Saturday, November 13, 2010

"All at once, and with no two ways about it, I was being told to put my life in order."

". . . Yet more agreeable than bringing modern ideas and scholarship to the Poles was the sight of the old tried ways of Europe, thriving in the face of oppression, and awakening in the young British visitor the deep-down awareness of the Christian way of life. The Oxford students would come to Poland with left-liberal politics, agnostic beliefs, pleasure-loving ways and a habit of sneering at things old and venerable. All of them would leave in a thoughtful frame of mind, sceptical of political utopias, respectful of religion and with a new appreciation of the orderly soul and its destiny.
     "I differed from the students only in my starting point. I too was moved, refreshed and also troubled by those orderly souls that I encountered. . . . Most orderly of all was Barbara, and her beautiful lop-sided face with its high Slavonic cheekbones, dark eyes and left-handed smile gave the impression, when she looked at mewhich she did oftenthat she opened a door into my soul and stood quietly inside it. She was a messenger from another realman angel in the original meaning of the term; and she entered my life like an annunciation.
". . . it was no underground activist, no banned writer, no samizdat publisher, no chivalrous knight of a forbidden order who waited for me in the woods at Każimierż.  It was Basia, who stepped quietly across my path and looked with a disarming seriousness into my eyes.
     "'You have no ring on finger,' she said.  'But in West is freedom, and rings make chains.  So I ask a question.'
     "I took her hand, which was small, like a child's.
     "'Someone waits for you? You get down from that airplane and maybe a face with smiles and a flower comes out of a crowd?'
     "'No flower,' I responded truthfully.
     "'So, just a face.' She detached her hand. 'This is pity because already you are a little bit in my heart.'
     "I received this news in unastonished silence. All at once and with no two ways about it, I was being told to put my life in order.  I reviewed the chaos that had dogged me from year to year since my divorce, and to which I had never yet confessed.
     "'Well yes,' she said, 'you say nothing. It is not for a woman to tell feelingswoman must hide otherwise she is cheap. But you come here for truth I think. So it is much worse than I tell. I love you. I want to be yours. And it is impossible. This is God's work for me. Tohow do you saycome over my love?'
     "'Yes, overcome,' she said with a self-deprecating laugh. . . .
". . . Basia was young and her first need was to confess. I learned that the order in her soul was not innate but acquired, and acquired by swimming constantly against the current of sensual desire. She had visited England as an au pair to a Pakistani family, had been seduced by the husband, and had come back to Poland with his baby inside her. She had lived thereafter in the full consciousness of her body, knowing that it must be ruled and guided. She confessed to her unchastities with chaste and reverent words. And she brought home to me, then and subsequently, what is perhaps the most important truth conveyed by religion, . . . the truth that sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory between, and that nothing matters more than the customs, ceremonies and rites with which we lift the body above its material need and reshape it as soul. . . . Basia phrased [this thought] in the pure, simple, liturgical language of her church, and showed through her emotion that she had re-made herself, so as one day to give herself entirely. Perhaps she should have been a nun; but it was too late for that. Now her first thought was to encounter the temptation that I presented, not to flee from it, but to vanquish it. For the crazy idea had also come into her head that she could help me to salvation.
". . . [Basia] observed her world with the eye of religion, seeing in everything the sign of God's creative power and the call to free obedience. Hers was a simple, humble, priest-haunted life, and yet it was lived more intensely and more completely than mine. It was wholly natural to her to believe that fulfilment and renunciation coincide, and that a carnal love could be transcended, as the priestess Diotima revealed to Socrates, so as to rescue both lover and beloved from the dross of this world."

     Roger Scruton, "Stealing from churches," chap. 5 of Gentle regrets: thoughts from a life (London: Continuum, 2005), 72-76.

"the full power of worship will only be felt if its sacramental character is realized in undiminished form"

"the full power of [the Christian (73)] worship [that is irreversibly 'the deepest of the springs by which leisure is fed and continues to be vital' (69-70) but that 'cannot be "done" for the sake of' leisure (72)] will only be felt if its sacramental character is realized in undiminished form, that is, if the sign is fully visible.  In leisure, as was said, man oversteps the frontiers of the everyday workaday world, not in external effort and strain, but as though lifted above it in ecstacy.  That is the sense of the visibility of the sacrament:  that man is 'carried away' by it, thrown into 'ecstacy'.  Let no one imagine for a moment that that is a private and romantic interpretation.  The Church has pointed to the meaning of the incarnation of the Logos in the self-same words:  ut dum visibiliter Deum cognoscimus, per hunc in invisibilium amorem rapiamur, that we may be rapt into love of the invisible reality through the visibility of that first and ultimate sacrament:  the Incarnation."

