Youth and age touch only the surface of our lives. – C.S. Lewis, in Thulcandra

Life is full of variations. It undulates as well as oscillates in unanticipated ways. For example, I remember reading and rereading the Ransom trilogy five or six years ago and thinking I’d exhausted them. I tried to re-read them and they fell flat. That was before I read the three volumes of Lewis’s letters and drifted a few years down the stream of life. Now I’m back to the trilogy, and I’m overwhelmed. How can one finish reading them? I don’t say they’re The Divine Comedy, but they’re enough for me to swim and dive into, and to learn from. If they’re a smaller pool beside that sea, they’re sea enough for my small organism.

It has brought me to a standstill on my own Falcon Lord because I read what I’m doing and I’m dissatisfied. It doesn’t flow like Lewis does; the sentences are not made rightly; I don’t understand basic things about storytelling; the structure of the whole is a great random mess of a small puddle. It is prodigious for being so colossally wrong on such a minute scale. At last this morning I come to a halt before the dawning consideration that after having started it all again in July, I ought to start it all again again.

I can only conclude that the undulations of life cause one abruptly to face mountains which earlier were not even apparent. I’ve been brought up short by Paul Fussell who has cut off all my poetic endeavor, raising the standard of criticism with relentless clarity so shinning high that everything I’ve written is cast into and abyss of murk and shadow. I have been crouching in my shadows, from time to time attempting, but with no real sense of how to proceed. Now Lewis seems to have done the same to my stories.

It is good to be critical because you learn to see what will do and what will not do. What is defeating is when you see nothing that you’ve done will do, and because you have begun to understand why what will do, does, you begin to realize your modest ambition to something lesser never will. You see the mountain and you say, I’m not made for surmounting that.

I do have the joy of understanding better, and that’s a real joy. I am richer because those books I’ve possessed all along suddenly contain more. Now I can regard the Ransom trilogy with new satisfaction, satisfaction that I thought before I’d never have. It took time: time just passing, time reading with enjoyment through the letters, time regarding other seemingly unrelated things, time of unenjoyable growing–but great things became smaller as I increased. What had oscillated away has oscillated back, and I am glad these books are more than at one time they seemed, even though now my stuff is less. And perhaps one day I’ll even have the same experience with Dante’s trilogy, who knows (Oh, that would be a boon!).

Shall I be glad my problems with writing are more today than at one time they seemed? Let me be wary: life brings surprises, some welcome and some unwelcome. One is oneself before these surprises. I am fully and steadily myself, with whom I have been since the early dawn of consciousness, living secretly with what is only my own. “Youth and age touch only the surface of our lives.” One is only given to be oneself all along. But the great thing is what fills life with these undulations: I am given to be, and I can only receive it. Being is a gift one somehow holds. Is that not like one of the balls on a Christmas tree in which I see what I have, only magically somehow more and richer? I want to enter the curved world reflecting what I have as if I were not there before myself already, being looked past as I attempt to see the greater wonder beyond. There is indeterminacy in that peering, and colossal ignorance, but wonder too.

And now, some of the great Rilke (which I would not of my own have sought out, but was suggested by a trusted source and has been therefore given too, and gladly received) along a parallel:

Bodily delight is a sense experience, just like pure seeing or the pure feeling with which a lovely fruit fills the tongue; it is a great boundless experience which is given us, a knowing of the world, the fullness and the splendour of all knowing. Our acceptance of it is not bad; what is bad is that almost all men misuse and squander this experience, and apply it as a stimulus to the weary places of their life, a dissipation instead of a rallying for the heights. Mankind have turned eating, too, into something else: want on the one hand, and superfluity on the other, have dulled the clarity of this need, and all those deep, simple necessities by which life renews itself have become similarly dull. But the individual can clarify them for himself and live clearly.

If I have endlessly to go, then let me be endlessly renewed by an endless succession of gifts, whatever they may be. And let me be grateful. Let these apprehensions which are paralyzing ever come to force me to regard, to stop before the mountain watching it, unable to apprehend but letting it operate as all art does on that secret self that I have been given always to be and grows only in receiving what is offered. Even as He who regards me and has given me what I have, what I am, regards my little organism, touched on the surface merely by youth and age, giving because He has no reason to hold back.

