Again & again

It is said that old men repeat themselves, and as I proceed to my 817th birthday (a man of the 13th century, I count my age in moons) I become the more convinced of our need for constant repetition. This is partly because, like most humans if not all, I am stunned, stunted, stupid. If I were not constantly rehearsing the little that I know, it would evaporate. (Quickly, in my case.)

This is true on the civilizational, as well as the personal level. If we did not repeat the Mass, daily, we might lose it, and then where would we be? There are parallels in all areas of decorous activity. If we didn’t teach the facts of life, mind, spirit, to each new generation, all over again, our descendants would lapse into hapless savagery.

Hence the importance of the classics: “We can never be free of the ancient world, unless we become barbarians again.” (Jacob Burckhardt.)

It is a point that bears constant repetition. Unfortunately, because our schoolmasters have been slipping, it is not getting the attention it deserves. More largely, what might be called the “principle of tradition” is now universally discounted in our demented passion for novelties. The new is by definition untried, unproven. Unless consonant with tradition, it will always fail. It will be unharmonic.

Consider this carefully. Life requires continuity. A man (or woman for that matter) might live to three score and ten, but only if he does so continuously. Should he die — even once in the interim — he will not. The same is true for those who would live to one thousand (lunations; that’s about eighty-one solar years). If he stops breathing, or his heart stops, or another vital function ceases — just the once — he will utterly fail in his ambition. Like tradition, the rôle of unconscious activity is underestimated.

The phrase “culture of life” is well steeped in tradition. Although popularized for a new generation by Saint Pope John Paul II in encyclicals only a generation ago, it confirms Catholic commitment from time out of mind. For the present we are against contraception, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, murder, unjust wars, and embryonic stem cell research. And more: for the sanctity of human life is being upheld against Life Deniers in many other areas. Of course, several of these may require four minutes of thought. (Twenty seconds for the above-average intelligent.)

But there is more to life than escaping death, or helping others to do so, for the moment. By this I make no allusion to “the quality of life,” which could be rather grim. The sanctity of life is a true principle, entirely non-negotiable. A life may not be intentionally taken except for legitimate cause, and for what that might be we are (unless we have become savages) beholden to tradition.

“Thou shalt not” is fairly easily understood; “thou shalt” can be a little more complicated. Notwithstanding, there is what is positively conducive to life. Mozart, for instance, in whom (despite an early death) the life-force was articulated, and ran strong; contemplation of the night sky, for instance; Love in its myriad forms, and all manifestations of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. I realize that all of these are controversial, today; the more reason to storm through with them.

For instance, the authorities at the Bathurst Subway Station were playing Mozart for the express purpose of driving nasty bad loitering people away. Rap music, on the other hand, would attract them. This discovery, made in transit systems around the world, was purely empirical. The Greeks knew all about it, under the heading of “syndrome.” Certain things go with other things, not always but almost always. To deny this is perverse, and — one perversity will lead to another.

But we won’t remember this unless we repeat it.