Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

The modern post-heretic

It will be the thesis of this Idlepost that there are no heretics today — not even in Rome, alas. The classical heresies are alive, and repeated, but not with the virulence of old. We are protected from them by a secret not yet discovered by medical science: that you can’t get the plague when you’ve already got a cold. Modern error is like the common cold, or drunkenness: a condition which afflicts so much of the human organism simultaneously, that there can be no cure, no elegant diagnosis. We are enwrapped, or enfogged, by all the symptoms. Some may die from the development of effects — from pneumonia, perhaps, or cirrhosis of the liver — but most experience only general debilitation.

The attempt to define the heresy of “Americanism” — a noble effort on the part of Leo XIII, in his Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae (1899), developed from the noble effort of Pius IX in his “Syllabus of Errors” (1864) — is indicative of this. There was, by those days, no “silver bullet” for the modern condition, nor even a spray of silver bullets: the Enemy was already too heterogeneous for that. Scholars debate what the “real targets” of these documents were (was Leo badgering the Americans to get at the French? &c) but cannot agree among themselves. The first thing we see in reading them again is that they seem dated, since Western society has since “moved on” — though precisely in the directions predicted. (The great encyclicals, including Humanae Vitae, have this prophetic quality. They seem “dated” today because they were so true.)

Implicit in modernity from the beginning was what we call post-modernity today: something irretrievably irrational and post-Christian, though from a host or legion of causes; a swamp within which we cannot trace any single spring. Mud, quite impossible to drain; though as ever we remember that God could do it.

Some tidsear sgoile (Scots Gaelic for “schoolteacher,” I hope) once told me that modernity consists of two poisoned streams of post-Christian thinking, one of which can be traced to Descartes, the other to Hegel. And that we are the fish carried along by them; not actually dead, but close to it. It was, I thought, the beginning of a brilliant clarification. But then the mud infills on every side.

When I call myself a “man of the thirteenth century,” I am not really claiming to be eight centuries old; only expressing an aspiration. It has seemed to me from the beginning of my journey into Christianity, towards Catholicism, that the challenge is to overcome — if only in one’s own mental outlook — the catastrophe of the Reformation. And by this I mean the Reformation in the broadest sense, not merely as the origin of Protestantism, for the Catholic realms were almost equally altered by it. As I once put it, the Protestants had walked off with some of our silverware; getting it back would require getting them back. But the analogy isn’t good enough; for the whole (“Catholic”) vision is larger than any sum of its parts.

What entered on all sides was a “rationalism” that irrationally denied the mystical, the miraculous, and the boundaries of reason; which finally denies reason itself, and leaves each man in utter isolation. Our saints in their visionary experience could get it back; but our people were being taught not even to look for it; to reduce the visionary to optics, as it were; finally to discount everything divine as forms of superstition. Progress was conceived: towards some point at which God could be eliminated entirely.

The task of righting what seems capsized in the Church is of course beyond any human capacity, individual or aggregate. We can only turn to Christ for that. But that turning is, in itself, a challenge beyond the reach of modernity. To follow Him, we must verily give up everything we have.

Of ducking & plucking

Methinks I am a prophet new inspired, and do foretell the use of ducks in rice fields. More precisely, I am reminded of this clever practice by an item on the Beeb this morning. It is what that BBC is good for, by the way. Skip immediately over their canting and pernicious news pages, and go to their earth and nature pieces. They are endowed with a huge budget, and one way that they spend it is on these mildly informative and passably entertaining “features.” Often I am slightly uplifted by them.

Their piece this morning on a French rice farmer, whose son happened to visit Vietnam, was in that class. There are pretty pictures of the now duckherd farmer, leading his flock through his paddies. The more paddy, the better for the ducks; the more ducks, the better for the paddy. God is bountiful.

The ducks, you see, do not like rice. They eat everything else while the rice grows, at all of its stages: weeds, insects, and many wee creatures which the moderns would restrain by truckloads of pesticides. They also replace the fertilizer truckloads, having been designed by nature to distribute their wealth evenly and lightly. This saves the expense of fuel, in a waste of heavy engineering.

On the other hand, it requires some art, and prayer whenever, as sometimes happens, the time is out of joint.