A Bit More on Perelandra

I think one of the main reasons for the long and lavish descriptions of the place serve to prepare us for the long and lavish descriptions of inner states which follow. We are not only situated on a foreign planet, but we are prepared by the descriptions to follow along carefully with something that is leading somewhere. There is action, but there really is not that much action in the story. The descriptions, however, are advancing the trajectory of the story. And just as Ransom first awakens to the new physical surroundings, understanding them, dealing with them, he then awakens to the spiritual surroundings: what is happening and what he is expected to do.

It is an ingenius way to do myth. Lewis, we know, got the idea of using Science Fiction as a vehicle for myth from David Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus. He wanted an imaginary place, a made-up place to provide a setting that in reality did not matter. Lindsay uses his planet to adumbrate philosophical attitudes, and Lewis uses his planets to demonstrate spiritual realities. The thing that got to me was, who cares about the place so much? Sure it is wondrous, but by the time he started describing after everything else the streamer trees and the little creatures moving under them, I was baffled. But again, he was preparing the scene following, not randomly lavishing descriptions. And that, I think, is the key.

* * *

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

While we are on the subject of spiritual warfare, we are used to thinking of it in terms of a battle with ourselves. Let us call this the quiet and subjective approach. I say this because there is a louder, as it were, and objective approach, with various degress of off-putting sensationalism when it comes to spiritual warfare.

In the early church they would have probably emphasized the objective approach: they believed spiritual powers were alive and active. Dawson describes it most curiously as if they were people living in waters through which sharks swam (it is an interesting passage for various reasons, Dawson’s). They were alive to an external and objective force against which they must battle in order to avoid sin.

In Perelandra (again!) you have Lewis doing something curious. Ransom benefits from a holy hatred such as he is not able to experience with benefits on our own planet. He has not been cleansed of original sin, but he is no longer in the atmosphere through which the sharks swim, so he can feel anger without sinning. It is not a sensational use of the objective view, so it is not loud, but it is not a completely subjective view. It is a soft, objective approach, if you will, and a reminder of what Christians hold to be true. We live on a planet the air of which (the spiritual atmosphere of which, I suppose) is under sway of spiritual beings who are hostile to our Christian lives.

It is worth remembering, even if we are Calvinists, because it can only make us better at spiritual warfare to keep all the enemies in view, right? I think so, anyway. I’m not sure how it is different, but the clue is perhaps in some of the way Lewis speaks of the planets and earth.

Yet the quality of a religious system depends perhaps less on its specific doctrine, than on the choice of the problems that it regards as important, the areas of human experience to which it directs attention.
-Peter Brown

And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become aware, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrased, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers–perhaps the cleverest of all the ones that are building your life.

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition

Henry Chadwick has a good book on Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition. It is exactly what I want because it explains how the two gradually came together in the first five centuries. He studies Justin Marty, Clement & Origen of Alexandria

Justin Martyr is where Chadwick starts. He thinks Justin could explain Plato as well as anybody else around–not everybody’s take on Justin is as high. Justin studied philosophy and was keen to use it. What Chadwick points out is that he didn’t do it uncritically. This is important.

Here is a contrast that shows the importance: one of Justin’s contemporaries despaired of reconciling all the philosophical schools. This chap believed there was too much to understand, that the contradictions were irreconcilable, that in fact nothing could be known. Pessimistic. Another chap was optimistic: the various schools could be reconciled, a synthesis produced, they were all basically right and you just needed to work at it hard enough (interestingly, Chadwick finds this attitude similar to that of the Gnostics). Justin, in contrast, was critical. He believed there was truth and there was error in the classical tradition, and his criterion was the Christian tradition. He used what he was certain about to go into Greek philosophy and harvest it, but not without rejections.

Apologists were getting started: Christianity was unofficial and it was criminal to be a Christian. Should it please the authorities to act on it, they usually were not inclined, they could. The situation was unreasonable, and the apologists start apologizing to point this out. They reason reasonably, show comparisons from other legal contexts, bring in arguments made by pagan philosophers, etc. Justin kicks it off.