Joseph Pieper, Leisure:  the basis of culture, trans. Alexander Dru (San Fransisco:  Ignatius Press, 2009 [1963/1952]) , 73-74.  The Latin is from the Preface of the Nativity (Octave of Christmas, i.e. Christmas Day through Epiphany Eve, with the exception of the Feast of St. John), and goes back to the Gregorian Sacramentary (nos. 38, 51, and 1537) at least.  See The Gregorian sacramentary under Charles the Great:  edited from three mss. of the 9th century by H. A. Wilson, Henry Bradshaw Society 49 (London:  Henry Bradshaw Society, 1915), :
for through the mystery of the Word made flesh thy splendour has shone before our mind's eye with a new radiance, and through him whom we recognize as God made visible we are carried away in love of things invisible
(The MIssal in Latin and English, being the text of the Missale Romanum with English rubrics and a new translation (New York:  Sheed & Ward, 1959), 763).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"those rootless celebrations, carefully and unspontaneously prepared beforehand, and as artificial as a maypole"

"a feast 'without gods', and unrelated to worship, is quite simply unknown.  It is true that ever since the French Revolution attempts have repeatedly been made to manufacture feast days and holidays that have no connection with divine worship, or are sometimes even opposed to it:  'Brutus days', or even that hybrid, 'Labor Day'.  In point of fact the stress and strain of giving them some kind of festal appearance is one of the very best proofs of the significance of divine worship for a feast; and nothing illustrates so clearly that festivity is only possible where divine worship is still a vital actand nothing shows this so clearly as a comparison between a living and deeply traditional feast day, with its roots in divine worship, and one of those rootless celebrations, carefully and unspontaneously prepared beforehand, and as artificial as a maypole."

Josef Pieper, Leisure:  the basis of culture, trans. Alexander Dru (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, 2009 [1963/1952]), 66.  "Certainly we must ask whether the great epoch of artificial festivals ['devoid of the true and ultimate affirmation of the world that is the essence of the festive'] is not still to come" (66).

Pieper on an all-too familiar form of codependency

"all these different forms of proletarianism, particularly the last two, mutually attract one another and in so doing intensify each other.  The 'total work' State needs the spiritually impoverished, one-track mind of the 'functionary'; and he, in his turn, is naturally inclined to find complete satisfaction in his 'service' and thereby achieves the illusion of a life fulfilled. . . ."

Joseph Pieper, Leisure:  the basis of culture, trans. Alexander Dru (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, 2009 [1963/1952]), 58.  Proletarianism is defined here as "a symptomatic state of mind common to all levels of society and by no means confined to the 'proletariat', to the 'worker', a general symptom that is merely found isolated in unusually acute form in the proletariat; so that it might be asked whether we are not all of us proletarians and all of us, consequently, ripe and ready to fall into the hands of some collective labor State and be at its disposal as functionarieseven though explicitly of the contrary political opinion" (58-59).

Does the unreconstructed 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century insistence on the suffering of God rest on THIS mistake?

"This aspect too of 'intellectual work'the exaggerated value which is put upon the 'difficult' simply because it is difficultbecomes evident in the accentuation of a particular trait in the look of the 'worker':  the fixed, mask-like readiness to suffer in vacuo, without relation to anything.  It is the absence of any connection with reality or real values that is distinctive.  And it is because this readiness to suffer (which has been called the heart of discipline, of whatever kind) never asks the question 'to what end' that it is utterly different from the Christian conception of sacrifice.  The Christian conception of sacrifice is not concerned with the suffering involved qua suffering, it is not primarily concerned with the toil and the worry and with the difficulty, but with salvation, with the fullness of being, and thus ultimately with the fullness of happiness:  'The end and the norm of discipline is happiness.'"

Josef Pieper, Leisure:  the basis of culture, trans. Alexander Dru (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, 2009 [1963/1952]), 35.  The closing sentence is from Summa theologiæ 1 (not 1):  temperantiae ipsius finis et regula est beatitudo.



A tradition associated with Epiphany in southern Bohemia of the baroque period, at least:  children collecting money for the poor inscribe C+M+B plus the date in chalk on the lintels of the doors that are opened to them.  Bernard Klasen, "Passer la porte, penser la porte," Transversalités (Institut Catholique de Paris) 92 (Octobre-Décembre 2004):  123-124 (123-130).

Martin Walraff's "«Ego sum ostium»:  Kirchenportale und andere Türen im antiken Christentum" (Theologische Zeitschrift 62, no. 2 (2006):  321-327) has more on this at pp. 324-325 and 325n16 (where he gives three further references), though without restricting the custom to southern Bohemia.  The example he gives is 20+C+M+B+10.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Takuan on "the central Buddhist teaching of no-self that sees no evil in killing"

"The uplifted sword has no will of its own, it is all of emptiness.  It is like a flash of lightning.  The man who is about to be struck down is also of emptiness, and so is the one who wields the sword.  None of them are possessed of a mind that has any substantiality.  As each of them is of emptiness and has no 'mind', the striking man is not a man, the sword in his hands is not a sword and the 'I' who is about to be struck down is like the splitting of the spring breeze in a flash of lightning."

"the seventeenth-century Zen Master Takuan," as quoted by Katherine Wharton, in her review of Buddhist warfare (ed. Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2010)) entitled "Pen and the sword:  the doctrine of no-self sees no evil in killing," Times literary supplement, October 1, 2010, p. 10 (10-11).  Wharton speaks of "the overwhelming historical evidence of human evil set out in Buddhist Warfare", and, following the essay therein by Brian Victoria, implicates especially D. T. Suzuki in "unqualified support" for "the 'unity of Zen and the sword'".