Thursday, March 26, 2009

GKC and the Fifth Ghost

We are nearing the end - the very end - of our study of Orthodoxy, and just as one expects to find more and more grand chords at the end of the symphony, more dangerous car chases and literal cliff-hangers at the end of the movie, or terribly stark and unexpected revelations at the end of the detective novel, we are finding such things here.

But unlike those things, instead of getting wilder, GKC is getting closer and closer to the heart - and to the hearth. In ancient Roma, the "household gods" were kept at the focus - the hearth, the fireplace for food and for heat - where the family fire burned, since they stood for the ancestors who guided and guarded the family. In Christian Roma, our worship does not require a fire, or even a fireplace. We still need the food, and the heat - but instead of looking to the ancestors for guidance, we look to the Child...

(( click here to

It is true that I am grossly anticipating the study GKC will make in The Everlasting Man - but as we have seen that study is anticipated here. And in the next paragraph, we shall hear something very startling. If this was a symphony, we would hear again the "questing theme" which opened the first movement - then it was heard in doubt and dissonance, but now that it is set in its place, with the complete accompaniment, we understand its full glory. It's the search for Home. It's quite misleading to think of this as a Dorothy-like "over the rainbow" thing. It's not. Kansas was where she lived, but she was right in thinking there was another Place, a good and glorious place, ruled by a great and unseen Power, Who fought against dark Witches and their minions, and Who gave incomparable gifts of intellect and heart and will... (Hmm... maybe we Christian Romans do have a fire, at that! See Acts 2:3.) But I cannot give a Chestertonian review of "Oz" here! Besides, I am getting ahead of myself, and of the actual text.

Remember, the last time we heard about miracles and GKC's belief in them - about the question whether the "spiritual realm" makes itself evident in this world. We are now going to hear a very brief review of several points which we have seen in greater detail earlier: the idea of evolution, the idea of evidence, and the curiously complex character of human beings... and then - GKC reintroduces that opening theme, about the man who went on an adventure, and discovered England! (We're also going to find out he discovered something else, which is alluded to in my spooky title. Hee hee.)

Ready? Let us proceed...
Given this conviction that the spiritual phenomena do occur (my evidence for which is complex but rational), we then collide with one of the worst mental evils of the age. The greatest disaster of the nineteenth century was this: that men began to use the word "spiritual" as the same as the word "good." They thought that to grow in refinement and uncorporeality was to grow in virtue. When scientific evolution was announced, some feared that it would encourage mere animality. It did worse: it encouraged mere spirituality. It taught men to think that so long as they were passing from the ape they were going to the angel. But you can pass from the ape and go to the devil. A man of genius, very typical of that time of bewilderment, expressed it perfectly. Benjamin Disraeli was right when he said he was on the side of the angels. He was indeed; he was on the side of the fallen angels. He was not on the side of any mere appetite or animal brutality; but he was on the side of all the imperialism of the princes of the abyss; he was on the side of arrogance and mystery, and contempt of all obvious good. Between this sunken pride and the towering humilities of heaven there are, one must suppose, spirits of shapes and sizes. Man, in encountering them, must make much the same mistakes that he makes in encountering any other varied types in any other distant continent. It must be hard at first to know who is supreme and who is subordinate. If a shade arose from the under world, and stared at Piccadilly, that shade would not quite understand the idea of an ordinary closed carriage. He would suppose that the coachman on the box was a triumphant conqueror, dragging behind him a kicking and imprisoned captive. So, if we see spiritual facts for the first time, we may mistake who is uppermost. It is not enough to find the gods; they are obvious; we must find God, the real chief of the gods. We must have a long historic experience in supernatural phenomena - in order to discover which are really natural. In this light I find the history of Christianity, and even of its Hebrew origins, quite practical and clear. It does not trouble me to be told that the Hebrew god was one among many. I know he was, without any research to tell me so. Jehovah and Baal looked equally important, just as the sun and the moon looked the same size. It is only slowly that we learn that the sun is immeasurably our master, and the small moon only our satellite. Believing that there is a world of spirits, I shall walk in it as I do in the world of men, looking for the thing that I like and think good. Just as I should seek in a desert for clean water, or toil at the North Pole to make a comfortable fire, so I shall search the land of void and vision until I find something fresh like water, and comforting like fire; until I find some place in eternity, where I am literally at home. And there is only one such place to be found.
We have already heard plenty about evolution (see CW1:237-8 if you have forgotten); I shall not deal with the allusion to Disraeli; I think the CW edition has a footnote anyway. But that was an aside, and not the thrust of the argument. Rather, please consider the strange inversion GKC paints of "sunken pride and the towering humilities of heaven".