Celsus was incensed. He was a pagan. His attitude was: you can’t split pagan philosophy from pagan religion–as if what Justin did was some form of intellectual theft. Celsus’ position, however, was shaky ground because the philosophers had always been critical of their own pagan religion. Celsus also accused Christians of being dumb and their feeble attempts at intellectual respectability of being poor and monstrous use of pagan thought.

Celsus’ accusation seems to have provided motivation for Clement. He did what Justin did: tour the ancient world looking for a good teacher to help him go deeper. He ended up in Alexandria and helped to further the growing relationship between Christianity and philosophy. He was critical too, but didn’t say with Justin that Plato plagiarized Moses. He said, I’ve read, that just as God made a covenant of law with Israel, he made a covenant of reason with the Greeks. Sunny Clement. Apparently in second-century Alexandria the line between Christians and Gnostics was blurred (all lines were blurred, according to Gonzales); Clement went to work to make sure the lines Christians were drawing were clear.

Clement is called a liberal puritan by Chadwick. Clement was pretty keen, as Justin had been, on Stoic ethics, which are strict, while he rejected the pantheism and fatalism and whatnot else accruing. And Clement was fine with making grand use of philosophy. Why should not Christians think? Paul had warned against being deceived by philosophy, but not against making proper use of it. Origen, whom Chadwick calls an illiberal humanist, was a bit more in conflict about using philosophy, though he did it lavishly–it was a deeper part of him than he realized. At one point he got rid of the fine library of pagan thought he’d collected. It reminds me of Jerome dreaming of Christ accusing him of being Ciceronian and not Christian, or of Augustine confessing the vanity of the learning which makes his Confessions timeless.

Origen was always a student of Scripture (and though he was not tortured to death, he died of being tortured for his faith, never recanting). Origen ended up having flights of speculation that would in subsequent generations get him in trouble (Chadwick’s explanation of Origen I think favors Origen more than perhaps it should. But it is a very hard thing to tell: there are wild extremes when it comes to views on Origen and one being ignorant of most of the primary materials . . .), but that was done to show what thinking could do. His speculations seem to have been done without the benefit of the right genre–if only he had given himself to Science Fiction! I read Perelandra and I think, O Origen! If only you had given yourself to this. Perhaps he was not only the George MacDonald of his age, he was meant to be the C.S. Lewis too. Everybody wanted his commentaries, his influence was immense, he was an original and neo-platonic thinker. Other great minds would come, but Origen was a bright beacon in the early darkness. Once he opened the gates wide, philosophy came to stay, and just in time for the great controversies in which the church found itself during the fourth and fifth centuries.


Things I was struck by this time:

-how much description there is. Things are imagined, but so vividly imagined that he can describe on and on: the flora, the atmosphere, the fauna, angelic misapprehensions, so many things. A lot of this book is description of the strange world, and even when you think it is all over, he goes on describing entirely new things on the dry land.

-the psychological stages Ransom goes through. What states of soul might a man wrestling all night with God go through–you may ask. I think Lewis comes close to describing all of them during Ransom’s night of decision. And then the stuff in the tunnel, the stuff on the fish, the various encounters . . .

-how immensely learned. The seaweed eating is from Ovid, I gather. But how many other things about angels, and other beings, and so much more. Of course, it is a book about spiritual warfare, as the beginning shows, but how much of his own thinking goes into it: stuff from Screwtape and other meditations. Besides that, all his learning, all the stuff he’s read, all the allusions and references he makes.

-the structure and pacing of the book. In all that he does, all that he does remains interesting, makes sense, dawns on the reader or does not obstruct or detract. That may be the effect of reading it many times and reading a lot of Lewis, but I never remember it being anything but an enjoyable and smooth book even from the first distant readings of my greater than present ignorance. It makes me old every time.


One of the chaps I read said that Nestorianism (I think it was Nestorianism) was the complement to Pelagianism. That the Christ of Nestorius provided the salvation for the humans of Pelagius. I don’t see that.

Here are two things I do see: the absolute transcendence of Plato’s notion of God needs to be tamed by Scripture. (Apparently, process thought thinks this is a Greek intrusion and not revealed. However, I think the book of Job is a good refutation of that.) Anyway, you have that sort of inexpressible transcendence and also the immanence of our benevolent Creator, and you have something you can deal with. If you leave it alone, Chadwick suggests, you get the impulse that leads to Arianism. I can see that. Hence is created son, a sort of first and intermediary, bridging the gap.

