Thursday, 25 June 2015

Supposing Chesterton had been Consulted as Peritus

GKC as we know left this earthly life in 1936. His books may have been consulted (and perhaps not by the most attentive readers), but he was not. Suppose that while he was alive some ecclesiastic friend of his, in a chatty way had told him "oh, by the way, one priest colleague of mine was working on a thesis, and as you did Orthodoxy and Everlasting Man, you are not quite out of the business - have a look at his first sentence, will you?" And then he hands Gilbert a slip of paper which reads:

Gaudium et spes, luctus et angor hominum huius temporis, pauperum praesertim et quorumvis afflictorum, gaudium sunt et spes, luctus et angor etiam Christi discipulorum, nihilque vere humanum invenitur, quod in corde eorum non resonet.

I imagine Gilbert might have first, after taking a good look and a good moment of thought, replied: "will not quite do. The last bit, 'nothing really human is there, which does not resonate in their hearts' is of course true, insofar as 'really human' excludes the fallenness of man, which was a degradation and not an enhancement of Adam's and Eve's, our first parents' human nature. But where do the 'homines huius temporis' come from, even with 'pauperes praesertim et quivis afflicti'? And why the identity in hopes and anguish? The Church is offering a hope and a fear beyond what is commonly felt!"

And here is my reworking and criticism, freely inspired mainly by Chesterton, but in part too by J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and by Hilaire Belloc.

The Church indeed does share in the main, though not without exception, the joys and sorrows of the common man.

I say "in the main", because if a man gets soak drunk or gets in bed with a girl he is not married to, he may very well enjoy it, even if he is poor and afflicted, but that doesn't mean the Church enjoys it. Indeed, the Church disapproves of it, though not quite as harshly as with some other sins. However, the Church disapproves these things as mortal sins, and will see a man who enjoyed them as needing conversion and penance in order to save his soul. Even if he is poor and afflicted.

A priest told by someone that someone had just shagged a girl he loved would hardly say "oh, how nice! Keep me updated!" He would perhaps say "if you like her and she likes you, why don't you marry?" And he would if this is agreed approve of their love from that decision on, but he would not approve of the act past. He would call it the sin of fornication - and he would worry about the child perhaps not growing up with both parents. He would still less approve of it if the child had been spared that ordeal or threat by the means of "being spared" coming into existence at all. He would call contraception "sin against nature" and rightly so, since nature means birth - and whatever leads up to and comes out of it.

However, common man in many places still today has the good sense not to quite feel solidaric with a man's exhilaration of either fornication of sin against nature. But in some places precisely among men of these times, this good sense is becoming rare (though it was more prevalent a hundred years ago, when Chesterton praised the common man).

So, there are clearly exceptions to the Church sharing the joys of the common man - perhaps fewer ones to sharing his sorrows. But in the main, yes, the Church rejoices with them that rejoice and weeps with them that weep.

However, when it comes to hopes and anguishes, the Church is rather more reserved.

When Lenin promised "do with the collective discipline, do with the violence today, tomorrow evolution will have pushed mankind, through your heroic efforts, to a classless society!" I am afraid the Church had neither duty nor right to share this hope.

When Hitler threatened (and the Social Democrats Myrdal, and quite a few in Canada or parts of US) "if we allow such and such to procreate, our race will be destroyed" I am afraid the Church had neither duty nor right to share this fear.

Even if these hopes and fears were shared by many "men of these times". Even if they were shared by many poor and afflicted men. It is usually not by our mourning, and not very much even by our joys that the devil corrupts us, or damns us, it is more by our hopes and fears for this world. The Church has been sent here to provide another fear and another hope. Desire Heaven. Fear Hell. Despise the world.*

Not the world as in people. But the world as in earthly fears and hopes.

Christ said to his twelve first priests : You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.

Now, salt preserves meat, not be being like meat, but by being violently different from meat. If it were exactly like meat, it would not preserve it, it would rot with it.

As a child I wondered how "salt" - to me it meant the white salt grains, Natrium Chloride - could lose its savour. Natrium Chloride stings and has savour. It does per se not change that property. However, as I recently learned, by "salt" our Saviour meant the back then commercial product salt, where Natrium Chloride and maybe other salts too were packed in a hill of clay**, not unlike the sugar tops, except bigger and clay-ier and salty instead of sugary. And by the savour this product could lose, He meant precisely Natrium Chloride.

A priest who is not sufficiently different from the world, from men of his time, to correct their hopes and fears when disordered, is a "commercial package of salt" which has "lost its Natrium Chloride". And this was perhaps the case with whoever came up with the above sentence.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre University Library
St Prosper

* Rule of St Benedict. Chapter on the tools of good deeds. Perhaps that would be chapter four, since a title I saw was Seventy-Four Tools for Good Living / Reflections on the Fourth Chapter of Benedict's Rule. By Michael Casey.

** If you feel disgust at the thought of cooking with salt that is mixed with clay, don't. Germans often cook or "bake-cook" in clay vessels called Roemertoepfe. And a Roemertopf is clay-y on the inside. The dishes are usually really good.

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