Thursday, April 01, 2010

GKC: the Feast of Love

As it is Holy Thursday, I forgo my usual lengthy posting and give you for your meditation a most curious passage from GKC. I struggled somewhat with a selection, for today (rather than March 2) is the true "Feastday of Subsidiarity" - it is not possible to hear the description of the Washing of the Feet of the Apostles without leaping to a deeper understanding of the reality of this technical and practical and useful design method... I have told you before GKC's famous epigram, "henceforth the highest thing can only work from below" [TEM CW2:313] but such is the mystical truth of the Plan of the Master Designer that even this ties in and links, forward and backward, to the Eucharist and to the Priesthood...
In GKC's The Man Who Was Thursday there is a chapter called "The Feast of Fear". Today's chapter ought to be called "The Feast of Love" - the intricate and splendid structure of which perhaps someday I may write more at length. But for the present, please read this excerpt from the famous CW14 of GKC's little-known and previously uncollected fiction, and ponder it. Should you have difficulty understanding, please find a cookbook and sit and read it for an hour or two, and perhaps you will find illumination.

--Dr. Thursday.

Gabriel Hope's voice came sudden and jarring, "What do you say to the third verse of the eleventh chapter of the gospel according to St. Luke? [That is, "Give us this day our daily bread."]

So sharply did the voice vibrate that Mrs Mandelhorne looked quite nervous for a moment and not at all as if she said anything to that authority.

"No," said Hope with a kind of bitterness, "we don't say anything to it, we cultured dogs. But it is there to be spoken to. The offices are open from everlasting to everlasting A.M."

Mrs. Mandelhorne glanced at the speaker, Janet at the ball-handle, and Mark at the poker, but Madge still sat, with her prominent chin on her hand, with an inexplicable spark under her eyelids.

"For my part," went on Hope, quietly, almost modestly, and evidently supposing everyone attentive, "I think it is a side of religion very much neglected. If anything is religious, food is religious."

Mark began to examine his bread and butter with some interest, but seemed to fail to find any visible traces of the morning service.

"Surely, a loaf of bread is the centre of the parable of life: it contains all parables, the sower, the seed, the blade, the ear, the harvest, the sweat of toil, the joy of hospitality, the joy of giving, the joy of receiving, the assimilation, the building-up, the invisible essence of life and limb. A crust of bread broken by the horny hands of fishermen was the last parable he spoke, was it not? We have flattened it into a wafer: and we deliver it by white-robed pontiffs with all the sacramental mystery of the worship of Isis. It is the Holy Eucharist, I know. Is it the Last Supper?"

"Don't know," observed Mark, cheerfully, and added a traditional supplement in an undertone which theoretically involves the utmost penalty of the law.

"I think not," said Hope, turning on him with an earnestness which greatly disconcerted him. "I think that they have wrung out of it exactly the point they should have left in: the humility, equality, and division of bread: all that is so admirably suggested by the act of sitting round a table. On that last night, in that dark garret, knowing the the gibbet hung above him, he gave those he loved a last symbol and memory: what did it mean? Surely it meant the central miracle of man, the miracle compared with which stopping the sun and moon is a conjuring trick, and cursing the fig-tree a scientific experiment, the profound revolutionary and dazzling miracle that a two-legged animal thrown free and hungry on the earth, should break a crust of which he might eat all and give half to his brother."
[GKC "Wine of Cana" CW14:559-561]

I almost forgot that I had been retaining another short line for today. It is not, properly speaking, GKC's own words, but he recorded them, and perhaps it required the heart and brain of a Chesterton to grasp them and their richness. They, too, are a strange and mysterious echo of Subsidiarity. Tonight, after the altars are stripped, and you think of Jesus in the Garden, you ought to recall them.
--Dr. T.
There are three examples of Western work on the great eastern slope of the Mount of Olives; and they form a sort of triangle illustrating the truth about the different influences of the West on the East. At the foot of the hill is the garden kept by the Franciscans on the alleged site of Gethsemane, and containing the hoary olive that is supposed to be the terrible tree of the agony of Christ. Given the great age and slow growth of the olives, the tradition is not so unreasonable as some may suppose. But whether or not it is historically right, it is not artistically wrong. The instinct, if it was only an instinct, that made men fix upon this strange growth of grey and twisted wood, was a true imaginative instinct. One of the strange qualities of this strange Southern tree is its almost startling hardness; accidentally to strike the branch of an olive is like striking rock. With its stony surface, stunted stature, and strange holes and hollows, it is often more like a grotto than a tree. Hence it does not seem so unnatural that it should be treated as a holy grotto; or that this strange vegetation should claim to stand for ever like a sculptured monument. Even the shimmering or shivering silver foliage of the living olive might well have a legend like that of the aspen; as if it had grown grey with fear from the apocalyptic paradox of a divine vision of death. A child from one of the villages said to me, in broken English, that it was the place where God said his prayers. I for one could not ask for a finer or more defiant statement of all that separates the Christian from the Moslem or the Jew; credo quia impossibile.
[GKC The New Jerusalem CW20:353; emphasis added. The Latin means "I believe because it is impossible" (Tertullian)]

Sorry for this post-postscript, but I think you will find it worthwhile. In The Life of Christ by the wonderful Father Ricciotti, priest and archeologist, you can find out more about Gethsemane. Yes, it really means "olive-press", but the detail you must hear is this. When the Romans besieged Jerusalem about 70 A.D. they cut down every tree for miles around, as was their practice in such maneuvers. However, it seems that the roots of olive trees are notorious for maintaining their life, and it is possible that some of the present-day trees are sprung from ancient roots. Of course that may just be a parabolic way (y=x2) of speaking of the mystery. But I thought you ought to know. (If you wish, I'll get the reference for you another time.)
--Dr. T.

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