The other thing I see comes from Dawson. The monothelite controversy is about unity. That overdone passion for unity, for absolute singularity is the impulse that later gives rise to Islam, the religion of God’s absolute unicity (am I making up that term or did he use it?). Anyway, I see that too. Zeal for unity at the expense of all else, sweeping everything into submission with its uncreated decrees.

But I don’t see the first thing. Do you?

Culture Shock

When I taught in Colombia, I taught a more or less even mass of people all of whom were quite happy to be spoon fed. There were among them a few who aspired to more, but their aspirations did not ordinarily rise very high. There were trained people among them, but they remained peripheral, and what one taught was the even mass of those happy to learn as long as it involved no great effort on their part.

Such people, I think, will usually be most of the congregation. It has its advantages and its frustrations, but it is the reality with which any teacher has to deal. And a good teacher aims to bring them along as far as is possible. What is more difficult here is that there is quite a larger number of the more keen and admirable. Because they are admirable and eager, one is tempted to draw ahead with them, leaving the mass behind.

The shock comes here: I have had response to my teaching above what I expected. I had one elder show up for class yesterday with the first volume of the 38-set, Ante, Nicene and Post collection. I had people asking about the reference in a text I was talking about; I didn’t have it, this guy looked it up and read the footnote for us, prompting a small and rather esoteric exchange. I also had the experience later on in which somebody just off the top of his head challenged my reading of something Eusebius of Caesarea wrote. It came form an unexpected quarter–a young father of five who is not in any kind of academic job and is learning Greek to be able to home school his kids to read Greek and who is patiently working his way through those 38 volumes during his lunch at work (and, morevover, has not given up on Irenaeus of Lyons after going a good way in).

It represents a challenge and a temptation for me, for this reason: what motivates me, I have come to understand, is honor. I seek honor the way some seek money or pleasure. Like those who seek money or pleasure, those of us who seek honor must understand what real honor is. Like treasures in heaven, or solid joys and lasting pleasure, the honor those of us who are moved by it should aspire to is the honor of God. That goes for this circumstance of teaching, in which there are various sources for gratifying one’s quest for honor, but only one that really counts.

I do not want to be shown up in class–though there is honor in humility. At the same time, I can’t leave the bulk of the people dangling. The solution is to honor God–not that that is as easy as it sounds. One hates to be the sort of teacher who gives up on those who are really hungry in order to feed those who will eat what is put in their mouth but no more (was it Plato who talked about it, letting the eager teach themselves, leaving the dullest behind, helping the middle class? I don’t agree with him–not yet at least). One has a duty to the majority of the class, on the other hand, that seems incompatible with the personal satisfaction of climbing higher with the few who would provide the joy and camaraderie of more competent exhilarations. But God sits over it all, calling those who teach to teach every group well. Not to leave the eager alone, not to leave the slow behind, but somehow to provide all things for all of them.

It is, perhaps, one of those things which is placed before us in order to try us by being too great for a present satisfactory solution, but edifying in that is stretches us more than we would because it makes us try to overcome what cannot be overcome in this life. I think a lot of this life is like that, and that it is a mistake to give up just because the problem appears intractable. After all, we are not made for just this present, most limited, and altogether brief phase of our existence. It is a training ground, and a nursery, and we will grow out of it and begin the real task of our existence after this part is all settled and done with. Does it not stand to reason that if we are to be greater beings in the resurrection, that we are therefore presently as children are to the outsized furniture of adults in our present circumstances? I think it is an important part of the Christian attitude to realize that this life is in not the settled part of our existence. And I wonder if this problem of teaching with a more mixed group is not part of that. I do not believe there will be less, but more hierarchy in our lives in the world to come, and I believe that very much.

(And I have been listening to Perelandra, hence my diction.)

Anyway, it has left me with a bit of culture shock and something to think about. I had forgotten, so long has it been since I’ve taught, how much energy teaching requires. I have the week off for an Easter breakfast next week, and books coming due that I can’t renew, and this consideration as I work on the lesson plan. Enough to keep one’s life engaged.

