Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Twice on Thursdays"

I was dipping into the Pooh stories last evening, and noticed several little things which made me think of GKC. Something about "twice on Thursdays", and how the opposite of an "introduction" is a "contradiction". And how Owl could spell "Tuesday" and many other things. Ahem.

Anyway, today May 27 is the feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury. No, not the "Late have I loved thee" Augustine, the former heretic whose mother was Monica and who prayed and wept for YEARS until he converted - he's Augustine of Hippo. This Augustine was sent to England... There's a famous quote, which some find strangely insulting, though of course it isn't, or rather it is insulting, but not in the way one thinks. It's very curious. If anything, the laugh is on Father Brown (or rather on Chesterton), but then he was smarter than his interlocutor:
"As I say, if you're English, you ought really to be on my side against these Dagos, anyhow. Oh, I'm not one of those who talk tosh about Anglo-Saxons; but there is such a third as history. You can always claim that America got her civilization from England."

"Also, to temper our pride," said Father Brown? "we must always admit that England got her civilization from Dagos."

Again there glowed in the other's mind the exasperated sense that his interlocutor was fencing with him, and fencing on the wrong side, in some secret and evasive way; and he curtly professed a failure to comprehend.

"Well, there was a Dago, or possibly a Wop, called Julius Caesar," said Father Brown; "he was afterwards killed in a stabbing match; you know these Dagos always use knives. And there was another one called Augustine, who brought Christianity to our little island; and really, I don't think we should have had much civilization without those two."
[GKC "The Scandal of Father Brown"]
Some perhaps will think this is not appropriate - but then they have missed the point. It's not really that America is founded upon English culture - she is founded upon Rome, in both senses of the term. And that may be even more insulting, but then perhaps we also need to temper our pride.

Which is always a good thing to do. Remember how GKC responded to the famous question, "If I Only Had One Sermon to Preach":
If I had only one sermon to preach, it would be a sermon against Pride. The more I see of existence, and especially of modern practical and experimental existence, the more I am convinced of the reality of the old religious thesis; that all evil began with some attempt at superiority; some moment when, as we might say, the very skies were cracked across like a mirror, because there was a sneer in Heaven.
[GKC The Common Man]
I strongly urge you to read this essay - read it frequently. It is worth seeking. (If one of our readers happens to be able to cite the electronic location for it, please do so.) Here is just a little more for you to ponder, perhaps the richest nugget in the lode:
Pride consists in a man making his personality the only test, instead of making the truth the test. It is not pride to wish to do well, or even to look well, according to a real test. It is pride to think that a thing looks ill, because it does not look like something characteristic of oneself. Now in the general clouding of clear and abstract standards, there is a real tendency today for a young man (and even possibly a young woman) to fall back on that personal test, simply for lack of any trustworthy impersonal test. No standard being sufficiently secure for the self to be moulded to suit it, all standards may be moulded to suit the self. But the self as a self is a very small thing and something very like an accident. Hence arises a new kind of narrowness; which exists especially in those who boast of breadth. The sceptic feels himself too large to measure life by the largest things; and ends by measuring it by the smallest thing of all. There is produced also a sort of subconscious ossification; which hardens the mind not only against the traditions of the past, but even against the surprises of the future.
Please read this again, and learn it:

Pride consists in a man making his personality the only test, instead of making the truth the test.
We could, if we had time, make a wonderful study of how Chesterton ponders the matter of pride - and of humility. People talk - especially the media people talk - about today's modern science, which seems to be one big ego trip of people patting each other on the back - when they are not patting themselves. It is actually a clear sign that whatever it is, it is not science. Science is humility in the face of the universe. It is making truth the test, and not one's personality. But I don't have time to do it today. Perhaps some candidate in one of the Roman colleges, or some little liberal-arts school, will take up the challenge to explore all of GKC and sort out his studies on pride and on humility. And lest you think my point is only aimed at the sciences, it applies a fortiori to the arts. Let us not forget how GKC illuminated the unutterably splendid link between fairy-story and the One True Story:
the lesson of "Cinderella," which is the same as that of the Magnificat - exaltavit humiles.
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:253]
That Latin quote is from the Magnificat, the great song of Mary which is sung every evening by the Church united in prayer. It means, "He has lifted up the lowly." [Lk 1:52] That of course applies to all of us, scientist or artist - providing we are willing to make truth the test and not our selves.

I wish I had time to pursue this more today, but I have other tasks to accomplish - yet before I leave, I must remind you about Saturday, May 29, which marks the 136th anniversary of the birth of our Uncle Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Please celebrate it properly, in a fitting Chestertonian manner, and remember that "we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them." [Orth CW1:268]


  1. I'm sorry, but I must disagree with your take on America. It was not founded upon Rome, but rather upon Christ. It is much more true to trace our lineage through the pilgrims and puritans back to England, and from their through Augustine back to Christ, than to trace it through Jefferson and the enlightenment back to Rome.

    As for the other sense of the word America was built upon the orthodoxy of John Calvin and Martin Luther much more than the Roman Catholic Church.

    PS. I was about to pride myself about my knowledge of this "other" Augustine when I happened to glance upon the next paragraph. Very well written sir, very well indeed.

  2. Perhaps I need to elaborate upon my first paragraph. Rome had a foundation of paganism, and therefore it cannot produce civilization which is good, true or beautiful. It can only produce the devil's distortions of those three characteristics. I believe that the only foundation for true civilization is Christ. I agree with the saying that "culture is religion externalized" and so I can trace the heritage of this country in the same line as it's religion.