With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder; or once he gets the knack of gobbling, it makes him fat. By end of season, it is true, your ducks become so heavy, that they would trample the delicate seedlings for the next crop. This would be a problem were there not a simple and elegant solution: duck paté. Thus have we two full crops, in the space of a single beleaguered one.

Three, once we draw some fish into the picture. For the farmers in the wet monsoonal downwinds of south-eastern Asia take them at the flood; encourage them to stray from the swollen rivers into their rice fields. Fine, free-range fish these would be. Your children can catch them with their hands for dinner, or supplement the supply from dip nets in the streams and klongs. Such happy memories I have, of rural Thailand: delicious fresh fish, with the appropriate sauces.

And how I love to see small children, joyously at work. (Schools only make them sad.)

Now, before gentle reader abandons his good sense, to take up rice cultivation, he should consider whether the parking lots around him would be so easy to adapt, or if the local climate is tropical enough. He should also know, or perhaps does already, that the life of the traditional farmer on all our continents was never quite continuous Arcadian bliss.

Who, now, seeing Her so
Happily married,
Housewife, helpmate to Man,

Can imagine the screeching
Virago, the Amazon,
Earth Mother was? …

(Auden, 1965.)

Still, we might rethink our politics, our economics, and the other dimensions of our complacently destructive ways. And this before, in addition to our own sorry spectacle, of yammering and slammering and hammering and grinding, we get the screeching Virago back.

He. Is. Risen.

A correspondent in Italy, where it is five hours ahead, writes that she is lying abed; in the modern manner, with telecommunications. And all around her Venetian lair, the bells are ringing out. All of them, everywhere, throughout the city.

“Possibly Jesus has just broken down the door to Hell,” she writes, of the breaking news (so much better than the crap we get from the media). She says this is, “Thrilling.”

And the news gets better, still: for He has been there, and done that, and now is Resurrected.

Difficult, perhaps, for us worldlings to grasp, in all of its ramifications, but this much we should be able to take in: Crucified. Dead. Buried.

And Alive, for evermore; and has the keys of Hell and of Death.

Good Friday

My column for Good Friday (here) was written before I read the news of the latest papal expostulation, and the latest dishonesty in “spinning” it, from Rome. This makes no difference, of course; the Catholic Church to which I belong does not allow doctrinal innovations. What Christ preached, cannot be “updated.” When innovations are attempted, they fail. Our history is littered with the attempts; as, too, by some very bad popes. Christians should not be alarmed by them. “Fear not,” we were instructed.

We have this year, it would seem, the perfect Good Friday of desolation. The magnitude of the current programme, to bring Christ’s Church “down to the people” — to reduce the whole edifice to post-modern gravel — has been made plain.

Under the previously received dispensation, Hell is contained; the Church has her commanding rôle, at the front line. Now, perhaps, we may review that sometimes puzzling expression of the Christ:

“Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

For if the very existence of Hell can be denied, by no other than our Supreme Pontiff, the gate is quite ajar. And as Hell most certainly does exist, it is no longer confined. To reverse the words of Georges Bernanos’ dying country priest: “Hell is everywhere.” (He said, “Grace is everywhere,” in the original.)

Under the latest “merciful” revision, death is not defeated, for men who persist in sin simply “disappear,” into the all-embracing void. Christ is left with no one to save. He is made redundant. It is God the Father, alone, who remains, in this perverted new teaching: God now surrounded by the void of nothingness, having drawn a finite number of penitents to himself. Rather, it is Heaven that is now contained, within a universal field of non-existence. But do not fret: for if worst comes to worst, then poof, you just vanish. (God turns out to be like the merciful Juan Perón.)

I think I have quoted before the late Polish poet, Czesław Miłosz:

“A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death: the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders, we are not going to be judged.”

Yet this is plainly stated in the “new theology,” now coming from Rome: a reversal of all previous Catholic teaching. The Christian cosmology is turned inside out.

We are at the nadir of Good Friday, it might seem, at the feet of a dripping corpse, beneath a Christ himself gone to the void; a Christ forsaken by the Father, sent into the Nowhere. Thus a Christ who lied to us even about Hell, and must have lied about everything else as well. A Christ who left us to sordid human pastors, to play upon our gullibility. A Christ who, unknowingly of course, cheated his followers through twenty centuries, spoiling our fun with abstinence and fasting. A Christ who only makes us feel guilty. A Christ who “meant well,” to be sure, but could never deliver.