The Pittsburgh

I went to Pittsburgh to visit an IKEA, see the many steel bridges, the city and the Frick. The Frick is small, like Dayton, but rewarding. At the car museum I asked the friendly chap how one got into the art museum. “Through the front door, sir,” he deadpanned. I think the most modern work of art there is the building, which is unusual, and refreshing. The grounds of the park are very nice, and the weather being what it is . . .

I took along Scruton’s Our Church. He’s so good for traveling with. Insightful, engaging, thought-provoking, challenging. This book is a companion to England: An Elegy. It is another elegy. His point again, as in the first elegy, is that like Athens of old, England was a gift of God to all humanity. And he is helping us to store up memories, before the thing is lost and must be retrieved through archaeology.

We had a remote-controlled gas fireplace in our rooms and the weather cool and rainy the night we were there. That was a first time, and I’m not sure anymore that a fake fire with gas is such a bad idea. It warms things to a jolly state while you read, and you’re not always working at making the thing blaze and adding wood.

We listened to Perelandra on our way through Ohio, sad and decaying Wheeling, and the rather baffling overpasses, tunnels and bridges of Pittsburgh. I thought I’d read all there was to read in Perelandra, but I was wrong. His books are so immensely learned, so staggeringly so. I was struck this time by how dense the thinking seems to be, how much reasoning in conversations takes place, how much description of the strange new landscape, and how little action for half the book. One of the definite disadvantages of listening to a recording is one doesn’t pause to think about things. I have been doing that a lot in my reading on the early Church.

I took a bit of a break from that, but now I have a much-anticipated good one before me: Henry Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition.


The standing water is clear and deep. Everywhere you hear the calls of birds, morning and evening. I’ve seen robins hopping solemnly in the fields for weeks: when the fields were brown, when they were drowned, and now that they’re green with unruly, tufted but still short grass. The stark branches of winter have become bumpy and blurred. And in places you can already see the tender green haze of Spring’s early musings.

Bring Back Winter

Bring back Winter

A strange and distant fervor

The arts have failed; fewer people are interested in them every generation. The mere business of living, of making money, of amusing oneself, occupies more people more and more, and makes them less and less capable of the difficult art of appreciation. When they buy a picture it generally shows a long-current idea, or some conventional form that can be admired in the lax mood one admires a fine carriage or fine horses in; and when they buy a book it is so much in the manner of the picture that it is forgotten, when the moment is over, as a glass of wine is forgotten. We who care deeply about the arts find ourselves the priesthood of an almost forgotten faith, and we must, I think, if we would win the people again, take upon ourselves the method and the fervour of a priesthood. We must be half humble and half proud. We see the perfect more than others, it may be, but we must find the passions among the people. We must baptize as well as preach.

-the Poet Yeats, 1901


 We went to the conservatory last evening. We walked in the surrounding grounds as the sun set. There were many clouds, and these were tinged with the rosy orange of the setting sun. There is also the steely bright and gold you get, and above it the deeper brooding blue, the grey of the clouds and the softer white. Beyond it all is the paler blue of the sky itself.

The sun touched the winter branches of the trees, and fell also on the white steel and glass of the greenhouses. These structures are in the rounded shape and elegance that at least to me evokes the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The time of another sunset.

What stars will shine down on us, I wonder, when these evening skies have cleared. What conservatories under what glass.

O greedy men, what will satisfy you, if God Himself will not.


Withering into the Truth

One of the interesting suggestions Christopher Dawson makes is that Greek philosophy was a world philosophy in search of a world religion. The observation is interesting for various reasons:

1 One doesn’t have to know much about Greek philosophy to understand that it was often critical of pagan religion. Outside of the prophets of Israel, who but the philosophers criticizes the pagan deities? And it is an interesting comparison between the prophets and the philosophers. I’m looking to substantiate the marriage of attitudes in the writings of the apologists.

2 It helps explain in broad terms what is happening in those first five centuries of the church. Works like the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas strike me as notably intellectually inferior to the writings of Paul. Paul was bright, but after him, the writings kind of dive off a cliff. That may be my misguided impression: I have to go back and look with better care. But if I’m right, then the subsequent generations didn’t really cultivate thought as devotedly as perhaps they could have. After all, from AD 70-130 what is happening is that Christians are pulling away from the original Jewish roots. They were considered a sect of Judaism at first, but they’re pulling apart, and as a result they’re loosing, it seems to me, Jewish education–Jewish traditions of thought and study. They have to look elsewhere when they realize they need to think.

