peace comes “When the tongues of flame are in-folded/Into the crowned knot of fire/And the fire and the rose are one.” Eliot thus concludes by evoking the celestial rose that Dante describes ablaze in the highest Heaven.
Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno. He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.
September 25th, 2014Good News from Aquinas Collegeby Joseph Pearce
I’m heartened by a news report, just published in Catholic Education Daily, which shows the success of Aquinas College in Nashville in providing a top-quality education. As readers of the Ink Desk might know, I was appointed as Director of the Aquinas College Center for Faith and Culture in July and it is from my office in Nashville that I now write. It’s good to be part of such a dynamic Catholic college. Here’s the link to the article, which also provides information about other Catholic colleges who are performing well:
September 24th, 2014New Signs of EU Meltdownby Joseph Pearce
One of the most encouraging trends in global politics in the past few years has been the rise of euro-skepticism, the term applied to those resisting the undemocratic tyranny of the European Union. I was in London when the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) shook the corrupt political establishment in Britain to its foundations by winning the country’s European Election. It was a political earthquake which caused my heart to leap with seismic abandon! The same resistance to Euro-Tyranny has swept through other parts of Europe, even those parts of the so-called Euro-Zone which were considered the very core of its power. The Front National, under the charismatic leadership of Marine Le Pen, is now leading the polls in France with its demands for the restoration of the French Franc and the abandonment of the Euro. Now, in recent elections, there has been a similar upsurge in Euro-Skepticism in Germany, traditionally the most pro-EU of all the nations in the Euro-Tyranny. It can only be hoped that this is the beginning of the end for the multinational monolith at the darkened and decaying heart of Europe.
For more details about the German uprising against the Euro, click here:
September 24th, 2014Ralph Fiennes on Playing A Holocaust Perpetratorby Brendan D. King
For the last several weeks, I have been writing an article about Nazi Germany for a Catholic magazine editor who shall remain nameless. In the process, I have often reflected on the following interview with actor Ralph Fiennes, in which he reflects on his performance as SS Captain Amon Goeth in Stephen Spielberg's "Schindler's List."
September 23rd, 2014G. K. Chesterton and T. S. Eliot: Friends or Enemies?by Joseph Pearce
Following the controversy caused by my earlier article on modern art, not least of which was the suggestion that T. S. Eliot held Chesterton in evident contempt, I thought I’d write an article on the enmity between GKC and TSE – and, more importantly, the friendship:
September 23rd, 2014An Interview on the Ignatius Critical Editionsby Joseph Pearce
My absence from the Ink Desk is a consequence of my current heavy travel schedule. Last weekend I was in Fort Collins, Colorado, giving a number of talks and teaching a class on the Catholicism of Tolkien’s work. I’m currently in Nashville, TN, teaching at Aquinas College. This week we’re studying Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland” and Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. This weekend I’m speaking at Chesterton conferences in Buffalo and Rochester NY. It’s an exhausting but exhilarating time!
Last week, during the calm before the storm, I gave an interview with a British Catholic website on the Ignatius Critical Editions, of which I am the series editor. Here’s the link to the interview: http://catholicwriters.co.uk/the-arts/ignatius-critical-editions/
September 23rd, 2014How I Found Religion - or - How Religion Found Meby Kevin O'Brien
Rod Dreher is asking for readers to submit stories on "How I Found Religion". Since today happens to be an anniversary date for me in that regard, I posted the following ...
So I leave that as a kind of teaser, but this image from the internet is as close as I've come to illustrating that night 17 years ago visually.
September 23rd, 2014The Fellowship of the Rings vs. John Cleese?by Brendan D. King
I must say, Peter Jackson's travestied trilogy works well with this alteration...