Instead we are now offered a “new,” substitute, “Christ of Surprises,” and comprehensive “mercy”; a sweetheart, who will forgive anything; who is not hung up on theology at all; and dispenses the Host like candy. A Christ for our ironical times.

This cannot stand. It is too wicked. The reversal will itself be reversed, and has, in fact, already been reversed. For the truth was, is, and will be, that Christ rises!

____________

I learn that as this latest news was breaking, plaster was falling from the ceiling on the tourists, inside St Peter’s. The image of the Rending of the Veil comes to mind. See Bible.

More media trash

For many years I have — along with every conscious Christian with an IQ above room temperature — noticed that ugly and ridiculous media attacks on Christian belief peak around Easter. This is what one would expect. Christmas matters less because it is already buried in commercialized feelgood; has been effectively de-Christianized, much like Hallowe’en. But Easter has yet to succumb entirely to the attack of the chocolate bunnies. And so we get, for instance, quack archaeology, calling biblical events into question with the plausibility of a Dan Brown story; or a few juicy quotes from an obvious heretic, dressed ostentatiously as priest or nun; or an op-ed rant from some virulent head-case. It never fails: mud towards Easter.

This Easter, their task will be easier, as it has been these last few years, because the pope himself says the “juicy” thing. The quote of the moment is that hell doesn’t exist, that everyone goes to heaven except a few really bad ones, and they just “disappear” — I suppose, like an Argentine who rubbed the Peronists the wrong way.

I am not making this up. It is not the first time the Holy Father has said this in an interview with the public atheist, Eugenio Scalfari, his old friend and a founder of Rome’s upmarket radical leftist daily, La Repubblica. But the shoe has now dropped again, more loudly.

The pope has said other things in these interviews (which he freely grants and has at least once had re-posted on the Vatican website) that would appal any serious Catholic. I don’t want to get into it: the information is easily available elsewhere. In this week’s case, the statement was so egregious that the Vatican publicists squeaked up with a non-correction, in which they insinuated that Scalfari might not have quoted the pope exactly; reticently, in case Scalfari made a recording. What they didn’t correct, was the statement itself.

I have been around for some time. I know at first hand how the media work, and I know that Bergoglio came to Rome (from Argentina of all places) with a reputation as an adept media manipulator, fond of playing the crowd. He is no babe in the woods. He must know as I do that if a journalist seriously misrepresents what you say, you don’t give him another opportunity. Moreover, you publicly correct him in a way not only unambiguous, but sharp enough to get everyone’s attention — at speed, I should think, if you have millions of Catholics hanging on your words. Instead he lets the outrage stand.

The quoted statement, of course, makes a hash of Good Friday. What was Christ doing, descending into Hell, if Hell does not exist? Why did Christ so often mention Hell in the Gospels, in very grave terms of warning? And speak of Judgement, more often still? Was He just being “ironical”?

A naïve correspondent, citing the latest, asks if I will leave the Church like so many others whose faith and intelligence this pope has insulted.

Let him leave; I’m staying Catholic.

Another

In addition to saints, there would seem to be two kinds of people: those who think that saints are possible, and those who do not. Neither will ever be extinguished in this world, where miracles also do or do not occur. The latter group (who call themselves “sceptics,” for they are also given to misuse of language) prevail at the moment, but this was not always so.

There were outright atheists in the Middle Ages, in addition to heretics and proto-protestants of many stripes, yet it was an age of faith, in the main, and gratitude for saints and sanctity was widespread. There were satirists of the claims made for saints, as for the behaviour of errant monks, priests, and other religious. But it did not follow that they mocked sanctity, or the claims of Holy Church herself. Rather they mocked charlatanry. That is another thing.

I should like to say something unmodern, on behalf of the simple mediaeval peasant, in awe of the Saints of Our Lord. It is true they were not intellectuals, and had not the facilities to check what they were told about the world beyond their immediate horizons. Yet they were in a better position than the complicated modern peasant, who also lacks the means to check what he reads and hears in the filth of our media. It is true that most men and women want to believe, want to trust, want to live in peace with their neighbours, now as then. But the phenomenon of Faith is not the same as credulity.