3 Gnosticism, it seems to me, is the pagan attitude toward religion entering to gawk in the church. Pagans didn’t really make fine distinctions over theological points. They weren’t too happy with Socrates for trying to think about theological order. And the Gnostics seemed to have that attitude as well, but not about pagan gods. The Gnostics came along, like a pagan with a stupendous idea about this or that, and they found themselves oddly offending the Christians in whose midst they were. Christians had to meed the challenge somehow: who is God, who is Christ, what is Christ, what is salvation, what is sin.

4 Which is theology. The first great challenge once they were outside of the incubator of Judaism was the Gnostic challenge, and it was a challenge demanding clarity on authority in the church. Who teaches, what do they teach, where do they get it from. So you get Ireneaus who is a thinker, responding at the time and not a moment too soon. Gnosticism demanded theology, and with theology a canon, interpretation, and organizaton of your theological thought. You have an early figure, in the movement toward theology: Justin Martyr. He thinks Plato plagiarized Moses (I think it was Porphyry thought Moses plaigiarized Plato, which shows how much the two strands have interpenetrated a century and a half later). He’s not so great a philosopher or thinker, Justin, but he’s a beginning. Then Clement of Alexandira, searching for a good teacher, finding one, becoming a real thinker in the church. Clement’s thought is strange and no doubt if I studied Philo more, I’d make more sense of Clement, but he was a thinker. After him comes the great genius of his time and a figure of the stature of the great Plotinus: Origen of Alexandria. There Hellenic thought enters the church irreversibly, and you have in Alexandria the beginnings of deep theological thought, in time for the fourth century and the great councils and very deep theology. Then the Cappadocians, who studied in Athens, and in the Latin West at last those figures that bring the classical tradition and the Christian together definitively: Augustine of Hippo and Jerome.

Which is where Dawson started us. It sets the stage for what comes after.

And now, to end it all, some of that old pagan Yeats:

THOUGH leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth.

Two Philosophers

The first one is William B. Irvine and he teaches at Wright State, in Dayton. For many years he was teacher of Philosophy, concerned with explaining, I suppose, and showing, and theoretical things; but then he started thinking about life. A philosophy concerned with better living is not something you hear about nowadays, but it was common in better times. Apparently Irvine tried some Zen and did not find it suited his analytical personality, so he tried the Stoics and found they did. He’s written a book with a brief historical overview, then explanation of the basic ideas, then advice for becoming a fully functioning modern-day Stoic. It is an interesting book.

A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

The Stoics flourished in Rome, the ideas being imported from Greece where it began once Zeno decided the Cynics didn’t have it quite right. If you want a few big names of Roman Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. The goal of the Epicureans was pleasure–philosophically achieved–and the goal of Stoics, then, was tranquility. Irvine explains how they attempted to achieve a life of tranquility. Himself being for some years now a functioning Stoic, he can offer practical advice to this practical philosophy.

The second philosopher I’ve been reading is Roger Scruton. He’s just come out with a novel called Notes from Underground. It is set in Czechoslovakia behind the iron curtain. Scruton was there several times during those times, and the sense of the place is real, and knowing Scruton, probably pretty accurate. The story is a story about love and desire, about masks and trust, about the mistrust that poisoned everything in communist societies, about the absence of God and the need for him, about the false triumph of the West with its fangless kitsch.

It is an aching, poignant, luminous, intriguing and insightful way for Scruton to make the points he labors elsewhere to make, and it is more. There are many things from his other books I found in this one, but this time they’re put into settings, shown rather than told, and combined to create a haunting tragedy. I don’t see how it could be a popular triumph, but it is a triumph because it is ambitious and it succeeds.

What Scruton does in this book is another lament, an elegy for something that badly and barely survived under communism but which does not appear to be doing better after it. This book seem to me another chord in his late labor of mourning for Western Civilization.

