Saint John Baptist

Only 184 shopping days to Christmas, as we were reminded last night in the Eve of the Feast of Saint John Baptist. I love priestly drollness.

That this other Nativity is celebrated at all; that it has been since the earliest times; that it was placed opposite in the year to Christmas, as it were baptising & overwriting the old pagan Midsummer feasts; that the Baptist’s martyrdom is also commemorated (29th August) in liturgical witness to his significance; that he is styled the Precursor or Forerunner or Light lighting the way to Christ, & that the mystical significance of this is clinched in all the Gospels & through the Fathers of the Church; that his embryonic stirring in his mother’s womb, & the special Grace attending upon it, is among the catechetical particulars of Christian belief across all cults & confessions — these facts, & a few more, have been present to the Christian mind these last twenty centuries or so.

We know his mother, Elizabeth, first cousin to Mary Immaculate, was barren & aging, having prayed with husband Zachary for child; & in this tradition we find the cultural meaning of Saint-Jean-Baptiste to Quebec — or as it was formerly called, “Canada.” The festivity was celebrated throughout old Europe (with lights including bonfires on the hills), but especially in France under the ancien régime, & the more when transferred to her New World colony. We trace this through the Jesuit Relations, Canada’s most extraordinary historical documents — in which we find the true meaning of our country, & of the cause for which she was conceived. The symbolism explains itself, to a little contemplation, & ties in further with various ancient legends, ambient in the human psyche — of a sage carried through age to wisdom in his mother’s womb. (One thinks, for instance, of Lao Tzu in China.)

The desecration of this feast in Quebec began around the time of the uprising in 1837. It developed into the, by now, commonplace modern story of the appropriation by nationalists of what never had belonged to them. By increments it became what it is there today – the fully secularized “Fête nationale du Québec,” associated with demonstrations of power & aggression, riot & ugliness, violence & satanism. Nationalism, & its handmaid socialism, became the new “religion of man,” again overwriting the most ancient customs. Its own defining light is that which glints from the blades of the guillotines at Paris: the secular rite of purification through slaughter, continuing today through the child slaughter of our Carthaginian abortion mills. Those acquainted with the profoundly corrupted soul of Quebec, in her national apostasy, will realize the impossibility of “turning history back.” Christ alone can save them.

As He alone can save us.

In the story of Saint John Baptist we find the prelude of that Gospel, & the tiny embryonic stirrings of the Light unto the Gentiles (Luke, echoing Isaiah); or if you will, the DNA of our Christendom. The feast provides a day to rededicate our task, of restoring Hope. This is the Hope that is in the singular, & requires the capital, & is not concerned with the glib plural “hopes” of worldly & material advancement. For it was from the beginning the genius of Christianity to acknowledge a Hope that extends beyond the finitude of this world, along the path of forthright escape from its evils.

This is what every religion has offered; what Judaism itself offered before the arrival of the Messiah, & still offers; & what, beyond it, from my own travels, I became best acquainted with in the “theology” of the Theravada school: the Lord Buddha, in his serene images, enlightening a path of escape from the snares of this world of death, & all the anxieties attending upon it.

In the popular mythology of the West, in our times, this Buddhism has become associated with a kind of religious, environmentalist atheism; but as I learnt from the lips of no less than the venerable Phra Prayudh Payutto (Thailand’s foremost interpreter of the ancient Pali Canon), & from my own guided reading, it grew as the embodiment of an explicitly divine revelation, through a supermundane Insight into the Four Truths & the Eightfold Path. (It would be truer to say that the Theravada way distils a cautious modesty towards the Godhead, in a reform of Brahmanism, but this is a large topic upon which the honour of Buddhism, not Christianity, depends.)

To my own understanding, religion came to appear the primary good of this world; the fount of a Good not ulterior in purpose. And in Buddhism, first, I saw its operation upon society through monastic institutions; for I was living in Siam when I noticed. Indeed, part of my original appreciation of the Western “Middle Ages” was from this pre-Christian model, & my appreciation of John Baptist himself was acquired by the arcane route of the Buddhist-inspired “Wisdom of Balahvar,” applied to the solution of a literary puzzle in Shakespeare (the three caskets in the Merchant of Venice). Too, a fascination with the Prophet Elijah, & his avatars in seemingly all religious traditions. But here I am straying wildly into material for the ramble of another day; my point today being only the “fittingness” of this precursive figure, who stands as if designed by God in the very scheme of the Creation, before all worlds.

Religion is the primary good; Christianity is the religion par excellence; & Catholicism the authoritative form of that religion. Some readers will dispute this, to whom I can only say it took me half a century to get that far, perhaps they can get there quicker. It is hardly the end of the road. It is a milestone on the Royal Road, where by-ways & tributaries are collected, & the road leads ever onward, from Earth towards Heaven.