As some realize, and some do not, there are such things as saints, and angels. We might name them incorrectly, or mistake details, but still they would be there. We have, even in our two-dimensional ways, brushed against things in three dimensions. Some do, some don’t, realize what has happened.

Sanctity and heroism are tried in the forges. To be faithful unto death: that is the standard, and can only be the standard for faith in this world. There is no running from it. In reading of the fate of that French gendarme, Arnaud Beltrame, who surrendered himself in ransom for a kidnapped woman, and died as he could only expect, shot and with his throat slashed by a Muslim terrorist, we were slapped by history.

Here was a man who believed in saints. I do not mean this casually. Raised in a modern home, free of religion, he was called to military service. As a French soldier, he was decorated for his bravery in Iraq. In his thirties, he became a Catholic convert; made a pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne d’Auray, to ask the Virgin Mary to find him a wife. Found Marielle, a woman of deep faith like his own. Just before the terrorist attack at Trèbes, he had made his latest pilgrimage, to Compostela. He was an amateur historian, too, whose interest was in the Catholic roots of his own once-Christian country, France.

He would thus have been familiar with her long conflict with Islam, going back to Charles Martel. He would have known that in the Middle Ages, across the Mediterranean range of Europe, there were whole orders (including the Franciscans) devoted to ransoming Christians captured by Muslim pirates and slaving raids — often sacrificing their own lives. He would have known something of the very Catholic history of the men-at-arms, the Gendarmerie, and of the chivalric ideals that inspired them. More is conveyed by an old photograph of Beltrame’s face, wearing a smile of becoming simplicity. He had escaped the complexity of our modern world, while remaining very much part of it, and when he was called, by God, to redeem an innocent captive woman, he did not hesitate.

A Czech woman, moved to Canada by “events” (those of 1968), said something interesting to me yesterday, about this place: “Yet with all the things that bug me about contemporary Canada I retain a strange conviction: that the young lives lost in such numbers in the two World Wars have been guarding and protecting us.”

Note, that like Beltrame, they are all dead now; have been dead for decades, for a century. But they were our gens d’armes, and like this Frenchman, did not hesitate in their trenches.

On this Wednesday in Holy Week, which subsumes a ferial in commemoration of St John Capistran — the Franciscan Crusader whose appeals to faith stopped the Ottoman advance at the great Battle of Belgrade, shortly after Constantinople had fallen to them in 1453 — we are reminded of what has not changed.

How much worse things would be for us if such men hadn’t done as they did in life; or did not do as they continue to do.

A thought in Holy Week

“Thou tun’st this world below, the spheres above — who, in the heavenly round, to their own music move.”

The words, by the forgotten Nicholas Brady, are of course those for a soprano aria within an Ode by Henry Purcell. The melody is unearthly and sublime; Purcell was half an angel. I first heard this as a schoolchild, exploring the recordings in a music library. I was struck dead by it, or struck alive. My hair was still standing after I had replayed it into the earphones, several times.

It is an odd thing to mention in Holy Week, but then, I suppose I am odd. The movement towards Good Friday is no celebration of the music of the spheres. And yet I think it is this, too, and that the dimension of the Gloria, suppressed through Lent, remains; although as silent to us as the movement of the stars, and veiled behind our foreground.

Everything is happening in its course: wheels within wheels. The death in this world of Our Saviour is from a cause and to an end which we can understand, doctrinally; but only begin to glimpse in the mystical, when the near becomes the far and the far becomes the near. It is a human story of unimaginable pain, presented to us in words and images through art, and only tangentially in the soft chant of music, until that shall ignite in the Easter Resurrection.

We are human; it is a hard harvest in this world. But this is the way through death and life, there is no other. And in the end, no other than the Gloria.

Note from a northern belfry

All my life I’ve been forgetting things, so that today I cannot even be sure that I am going senile. In my childhood the expression was “out to lunch” — a feeding break for a mind that might, conceivably, resume its normal functions later in the day; but with the possibility of failure not excluded. For after the lunch, comes the siesta. “Thinking is hard,” Housman used to say, “and four minutes is a long time.” He doubted his own students had the stamina, at Cambridge more than a century ago. And while the four-minute mile has since been beaten, I should think attention spans have shrunk, more.

