Thursday, January 03, 2008

Dr. Thursday's Post

Revealing Things: Tam Antiqua, tam nova: So Old and So New

In considering my topic for today, so horribly delayed for a very special reason, as you shall hear, I was inhibited at first because I recalled that I had written very recently AND at length about the Three Scientists who came bringing gifts to the Christ Child. Er, you know I mean the Three Kings, but most fittingly left in the ancient form as "The Magi" of unspecified number. Remember, they observed the Star - that sounds just about as scientific as one can get!

The feast for this Sunday, January 6, is called "epiphany" because it is a "showing" - a revealing. The Greek root "phain" means "show", or even "to give light". While we remember that God the Son, incarnate as Jesus the Everlasting Man, was already visible to Mary and Joseph, to the local shepherds, to (it may be postulated) the Roman Census-takers, to the Jewish authority in the person of Simeon, and to others in the Temple, here, on this special day, we recall that He was also made visible to certain "representatives" of the Whole Human Family. It is this truth which shows up in the relatively recent tradition that the three Magi were of the three "branches" or races of Man: white, yellow, black, or the three sons of Noah who are said to represent the progenitors of these races. That is effective in many ways, even if it be nothing more than a story with a moral. It is not so much that there be three, or that they be - er - anthropologically "representative" of cultures or physiological characteristics. It is the idea which Aquinas explained in his Summa (III Q36 A3,5,6) that they represent The Pagans, as distinct from the Jews: the Whole Family must know. After all, the angel told the shepherds: "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people." [Lk 2:10, emphasis added]

As I said, we have considered some of this previously. But I have something more to tell you, brought about by my experience this morning, which explains my hasty rambling tone and tardiness.
Read more.

This morning, I attended the funeral of the father of a good friend. It was remarkable for it was the first time I experienced the rituals of Greek Orthodoxy. It was awesome. It was ornate. It was moving - not only because of the friendship and compassion - but because of the chant, the incense, the candles, the lovely icons, the reverence, and a rich harmony with my own faith. And, I must say, I had a certain strange sense of separation - and for me an even stronger longing for unity. I know very little Greek, but every so often a word leapt out. Most striking was the grand ritual announcement preceding the readings:

Sophia! Wisdom!

which one can take to mean "listen up, you'll learn something" or "Come, O Wisdom, and enlighten me as I read/hear" or even "Behold, in what you shall now hear lives the Very Truth of the Divine Intellect."

But after the statement of the reading's source, they actually then say something like "Attention"... again, "Sit up and take notice!"

As the various prayers and responses were chanted, I sat in awe, thinking that these very sounds were common, even more so than Latin, in the streets and markets of Jerusalem, of Antioch, and even of Rome. And for me there was a feeling of a common possession - which we should have with Latin, but should have also with Greek. Even now, the Roman ritual calls for the opening litany "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy" to be in its most ancient Greek form: "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison." Oh God! May the day be not far off that this division be healed!

But there is another reason, an even more profound one, which I must mention that I learned from a brief glance at the book for the "Divine Liturgy".

One of the numerous "bidding" or petitioning prayers (akin to the "Prayers of the Faithful" of the Novus Ordo, or like those of the Good Friday ritual) was a prayer for peace in the world. But! (And if you've heard me on this before, keep reading anyway. It's worth thinking about this deeply.) You must remember that the Greek word which comes out "world" in English does NOT mean "Earth".

The Greek word for "world" is KOSMOS.

This is not to be taken as a demonstration of the existence of alien beings from other planets. But it IS a demonstration of the universally pervading power and authority of God. Do you recall that first Father Brown story? "Reason and justice grip the remotest and the loneliest star."

We - and I see no reason to abstain from such a prayer, regardless of one's Christian connection - attest to a belief in God the Father almighty. All galaxies, all planets are subject to His law, to His guidance, to His love - and to His salvation. We ought to pray for peace throughout the Kosmos - starting with ourselves, but extending to the most alien life-form known: our neighbor. The rock group "Rush" has a song which hints of this:
We are planets to each other,
Drifting in our orbits to a brief eclipse,
Each of us a world apart
Alone and yet together like two passing ships.
[Rush, "Entre Nous"]
But they may not go far enough. For every two humans are separated by a chasm far more vast than simple astronomical distance - and so a prayer for peace throughout the Kosmos makes a lot of sense.

Why do I mention this? Omitting Orlando Furioso's flight to the moon, or Barbicane's lunar cannon-shot, it is only in new stories, written in comparatively recent time, that we have begun to even imagine crossing the vast distances to other planets. But here, in an ancient tongue, can still be heard the faith that called to St. Augustine, to which he responded "Late have I loved Thee, oh Beauty ever ancient, ever new!"

And why today? Because the revelation of Epiphany, of the Showing of the King, is for all times and all places. The axes of space and time cross at one place - on the Hill of Calvary. In this sense, then, Orthodox are most Catholic - in the Greek sense. May God speed our unity!

And there is one other reason - a Chestertonian one. It is because of the remarkable quote with which I conclude - the only place which AMBER tells me contains the word "Epiphany". But read it for yourself, and remember I found it AFTER I had thought on all this earlier today...

May the soul of Spiros, and of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

And may the Peace of God pervade the Kosmos! Amen.

--Dr. Thursday

What is called the Seville procession ... exists in many different places besides Seville. But as it is done in many different places, so it is done in many different ways. There are often elements that are in their nature new, that are unexpected in the sense that nobody could possibly expect them. I have heard it said that, sometimes, a man will rush out into the path of the procession and pour out a stream of absurdly spontaneous poetry, like an improvisation on a musical instrument; and that sometimes somebody else (also rather abruptly moved by the Muse) will answer him from a window, with appropriate poetical repartees. But the point is that the old framework allows of these new things; just as the old orchard bears fresh fruit or the old garden fresh flowers. These old civilisations give us the sensation of being always at the beginning of things; whereas mere modern innovation gives us the sensation, even in its novelty, of drawing nearer and nearer to the end.

There is one custom in Spain, and probably in other southern countries, which might be a model of the popular instinct for poetry in action. It is what corresponds to our idea of Santa Claus; who is, of course, St. Nicolas, and in the North the patron of children and the giver of gifts at Christmas. In the South this function is performed by the Three Kings, and the gifts are given at the Epiphany. It is in a sense more logical, which, perhaps, is why it is common among the Latins. The Wise Men are in any case bringing gifts to the Holy Child, and they bring them at the same time to the human children. But there is in connection with it an excellent example of how people who retain this popular instinct can actually act a poem.

The mysterious Kings arrive at the end of the holiday; which again is really very reasonable. It is much better that the games and dances and dramas, which are fugitive, should come first, and the children be left with the presents, or permanent possessions, at the end. But it is also the occasion of a process very mystical and moving to the imagination. The Kings are conceived as coming nearer and nearer every day; and, if there are images of these sacred figures, they are moved from place to place, every night. That alone is strangely thrilling, either considered as a child's game or as a mystic's meditation on the mysteries of time and space. On the last night of all, when the strange travellers through time are supposed to arrive, the children carefully put out water and green stuff for the camels and the horses of that superhuman cavalcade out of the depths of the East. Even the touch of putting water, so necessary to purely Eastern animals, is enough to suggest that reach of the imagination to the ends of the earth.
[GKC ILN June 26, 1926 CW34:116-7]

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