  3. Oh, yeah, the republic's Judeo-Christian. Not Roman. After all, "re publica"? Hebrew.

    As we all know, the first republic was founded when the Jews drove out the house of David—thereafter known as David the Proud—after Amnon's crime, and established a council of the elders of the tribes.

    Oh wait, no, that's not right, that was Rome, and it was Tarquin the Proud, deposed after the crime of his son Sixtus. Jews were an absolute theocracy or an absolute monarchy; the concept of limited government comes from Rome.

    Did Christianity improve the Roman model? Undoubtedly. Did America incorporate any of the improvements Christianity made? Not...really. The Founders' original model was more Greek than Roman, but it certainly wasn't Christian in any way. Their law permitted things, for instance in the treatment of slaves, that the Church had forced Rome to ban by the end of the 4th century. See, your "Christian" founders considered slaves property, while real Christians had established their legal personhood at least by the time of Charlemagne. And not only were slaves property, but you could do absolutely anything you wanted to them, because of the Roman concept of property rights: you had a legal right to use or abuse any of your property, even if it was a person. The same thinking is found in the Libertarian idea that you have the right to hurt yourself (because you apparently "own" your body—which example of body-self dualism is much more characteristic of pagan Platonism than Christianity). Christians don't believe you have the right to misuse your property.

    So why did the Americans put up with things 5th century Emperors didn't? Because the country was founded in the classicist era, when all the "cool" people were pretending to be Ancient Pagans. Take one look at any of the art or politics of the period, anywhere in the west: unthinking classicism from top to bottom.

    Don't threadjack a comment box if you aren't even right.

  4. Permit me to clarify one thing. The Founders generally were Christians, though of varying degrees of devotion; but the principles they founded this country on aren't. America is founded on pagan principles, and the only thing that kept it from becoming a pagan state for so long was that people interpreted those pagan principles in Christian or semi-Christian senses. That's why having total rights over your slaves didn't immediately become a chamber of horrors: slave-owners still believed they had Christian moral duties, even with no legal sanctions.

    That was, indeed, the Founders' fatal flaw: they took so many values for granted and assumed the things they believed about the world simply went without saying. Actually read the Bill of Rights: its principles are fairly good, at least in terms of the running of a secular state, but they're incredibly vague, that's why people can claim a First Amendment right to pornography, which was certainly not what the Founders had in mind.

    America is a country founded on pagan principles by Christians who didn't know what those principles actually meant, because not one of them could conceive of having ideas that weren't pagan or feelings that weren't Christian. It was the climate of the time, brought about by the fusion of classicism with Protestantism.

  5. The Constitution Center has a program this summer called Ancient Rome and America. If you lived near Philadelphia or could travel there, it could be interesting.

  6. I believe an electronic version exists here:

  7. The most "successful" heresy is the one which is the most similar to Christianity but is still damnable. Man has at least some ability to recognize what is true, so that heresy with some amount of truth sprinkled in is more likely to be believed than plain untruth.

    I believe that Rome is such a heresy, masterfully assembled by the devil, so that it will have the appearance of goodness as well as power. To accomplish this, the devil used many ideas which God would have approved of, but built it upon a foundation of paganism.

    So I admit, the Romans did get much right, which the founding fathers recognized. But if any of the Roman concepts were truly good, than they could only have come originally from God.

    The Jews were not originally set up as a monarchy, that is quite ridiculous. They begged God for a king, and he told them basically that it would not be a fair or as good of a system, but he gave it to them because it was not an inherently evil system. Previous to this, they had a democratic republic.

    Deuteronomy 1
    9 At that time I said to you, "You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone. 10 The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as many as the stars in the sky. 11 May the LORD, the God of your fathers, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised! 12 But how can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? 13 Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you."

    14 You answered me, "What you propose to do is good."

    15 So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you—as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials. 16 And I charged your judges at that time: Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien. 17 Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it. 18 And at that time I told you everything you were to do.

    Honestly, I'm not trying to threadjack any comment box. I'm putting my opinion out there so that I might be corrected if I am wrong. How can anyone learn anything if we don't tell each other what we believe. And yes, I have learned some things from you, but please use some Christian charity and respect.

    Enough for now,

  8. Hi - I have just discovered this blog and am enjoying having a wander around it.... I am sorry that I did not stumble upon it before I posted on Manalive earlier today - oh well... I look forward to reading more in the future!

    Thanks for sharing

  9. Jonathan,
    In order to have a true conversation, one needs, as Chesterton said, to keep an open mind, and be willing to clamp that mind down on the truth. If you are convinced Rome is a heresy, so be it--but that is not the truth. The good of the Roman Catholic Church is not false, the good is not an appearance: the good is real. History also shows that the direct line of the faith that comes through Jesus is through the Roman Catholic Church. I'm not making this up, and I'm not trying to prove anything, I'm just stating the facts of history. In order to see this, one needs to relieve oneself of the biases and prejudices one carries from the things people have told us and the things we've read. Read Chesterton. Read Orthodoxy. The first step is to give the Church a chance, to be sympathetic towards it, and listen to what it says. Not from the point of view of a former Catholic. Not from the point of view of an anti-Catholic. But from the Catholic point of view. Then, see what happens. God bless you.

  10. I'm sorry, when I wrote that post I was referring only to the Rome of antiquities and paganism, not the Roman Catholic Church. And in that sense I am guessing that you would agree with me, am I correct?

    I've almost confused myself here. But now that I go back an look, whenever I was talking about the "Roman Catholic Church" I used all three words to describe it.

    I haven't talked with Catholics very much before, do they usually call themselves Romans? Because I certainly wouldn't want to take that name upon myself, American is bad enough. lol

    God bless you too.


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