Up here in the Canadas — America’s mad attic, where the bats roost — I sometimes wonder what it would take to drive the bats away. But then I recall that I’m a bat myself, and it is my own home.

Unpleasant people, from the political periphery (“out in left field”) will assume I refer to the immigrants, but no, most of our bats are native. It would anyway be hard to find people from elsewhere as crazy as those we breed here. My constant fear is that the children of our sane, polite, hard-working immigrants, will be assimilated. The fear is reasonable. The other day, for instance, I was stopped in the street by an aggressive young Chinese panhandler. After not giving him the dollar he demanded, I reflected that before we had plenty of Chinese — especially in Chinatown, there — but not one of them a panhandler. Until this guy.

On this morning’s walk I was arrested, though not by Justin Trudeau’s new Pronoun Police. Rather it was by a beautiful sight. It was a Muslim woman, from her complexion and headdress, walking her daughter to school. (I say “was” out of an abundance of caution: I’m sure she was a Muslim woman at 8 o’clock this morning; but do not presume to know what she is now.)

In addition to the daughter, she was carrying a baby. Ah, what a picture. The failed painter within me immediately saw an ideal model for Madonna and Child — coached, curiously enough, by some words of Girolamo Savonarola that happened to fly through my head.

This Dominican friar, and Florentine preacher was, I think, quietly despised by the painters of that city. He lectured them on how to paint. He told them they were doing Our Lady all wrong. She wasn’t a rich woman, he explained, not a fashion plate. In fact she was poor, and from everything we know, modest.

“She would have covered up. Her face, alone, would have been showing. Only whores go about with their heads uncovered like that.”

Another Dominican, Fra Bartolomeo, would obediently affix the mantilla; but not before he had lovingly inscribed every lock of the Virgin’s hair. (I have a book of his drawings up here in the High Doganate; I’m fairly sure that’s what he did.)

One grows older, and possibly simpler. One may forget the more complicated things. How I wish that I could paint the image I have seen. Words will never do it justice: this image of the humble Muslim lady, waiting for the streetlight with that Child in her arms.

Gabriele Kuby

My Chief Hoosier Correspondent (not to be confused with the Vice-Potus) advises me to advise gentle reader of another living sage. All of his recommendations are good; some, like this, remind me that I have done a wretched job of “sharing” the wealth of which I know. For the strange thing is, that God has not abandoned us. (I’m often at a loss to understand why not.) Knock and it shall be answered, according to Our Lord. Look, and you will find. I have found this to be so, with shocking regularity. But one must knock, one must look. No one answers when you don’t knock; not even God. Although, He may be sneaking up behind you.

There are actually people like Gabriele Kuby, alive and at large — even in Germany. They write books, such as hers — on, The Global Sexual Revolution: The Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom; on, Christian Principles of Political Struggle; on, The Nationalization of Education; on, Self-Knowledge: The Way to the Heart of Jesus — which are not only on the right topics, but handled with extraordinary poise. What has impressed me, at every literary encounter with this lady, is her refusal to be destructive. Even while condemning the worst excesses of our post-modern Culture of Death, there is sweet breath in her. She gathers our attention then lifts it from the mire; in a way that is neither naïve, nor clever.

We claim to want a better world; to be struggling for “change” in one direction or another; to be oppressed by tyrants of the Left or Right; to be small and powerless and helpless. If only we were in a position to do something! If only we had the ability to advance, then we could make a difference. Everything would be better then.

But: Quia parvus error in principio magnus est in fine, as St Thomas saith. (“For a small error at the beginning is a great error at the end.”) We go wrong, from the start, in failing to grasp that “change” requires repentance. The essential problem is in each of us, and not in any social abstraction. Without that purposeful act of reconciliation with the Author of all Grace, we cannot rise. And yet we can, rise, from the moment that we discard the burden of sin we have been stupidly carrying.

This is not impossible. The confessionals are open.

The problem begins with me. This is the profound Christian insight that can change everything in the world around us. Of a sudden we are not slaves any more. We can begin to see and to embrace truths from which we had spent all our days hiding.