But now - watch the supreme mastery of the artist. How this theme easily modulates over to that of the opening, the adventure-search. Again it would be elegant to refer to any astronomy text about the strange (yet convenient) truth that the sun and the moon are same size - or even quote Fr. Jaki about why that matters in the history of science (and it DOES, in a really big way!) - but like the bit about evolution and Disraeli, that also is an aside. GKC is painting with his full palette of instruments (to mix my metaphor, hee hee) and quoting themes from the other movements.

Isn't his last line charming? It is the master theme of this book. Let us be like the little child and demand "Do it again!" (CW1:263)
I shall search the land of void and vision until I find something fresh like water, and comforting like fire; until I find some place in eternity, where I am literally at home. And there is only one such place to be found.
Next comes a very curious little note, which almost looks like a recanting of his argument. But it is not. GKC is restating his argument about miracles, but also pointing out that there is more to the matter. You may recall the term "converging evidence", that powerful tool used in science and other disciplines when one is faced with a multitude of issues all dealing with one topic. It is more than that. We are going to hear something startling about this strange journey that GKC has undertaken...
I have now said enough to show (to any one to whom such an explanation is essential) that I have in the ordinary arena of apologetics, a ground of belief. In pure records of experiment (if these be taken democratically without contempt or favour) there is evidence first, that miracles happen, and second that the nobler miracles belong to our tradition. But I will not pretend that this curt discussion is my real reason for accepting Christianity instead of taking the moral good of Christianity as I should take it out of Confucianism.

I have another far more solid and central ground for submitting to it as a faith, instead of merely picking up hints from it as a scheme. And that is this: that the Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one. It not only certainly taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me to-morrow. Once I saw suddenly the meaning of the shape of the cross; some day I may see suddenly the meaning of the shape of the mitre. One fine morning I saw why windows were pointed; some fine morning I may see why priests were shaven. Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture to-morrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before. ...

I have a couple of notes here before we proceed. We saw a little earlier about the "shape of the cross" - there is more in The Everlasting Man, and a whole elegant dialog/debate in the opening chapter of The Ball and the Cross. The whole point about the shape of Gothic windows is simple: they come to a point, and we heard GKC on this before:
...for me all good things come to a point, swords for instance.
But there's another reference worth quoting here, since it unites more of our themes in one of GKC's trademark analogies of art:
Both romance and religion see everything as it were foreshortened; they see everything in an abrupt and fantastic perspective, coming to an apex. It is the whole essence of perspective that it comes to a point. Similarly, religion comes to a point - to the point. Thus religion is always insisting on the shortness of human life.
[GKC Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens CW15:254]
There is some hilarious discussion about beards in The Thing, which simultaneously recalls the "Calvin and Hobbes" comic where Calvin tells his mom he wants to grow a beard: "a long one, like the guys in ZZ Top" and GKC's dictum that "You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." [GKC "How I Met The President" in Tremendous Trifles] And if you did not know, a mitre is the conical (NOT comical!) hat worn by bishops; those also come up from time to time in GKC's writing, perhaps because people seem to find the conical comical, or at least curious. Hee hee. Yes. But let us proceed to our discussion.

The Church provides a "living teacher, not a dead one." Yes. All this time we have had a Guide - invisible most of the time - but active. Now, this is not about a Ghost - or if it is, it is the mystical Fifth Ghost of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, whom I am sure you were not aware of!

Huh? you gasp.

Oh yes. There's a Fifth Ghost.

You are now trying to figure out what I mean. You think through the story. Marley (that's one) and the Ghosts of Christmas Past (two) Present (three) and Yet To Come (four). Who is it?

Ah. I knew you would forget. Hee hee! But that's GKC's point too.

