Jan 072011
 

It is not the purpose of this book to trace the subsequent history of Christianity, especially the later history of Christianity; which involves controversies of which I hope to write more fully elsewhere. It is devoted only to the suggestion that Christianity, appearing amid heathen humanity, had all the character of a unique thing and even of a supernatural thing. It was not like any of the other things; and the more we study it the less it looks like any of them

I have said that Asia and the ancient world had an air of being too old to die. Christendom has had the very opposite fate. Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a god who knew the way out of the grave. It is so true that three or four times at least in the history of Christendom the whole soul seemed to have gone out of Christianity; and almost every man in his heart expected its end.

The Church in the West was not in a world where things were too old to die; but in one in which they were always young enough to get killed

At least five times, with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died. How complete was the collapse and how strange the reversal, we cars only see in detail in the case nearest to our own time.

A thousand things have been said about the Oxford Movement and the parallel French Catholic revival; but few have made us feel the simplest fact about it; that it was a surprise. It was a puzzle as well as a surprise; because it seemed to most people like a river turning backwards from the sea and trying to climb back into the mountains.

In short, the whole world being divided about whether the stream was going slower or faster, became conscious of something vague but vast that was going against the stream. Both in fact and figure there is something deeply disturbing about this, and that for an essential reason. A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it. A dead dog can be lifted on the leaping water with all the swiftness of a leaping hound; but only a live dog can swim backwards. A paper boat can ride the rising deluge with all the airy arrogance of a fairy ship; but if the fairy ship sails upstream it is really rowed by the fairies.

G K Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, The Five Deaths of the Faith

Nov 212010
 

King Ceyx thinks only of Halcyone, no other name is on his lips but hers: and though he longs for her, yet he is glad that she is safe at home. Ah, how he tried to look back to the shore of his loved land, to turn his last gaze towards his wife and home.

But he has lost direction. The tossed sea is raging in a hurricane so vast, and all the sky is hidden by the gloom of thickened storm-clouds, doubled in pitch-black. The mast is shattered by the violence of drenching tempests, and the useless helm is broken.

One undaunted giant wave stands over wreck and spoil, and looks down like a conqueror upon the other waves: then falls as heavily as if some god should hurl Mount Athos or Mount Pindus, torn from rock foundations, into that wide sea: so, with down-rushing weight and violence it struck and plunged the ship to the lowest deeps.

And as the ship sank, many of the crew sank overwhelmed in deep surrounding waves, never to rise from suffocating death: but some in desperation, clung for life to broken timbers and escaped that fate. King Ceyx clung to a fragment of the wreck with that majestic hand which often before had proudly swayed the sceptre.

And in vain, alas, he called upon his father’s name, alas, he begged his father-in-law’s support. But, while he swam, his lips most frequently pronounced that dearest name, “Halcyone!” He longs to have his body carried by waves to her dear gaze and have at last, entombment by the hands of his loved friends.

Swimming, he called Halcyone—far off, as often as the billows would allow his lips to open, and among the waves his darling’s name was murmured, till at last a night-black arch of water swept above the highest waves and buried him beneath engulfing billows. Lucifer was dim past recognition when the dawn appeared and, since he never could depart from heaven, soon hid his grieving countenance in clouds.

Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book XI, Ceyx and Halcyone

Jul 042010
 

A cruel folk you are, unmatched for jealousy, you gods who cannot bear to let a goddess sleep with a man, even if it is done without concealment and she has chosen him as her lawful consort. You were the same when Rose-fingered Dawn fell in love with Orion. Easy livers yourselves, you were outraged at her conduct, and in the end chaste Artemis rose from her golden throne, attacked him in Ortygia with her gentle darts and left him dead.

And so again, when the lovely Demeter gave way to her passion and lay in the arms of her beloved Iasion in the thrice-ploughed fallow field, Zeus heard of it quickly enough and struck him dead with his blinding thunderbolt. And now it is my turn to incur that same divine displeasure for living with a mortal man – a man whom I rescued from death as he was drifting alone astride the keel of his ship, when Zeus had shattered it with his lightening bolt out on the wine dark sea, and all his men were lost, but he was driven to this island by wind and waves.

I welcomed him with open arms; I tended him; I even hoped to give him immortality and ageless youth. But now, goodbye to him, since no god can evade or thwart the will of Zeus. If Zeus insists that he should leave, let him be gone across the barren water. But he must not expect me to transport him. I have no ship, no oars, no crew to carry him so far across the seas. Yet I do promise with a good grace and unreservedly to give him such directions as will bring him safe and sound to Ithaca.

Homer, The Odyssey

Jun 272010
 

The glory of him who moves everything penetrates the universe and shines in one part more and, in another, less.

I have been in the heaven which takes most of his light, and I have seen things which cannot be told, possibly, by anyone who comes down from up there.

Because, approaching the object of its desires, our intellect is so deeply absorbed that memory cannot follow it all the way.

Nevertheless, what I was able to store up of that holy kingdom, in my mind, will now be the matter of my poem.

*

O you who are in your little boat, anxious to listen, having followed so far behind my ship which puts to sea singing,

Turn back and revisit the shores you have left: Avoid the high seas in case, perhaps, losing me, you should find yourself bewildered.

The water I venture upon has never been sailed: Minerva breathes, Apollo shows the way and the nine muses point to the bears.

You other few, who have stretched up your necks in time to the bread of angels, upon which life is lived here and no one has too much,

You may well put out on the salt deep with your ships, following in my furrow before the water closes up again.

Dante, Paradiso

Mar 272010
 

A huge ellipse with markers strewn –
Stretching far, it seemed a tunnel –
Looked immensely like an air-strip,
Star-port landing, this the summit.

Before my eyes the globe appeared –
Pupils widened, thoughts ran clear –
Radiance filled the tunnel, deep;
Hidden star-ways mark this keep.

Then were sounds of celebration –
Laughter, shouting, whooping, cheering –
Drifting down to where I waited;
From their vantage point they watched it.

As it glided, came to standstill,
‘Here’s the moon!’ cried out the nation.
Thus I pondered, numb with wonder:
‘What brought round this situation?’

Whose the hymn of ardent praise,
The church of luminary office;
Are there here to end their long days,
Star-struck scientists of Attis?

Did these ancient priests control
The queen of ebbing, flowing tides,
The weathered ship of midnight squalls,
The treasured orb that mirrors light?

Only one can read their signs
If free; the one will travel time.
Then to one, unseen, unheard
Shall be revealed at once these words.