Gabriele Kuby (website, here) is a credentialled master of certain grim social sciences. She is from a distinguished family of German writers and thinkers, who went her own way into Catholicism. She has been reviled for her stalwart orthodoxy by many “progressives” in Europe, to a degree that suggests how well she understands them.

In a time when “gendered” madness is afoot, she has patiently expounded the nature of the sexes at the root of civilized life. She has a further understanding of what is called Love, that does not interact with our current, degraded conceptions. Instead, it is a cure.

Permacultural aside

In Heaven, I don’t know what the practical arrangements are, or even if they have any. They may not need them (it frightens me to think of all the things they might not need), and the idea of “sustainability” would draw an immortal laugh. Or perhaps, rather, an immortally gentle and indulgent smile.

Among us worldlings, however, here in Theatrum Mundi, eating is among the big issues. Lent would be, if nothing else, a reminder of how material we are. You don’t work, you don’t eat; you don’t eat, you get quite hungry; and so on to a bad end. Apart from His pointed advice, that man cannot live by bread alone, Christ had nothing much to say on agronomy. Neither did Socrates, for that matter, though I think he spread a rumour to the effect that men were happier in our hunting and gathering days, before we settled on farms. (I would correct his anthropology, for the evidence now suggests that we were innate farmers from the start, just as we were innate talkers.)

The question is thus not whether we should grow food, but how. I will be quickly condemned if I modestly propose that the way we are doing it now — in huge monocultural sections adapted to automotive seeding and harvesting — is not ideal. Only a city boy would question arrangements which are truly feeding more than seven billion living souls, with more calories each, on the average, than ever before. I am a city boy, however, so let me try it on.

The great majority of what I call “environmentalcases” are city boys and girls. It helps to know nothing about farming and the wilds, to have strong opinions on them. It seems whenever I ride the Greater Parkdale Subway, I see perverse public-service adverts for veganism, with pretty portraits of cows. Our farmers are frankly accused of murder, but also theft of the mother’s milk.

Yes, the idea is insane; but more so than may first appear. All these pretty cows exist because we have a use for them. When the use has passed, the cows go, too. Turn them loose, and they won’t get far. Unless, of course, we want to extend Twisted Nanny State to all the formerly enslaved farm and zoo animals. … (The road to Cloud Cuckooland winds ever on.)

But this is the scandal of contemporary agriculture, merely adjusted. It is all, essentially, insane. It requires massive “inputs” to keep it going — of fertilizers, pesticides, machinery that now includes computers, and a global infrastructure of transport and storage. A bit of war, and the whole thing collapses.

I will not lecture gentle reader on the principles of “permaculture,” which may be easily found by the search term. Suffice to say, it is opposed to “organic,” which only proposes less efficient inputs, and thus continues industrial farming, though with one hand now tied behind our back. It is the invention of people who can only think “outside the box,” according to me. We need people who can think inside the orchard.

With a little genius, here and there, and plenty of applied science, it would be possible to farm more intensively than we presently do on our arable lands, and extend them into now abandoned places. Indeed, some of that science consists of archaeological inquiry, into the works of many distant ancestors, who by trial and error (or angelic intervention) raised mixed, collusive crops — to grow themselves annually and perpetually, with the minimum of artificial intervention, and without sacrifice of the soil’s fertility. Yet with jobs, jobs, jobs: joyfully planting and harvesting by hand, in places beautiful instead of boring and ugly.

We trap ourselves in these megaproject boxes, that we have externally assembled. The best we can imagine is a smaller box; usually we’re thinking of a larger. We analyse negatively: how to correct this nuisance or that. The trick is to think positively instead, the way God does, in terms not of restriction but abundance.

Things happen in threes

In my piece at the Thing, this morning (this one here), I refer parenthetically to the three (3) Reformations. As ever, my most whimsical asides are meant with deadly seriousness. Had I the learning, wisdom, and energy, I would write a book on it. Fortunately, perhaps, for the world’s paper supply, I have never got in the habit of writing books. Call it a conceit. Everyone I know, it seems, has written at least one book, and got it published, too. Some have written twenty. I should like to be remembered as the man who never wrote a book. It makes me feel like Socrates.