Now you are lost, wondering what allusion I am making. You got diverted, just as you did by GKC's mention of Plato and Shakespeare, and expect he is making some point about the awful plays and the even more awful philosophy they spawned. (You see - you are getting distracted again! Pay attention.)

There is someone else in the picture, and GKC proceeds to tell us, rather elegantly.

... There is one only other parallel to this position; and that is the parallel of the life in which we all began. When your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say "My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truths that flowers smell." No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day. And if this was true of your father, it was even truer of your mother; at least it was true of mine, to whom this book is dedicated. Now, when society is in a rather futile fuss about the subjection of women, will no one say how much every man owes to the tyranny and privilege of women, to the fact that they alone rule education until education becomes futile: for a boy is only sent to be taught at school when it is too late to teach him anything. The real thing has been done already, and thank God it is nearly always done by women. Every man is womanised, merely by being born. They talk of the masculine woman; but every man is a feminised man. And if ever men walk to Westminster to protest against this female privilege, I shall not join their procession.

For I remember with certainty this fixed psychological fact; that the very time when I was most under a woman's authority, I was most full of flame and adventure. Exactly because when my mother said that ants bit they did bite, and because snow did come in winter (as she said); therefore the whole world was to me a fairyland of wonderful fulfilments, and it was like living in some Hebraic age, when prophecy after prophecy came true. I went out as a child into the garden, and it was a terrible place to me, precisely because I had a clue to it: if I had held no clue it would not have been terrible, but tame. A mere unmeaning wilderness is not even impressive. But the garden of childhood was fascinating, exactly because everything had a fixed meaning which could be found out in its turn. Inch by inch I might discover what was the object of the ugly shape called a rake; or form some shadowy conjecture as to why my parents kept a cat.

Do not get entangled with that very wonderful encomium (that means a note of praise) about women! If you want to hear more about that, you can find it elsewhere, especially in GKC's What's Wrong With the World in CW4. Though that of course sounds misleading; he is NOT saying "women" are what's wrong, but the MISTAKE about women. But the point is simply that a man's mother is much more important to him than most anyone ever realizes - especially the feminists. I always laugh when people moan about words like "chairman", which they say is "sexist" though they never seem to complain about MANageMENt. But even more important the easily overlooked fact that his MA is a big part of every MAN. (hee hee)

Ahem. I've wanted to get that into print for some time, and it certainly fits nicely here. But again, the thrust of the argument is not (strictly) a discussion of feminism, or of the importance of women, or of mothers. It is a larger concept. And yes, there is a veiled encomium of science, too: the idea that the world (be it the child's garden, or the physicist's cosmos) is rational and reasonable - we have a clue to it. But though relevant that will take us into another kind of discussion, which you can find in Fr. Jaki's books; perhaps another time and place I can deal with it. For the point is not (simply) about the use of reason to grasp the mysteries of our world. It is far more profound, though both the ideas of "mother" and of "science" are part of the larger point GKC is making.

It is the sense of the presence in one's learning life of a living Guide and Teacher - and even more than a father, a mother is the chief exemplar of this natural and human truth. Likewise, one cannot have science if one cannot reliably "know" things: sciencia is Latin for knowledge.

And of course that's the whole point of these paragraphs, like the presence of the Fifth Ghost in Dickens...

WHAT? Hey, c'mon Doc, you can't close off this posting until you explain! Who is that Fifth Ghost?

Well, I guess I will have to quote it out for you. It rather blows a bit of "The Surprise" but then you really need to read the playscript (in CW11). Well, maybe it won't blow it at all. But you ought to be able to work it out for yourself given my continual references to Tolkien and the idea of Story. The scene you are about to read is Scrooge's bedroom, just before the first of the three Christmas Ghosts appears:
Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to which his face was addressed. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.
[Dickens, Stave 2, A Christmas Carol, emphasis added]
Aha! you say. Yes, the Fifth Ghost is Dickens, the author of the story.

You see, we have the Author still with us. Our Guide made the trail we travel:
Et ecce ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem saeculi.

And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.
[Mt 28:20]

1 comment:

  1. Wow, excellent, Dr. Thursday. Another great meditation, thank you so much. You made me laugh and you made me think, quite Chestertonian!


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