Two articles by Tony Esolen, which appeared this week before my Internet-trawling eyes, strike me as having been entirely worth the attention of anyone who missed them, and good to consult for contemporary “background” on this last, first, and most holy of Ember Days. I cannot improve either by paraphrase, so shall direct gentle reader: here, and here.
Dr Esolen will be known to many as the “Modern Library” translator of the Divine Comedy. His is the edition from which it should be taught to English students, these days, for it takes Dante seriously both as Italian poet and Catholic thinker — presenting us with a whole-Dante instead of the usual half-Dante. The translation itself is en face with the Italian, and Esolen’s very-English iambics have the remarkable ability to echo rather than jam Dante’s terza rima — with neither the stilt of an alien rhyme scheme, nor the sponging absorbency of prose. His translations of Lucretius, and of Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, are also worth a look. The gentleman is an English perfesser, and it is a matter of some urgency to make English readers once again acquainted with the broader traditions of the European literary heritage, within which English is sometimes only a rather parochial part. This, in turn, will help rub the nose of that reader in the fact that Western Civ is essentially Catholic, and that, oddly enough, the higher reaches of English literature happen to be Catholic, too.
See also his very useful book, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, or his earlier, Ironies of Faith: The Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature. Esolen — who like most others, had to find his own way out of the confining, into the broad — is a brilliant mediator between today’s college students as we find them, and what they could be with a little education.
One thing leads to another, and with Christmas approaching, let us get back to the Church. In the two articles I flagged, Esolen touches upon the continuing rage to destroy our Church, from within. This became worse, recently, with a sudden increase of posturing drivel from Rome; though I hope it will prove the last senile flourish of that “Spirit of Vatican II” — the god to whom post-Catholics pray. It is discouraging to see the Church once again rolling over, on the chance that the Zeitgeist will stroke her belly. So let us not be discouraged. It is a penance and chastisement which faithful Catholics should cheerfully endure; one which by its nature cannot last much longer.
The Church is, and the Church teaches, as she has always taught; not as the world teaches, by precept alone. Our most effective statesmen — in raw, historical terms — have always been the Saints. (Popes have only counted when they have approached to this muscular standard; all other bishops likewise.) Saints and martyrs have been our heroes and our leaders, and this will never change: for our mission is to conquer and sustain hearts, not merely to occupy more demographic territory.
It is a mission that has been carried along, day by day, and hour by hour, through the Liturgy. And here I am using this word in its broadest sense, to include not only the precious words but the music to wing them; the Calendar to encircle the seasons; the works of art and architecture that bring the words home to our eyes. This Liturgy is the school of the Saints: a mystical teaching which gives spiritual depth to the surface moral and doctrinal instruction, opening the Word in every pore of our being, and focusing us upon the living Bread — with our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole mind — giving us the strength to love our neighbour.
Those who contradict Christ, as Judas did — by taking the part of Martha against Mary — “know not what they do.” Therefore, they cannot sustain their attack. The wilful destruction of our cultural heritage, the schemes to drain reverence from the Mass, the desecration of everything that is beautiful, will not convert a single soul. People do not go to church to have the squalor of this world pushed back in their faces; the poor do not go there to have what they had taken away. We must do what we can to preserve what the devils would destroy — and continue in Hope, within our hearts, even after the devils have smashed up our churches and our Mass.
We must not despair, even when we can do nothing. The Holy Spirit will be rebuilding from the bottom, even as the vandals strike from the top. This appears to be happening now, by the miraculous revival of the Old Mass; by restorations within the monastic movements; by the recovery of interest in polyphony and chant; by the mysterious calling of so many young to traditionalist vocations — things inconceivable, only a decade ago. God does not lie, nor cheat on His promises; Christ will not abandon His Church.
In diebus illis: clamabunt ad Dominum a facie tribulantis, et mittet eis salvatorem, et propugnatorem, qui liberet eos.
Addendum: The concluding Latin is in today’s Old Mass, the first Lesson from Isaiah: “In those days: they shall cry to the Lord because of the oppressor, and He shall send them a Saviour and defender to deliver them.”