People (not my friends, of course) write “piffle,” that can go on for hundreds of pages. The word is my father’s, who would use it when he thought I was talking nonsense. If so, better to stop after a few hundred words.

Or my hero (when young), T. E. Hulme (1883–1917, another non-author), who read or scanned a lot of big fat books by then-contemporary philosophers, and replied to them in much the same way. He said don’t waste your time. Read the last page first. See where the author is going. If he is going to end on some commonplace fatuity, you may spare yourself the trouble of mastering his jargon. (He got this tip from Bergson.)

Hulme also said that the content of most philosophical tomes could be scrawled on a half-sheet of foolscap paper (one side). He did not mean it could be abstracted or précised at this length. Rather, that the whole argument could be made, without significant omissions.

So in that spirit, this morning I will present my latest “book,” on the half-sheet. Notice that most of it is filled with my introduction.

My thesis: everything in history happens in threes.

I know this sounds Hegelian — thesis, antithesis, synthesis and all that — but I mean, literally, something closer to Marx: 1. Tragedy, 2. Comedy, 3. Farce. Surely, were it not for the high body counts, everyone would see this.

There were, for instance, not one but three American Civil Wars. They started in 1776, 1812, and 1861, respectively. The first was a tragedy, in which the principles of legitimacy and continuity, and those of popular will and freedom, met head on. The second was just unfinished business. The third was a horrible misunderstanding, within the “will and freedom” camp. In each case honest, hard-working, God-fearing American people were diverted by the prospect of killing each other.

Today’s initial Tragedy is what everyone who has read a little history (and that’s not a lot of peoplekind, any more), knows as the “Reformation.” A rebellion was mounted against the claims of the Catholic Church, by men who nevertheless considered themselves Christian. The whole of Western Christendom was rent in two, thereby; with predictable further schisms within the schismatic camp.

That was in the sixteenth century, though much of the bloodshed extended into the seventeenth, increasing until all parties were inclined to make peace.

We had round two, the Comedy, when we got our energy back. We call that the “Enlightenment,” but it was a continuation of the same trend. The rebellion was now against Christianity, tout court. By this time, the Catholic Church was trying to stay out of it, but of course without luck. The bloodshed from this Second Reformation began seriously pouring in the French Revolution, then resumed in nationalist and ideological revolutions sporadically thereafter.

In the twentieth century, for instance, the body count easily surpassed one hundred million, from the triumphs of the “cutting edge,” atheist regimes.

Now we are in the twenty-first, and enjoying yet a Third Reformation, and in my terminology, the Farce. In this one, the rebellion has “moved on,” from Faith to Reason. It challenges the authority of sanity, itself. It is founded on propositions that are, even compared to those previous, utterly insane. The body count for this one hasn’t properly begun. Be patient, gentle reader.

Talk about silence

We’ve had that Cardinal Sarah in town, speaking after Vespers in the Cathedral, and at St Augustine’s Seminary. It was hard to get in, even to the Cathedral — long waiting lists for the tickets — but I was able to pose as another man’s wife. (She had to drop out at the last minute.) Saint Michael’s, here in Greater Parkdale, isn’t very large. When a certain Cardinal Ratzinger came, some thirty-two years ago, the churchwardens had the good sense to rent a hockey arena. We underestimate the star power of these quiet, undemonstrative clerics.

Indeed, considered as a business — and why not? — the Church Catholic has been making bad management decisions for decades now. They have, one might say, two products: “Traditional,” and “Lite.” The former is selling briskly, the latter is on the blocks. So where do they place their bets? (Guess.)

Or to put this a little less vulgarly, but only a little, most people who want Catholicism at all, want it straight up. They actually long for reverence and holiness. They want the music and chant that even pagans will buy on commercial recordings, but which they won’t hear in church. They are not afraid of Latin, and may have noticed that in this age of “multiculturalism,” it is our one common language. Without it, we divide into small ethnic cells, which die in isolation.

In my own humble but persistent opinion, we have endured more than half a century, of noisy things done to attract “the people,” which instead drove them away. When we do the opposite — make Catholicism more Catholic — the naves mysteriously fill again. I don’t understand the sales strategy.