The Best Uncommon Knowledge Ever

Two Bits

I go to Target on Saturday mornings and I write. It has been prosperous to do so. They have a little area out of the way, with windows and no music at all. They provide no plugs–all the plugs are on the ceiling out of reach. It is as good a place as any to write, whenever you don’t have annoying people, and there seldom are from 8-10AM on Saturday.

I read an article on the Imaginative Conservative in July or August which put me off of background music–she said it interfered with the imagination and I didn’t see much in the way of a reason, but she was otherwise reasonable so I tried it out to see what fruit the experience would bear. I think she’s right, and I attend to music a lot better now. I don’t tune out and look for other things to do. Not that I’m against background music, but I don’t put music on so much, not every chance I get.

A Prayer On Going Into My House

GOD grant a blessing on this tower and cottage
And on my heirs, if all remain unspoiled,
No table or chair or stool not simple enough
For shepherd lads in Galilee; and grant
That I myself for portions of the year
May handle nothing and set eyes on nothing
But what the great and passionate have used
Throughout so many varying centuries
We take it for the norm; yet should I dream
Sinbad the sailor’s brought a painted chest,
Or image, from beyond the Loadstone Mountain,
That dream is a norm; and should some limb of the Devil
Destroy the view by cutting down an ash
That shades the road, or setting up a cottage
Planned in a government office, shorten his life,
Manacle his soul upon the Red Sea bottom.

-the Poet Yeats

Toward Spring

We are emerging from the deep of winter here. Light and geese are flooding us now. I drive through Dublin and crossing the Scioto see birds. Geese of course, but also seabird looking birds, and many. They wheel over the broad river, over the white of snow and the upright grey of winter’s trees. The river flows under them, dark and gleaming both, like time.

* * *

I’m listening to Luke Johnson on mysticism and he is careful, factual and philosophical. After a few duds with the teaching company I’ve hit a string of pretty good ones who want to impart understanding, a correct attitude toward the subject. Good things on late antiquity especially, on the foundations of Western Civilization. They know something about the objects of knowledge, have philosophy.

Speaking of philosophy, the hard thing with the early church is not to wander too much off into studying Stoics and the great Plotinus. Time is getting short on me, however. There’s nothing as complex as the Monophysite controversy in the early centuries. Gnosticism is relatively shallow and unexciting. Things had to develop, of course, and that is where someone already pretty well developed like Plotinus seems so much more interesting. Not that it’s uninteresting. Still, what’s Justin Martyr beside, for example, Gregory of Nazianzus? The way to look at it perhaps is to note how he influences Neoplatonism, which in turn later informs Augustine.

I have a good book on Stoicism. And I have Dawson and Brown. If it weren’t for writers like Henry Chadwick and Christopher Dawson, the going would be heavy. They bring clarity, light, the Hellenistic attitude, philosophy.

* * *

There are four not altogether orthodox responses to the position of Nestorius (which I only recently myself finally understood): 1 divinity and humanity are mixed into a third single nature, 2 humanity is the principle of unity while divinity is absorbed, 3 divinity is the principle of unity while humanity is absorbed, 4 there is one united nature with a dynamic continued existence of humanity and divinity within (this according to a valuable tome named Late Antiquity). That fourth is called Miophysite, and it is still believed by what are called Oriental Orthodox churches. I ran across it studying a mosaic of the empress Theodora, an interesting personage of late antiquity who clave to the Miophysite expression. It seems to be an almost orthodox position with hererodox formulation–unless someone can demonstrate otherwise to me. The great problem with it appears to be not that it is insufficiently Calcedonian, but that it tends to tip over into option 2 above. It is unstable, in other words, more than it is, in its practical effect, bad doctrine. It is a curious thing. I have the Logos library with 1400 volumes of commentaries, dictionaries and periodicals. When I search ‘miophysite’ I get nothing. That is not a defect in that collection, it is the Western tradition.

Nestorius, as you may know, disliked the term Theotokos and seems to have formulated his position as a denial of that fact. Cyril, who resisted him, seems to have spoken in terms that lent themselves to the cause of the Miophysites. And all that is without dealing with the hot issue of Origenism (which comes back to Justinian! who could attract talent, who codified Roman law and employed great architects, but who shut down the Academy in Athens and who destroyed a good deal of Origen’s works).

I can’t wait to teach a class on the Monophysite controversy.


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