Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easter Meditation, GKC and Jaki

Happy Thursday in the Octave of Easter!

Few paragraphs of GKC have the sheer emotional power of this one. It will make you cry - and laugh - and jump up and down... it will make you want to write, to cook, to work, to play, to do whatever you have to do - in order to have your share of the utterly amazing life that GKC describes...

((click here to continue))
And it's what Christians have been doing for the last 2000 years:
The members of some Eastern sect or secret society or other seemed to have made a scene somewhere; nobody could imagine why. One incident occurred once or twice again and began to arouse irritation out of proportion to its insignificance. It was not exactly what these provincials said; though of course it sounded queer enough. They seemed to be saying that God was dead and that they themselves had seen him die. This might be one of the many manias produced by the despair of the age; only they did not seem particularly despairing. They seemed quite unnaturally joyful about it, and gave the reason that the death of God had allowed them to eat him and drink his blood. According to other accounts God was not exactly dead after all; there trailed through the bewildered imagination some sort of fantastic procession of the funeral of God, at which the sun turned black, but which ended with the dead omnipotence breaking out of the tomb and rising again like the sun.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:295-6, emphasis added]
As you know, last week was the completion of the commentary on GKC's Orthodocy - and though I did make a small tribute to Fr. Jaki there, and thereby a token bow to the dramatic liturgical moment of Holy Thursday, I hardly could write what I wanted to about either Jaki or Holy Thursday.

Today, I have at least posted the suitable Chesterton quote for this time - oh, how it ought to be made into a vast bold painting, or a really loud rock song - or perhaps a rock musical... or something, with a gigantic pipe organ and an orchestra, like the Jungen piece called "Symphonie Concertante"... well, I cannot go into that now. I don't have a pipe organ here, or access to one. Not at present, anyway.

And I ought to have written about Holy Thursday too. Perhaps for Corpus Christi I can do something.

But also I need to write about Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, OSB - and yet I find it too soon. Like the Fellowship of the Ring, mourning in Lorien, as Legolas said it is too soon for such things.

So instead I shall quote Jaki, and give you a glimpse of the relation this great Chestertonian scholar had with our Uncle Gilbert...
[My book] Miracles and Physics begins with a quotation of Chesterton's dictum: "The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen." [from "The Blue Cross" in The Innocence of Father Brown] This dictum is worth quoting not only on account of its paradoxical strength, but also because it is part and parcel of the vast and ever fresh outflow of the thought of a truly Christian philosopher. I did not put it this way either in my book, Chesterton: A Seer of Science, or in my essay, "G. K. C. as R. C.", and much less in my first publication on Chesterton, a study of his criticism of Blatchford, a prominent British atheist of the turn of the century, whose books sold at that time by the millions. That they are now totally forgotten may suggest that atheism may not be the best assurance for a book to be kept in print. Atheism has to be reinvented again and again. Only the unadvised see in it originality as it finds ever new spokesmen for some antiquated arguments.
My original encounter with Chesterton goes back to the mid-1950s, when I read through his Orthodoxy, though I hardly plumbed its depth. One phrase in it, however, became engraved in my memory, and I found it very effective in disarming young atheists, increasingly numerous among Catholic college students. In that phrase, Chesterton exposed the rationalist, who tries to put heaven in his head and finds his skull split in the effort. Years later, when I took a more sustained look at Chesterton's major works, my interest in him was certainly aroused on seeing his remarkable battling of scientism, my bĂȘte noire. But since I had already flayed that dead horse more than it deserved, I doubt that I would have been prompted to delve into Chesterton's thought for that reason alone.
Two further promptings had to come so that in the back of my mind there should slowly emerge the plan of Chesterton: A Seer of Science. One of the two was the falling into my hands of an unpretentious volume in the Pocket Books series, Great Essays in Science, put together by Martin Gardner. Most of the essays reprinted there were familiar to me. But I was utterly surprised to find among them "The Logic of Elfland," a chapter from Chesterton's Orthodoxy. When I first read it sometime in 1956 I was utterly blind to the extraordinary grasp which Chesterton displayed there of what science was truly about. The other prompting came when I read, about ten years later, Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas and Gilson's astonished comment on it. Gilson had just delivered his famed Gifford Lectures, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, but on reading Chesterton's book he became convinced that Chesterton seized the gist of Thomas' thought in a way that could not be improved upon.
As I did my research on Chesterton: A Seer of Science I found that this was not Gilson's first encounter with Chesterton. He had already heard, around 1927, Chesterton lecture at the University of Notre Dame. Gilson felt that he was in the presence of a first-class philosopher who in addition had a facility with phrases that philosophers usually cannot match. Forty or so years later Gilson emphatically repeated this erstwhile evaluation of Chesterton, the philosopher. Chesterton was, of course, a Christian who philosophized without trying to become a philosopher. Like Gilson, Chesterton came to Christian philosophy rather unintentionally. By battling solipsism as a deadly enemy, Chesterton could find life and sanity only in that realism which dogmatic, orthodox Christianity alone could assure. Chesterton soon saw that Catholicism was the only form of Christianity that consistently and firmly stood for facts and reality. The evidence is already in Heretics where Chesterton gives his reasons why Christ chose Peter, the fumbler, to be the rock foundation of His Church. [this is in CW1:70] One of the greatest challenges of Chesterton's biographers is to explain why it took a dozen years before Chesterton formally joined the Church. They must, of course, take into account the inscrutable workings of God's sovereign grace.
In my book on Chesterton I dealt strictly with the richness of his reflections on science, which would have done credit to any accomplished philosopher and historian of science. The chapters of that book came from lectures delivered at the University of Notre Dame, to the dismay of some professors there who found it intolerable that so many "conservatives" came to hear me. Liberals once more displayed their illiberality as well as their shallowness of mind, which resorts to easy categorizations instead of serious appraisals of the matter on hand. One of those professors dismissed Chesterton as a "mere journalist." He did not take note when I personally called his attention to Gilson's testimony about Chesterton's greatness as a philosopher.
Chesterton was also a Catholic who never tried to conceal that he was a Catholic. He knew that concealment in that respect is its most counterproductive form. For it is an ageless truth that man is a religious being and those prove this best who use philosophy to show that they are not. Man is a being who lives by religion whether he admits this or not. By trying to live without religion man can all too readily succeed in turning into an animal, a fact which philosophers have the primary duty to consider, unless they care only for their own ideas. Increasingly they do not care for matters that weigh most heavily on men's minds.
[Jaki, A Mind's Matter: An Intellectual Autobiography 196-8]
If you are a scientist - you ought to get Jaki's Chesterton a Seer of Science and read it. And even if you are not a scientist, you ought to get it and read it.

More another time.

Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine.
Et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace. Amen.

"Our God knows the way out of the grave." [See GKC TEM CW2:382]

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful reflection of Father Jaki's on his relationship with Chesterton's writing, and how ironic it is that they were both lecturing at Notre Dame University, the site of the controversy about speakers now. It seems that the modern Notre Damians (or at least its president) are fighting against their colorful past in inviting the most liberal speaker imaginable to counter the likes of Chesterton and Jaki ;-)


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