Humiliated in Rome, as certain other “traditionalist” prelates, yet popular elsewhere, men like Cardinal Sarah remain to inspire us. He spoke here in a soft monotone — English is about his fifth or sixth language — and received rapt attention. One might almost say he went out of his way to be boring. He repeated the thesis of his recent book, The Power of Silence, in sentences consistently meditative rather than rhetorical; with no aphoristic flourishes, or anything resembling an applause line. He said nothing that should not be obvious to a formed Catholic mind, yet with a cumulative, developing power. He compels an audience to listen prayerfully.

Silence is a language that came before Latin, and remains at the heart of our Liturgy, whatever the language in which it is said or sung. We live today in the highly technical language of meaningless buzz, and from custom have become terrified of silence. It is a priest’s job to tell us: be brave.

Are we to be defined by our technological gadgetry, or defined in silence? Are we to be empty or full? Most came expecting to hear that, and were not disappointed. Silence can’t be spoken with a loud voice. It is the still and small one, of which Sarah speaks. I doubt anyone, knowing of the speaker, came expecting a pep talk.

I (and perhaps several others) could not help noticing what a good pope he would make: one who doesn’t speak unless he has something necessary to say; who is not trying to surprise us. One whose comfort is in the Sacraments and Doctrine, and not in novelties; a spokesman for Jesus Christ, and for no other cause. A man whose voice echoes twenty centuries. Even through the noise of the contemporary world, serious people are drawn to that.

The war on trust

Don’t let it in; fight it; don’t let it get started. Those are the words to the wise from the High Doganate this morning. They apply in many circumstances, today. Gentle reader must be warned that they are not the current position, almost anywhere else. The current wisdom is to make some little concessions, for the sake of a little peace. We should be “reasonable.” The word is misused, for it assumes a relationship of trust, between two or more parties, each informed by reason.

In the world of today, that cannot be assumed. One is dealing with demands that are angry, instead. The Progressive Party (I name it in contrast with my Regressive Party) constantly makes these demands, churning and rechurning an anger that is, at its core, displeasure with God. But they will not, indeed cannot, put their cards on the table. They want something now; they’ll want something else later — more “progress,” as it were. Whereas, we want something today and tomorrow. Already we are speaking to cross purposes.

Under the old political dispensation, that I could still glimpse in my youth, there was lip service to a received order. There was broad agreement on fundamental things. We knew which were our good and bad angels. There was such a thing as “normative” — as there must be in any sane, non-dysfunctional society. There was thus agreement on what is “abnormal,” or perverse.

Liberals wanted more “liberty,” but were sticklers for “process.” Conservatives were instinctively opposed. But the two could still drink together, without risk of poisonings. Both thought “liberty” a Good Thing, and both knew that without some reasonable, and thus “transparent” restraints, it would be lost.

We don’t have liberals any more. The last one died two years ago. Nor, for that matter, do we still have conservatives, because without liberals, they are obviated. We have something instead, to which we must assign the awkward term, “progressivism,” to which the opposite must be “reaction.” Hence the need for our Regressive Party, which wants not only to stop progress, but “set the clock back.” … (Fight “daylight savings time”!)

The progressive lives in the nowhere land of the future. He is, as he says, “planning for the future.” His head isn’t even in the clouds. The clouds would be somewhere; he does not recognize place.

The reactionary lives in the past (which includes the present). He can at least reconstruct, from what we know of history, some things that really were, and must therefore be possible. The Christian, or philosophical reactionary, may even have a clear idea what is better and what is worse, from reflection on cause and effect. The progressive can’t do that.

More fundamentally, the progressive can’t trust. For when there is no “normative” — no normal — there is no ground on which anyone can be trusted. It is worse than that: the very idea of trust becomes an evil for him. How can any individual be trusted to discern right from wrong, good from bad, truth from the lie, when all such categories are either candidly abrogated, or inverted by sophistry?

It is no accident that all progressive proposals require the creation or expansion of a faceless bureaucracy, with jackboot powers.

Reciprocally, we can’t trust them, to help us rekindle or restore any social order. For any such thing must, necessarily, be founded on trust, faith, good faith, reason. But these are the very things the progressives are at war with.