Monday, February 17, 2020

"May ours this blessing be"

Most of the new-to-me hymn texts/tunes that I have posted on this site I found while leafing through A Hymn Companion (1985) by Frank Colquhoun. Today, "Blest Are the Pure in Heart":

Blest are the pure in heart,
For they shall see our God;
The secret of the Lord is theirs,      
Their soul is Christ’s abode.
Still to the lowly soul
He doth himself impart
And for His dwelling and His throne
Chooseth the pure in heart.
The Lord, who left the heavens
Our life and peace to bring,
To dwell in lowliness with men,
Their Pattern and their King;
Lord, we thy presence seek;
May ours this blessing be;
Give us a pure and lowly heart,
A temple meet for Thee.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

An evening hymn

God, that madest earth and heaven,       
Darkness and light,
Who the day for toil hast given,
For rest the night:
May Thine angel guards defend us,
Slumber sweet Thy mercy send us;
Holy dreams and hopes attend us,
This livelong night.
Guard us waking, guard us sleeping;
And when we die,
May we, in Thy mighty keeping,
All peaceful lie.
When the last dread trump shall wake us,
Do not Thou, our God forsake us,
But to reign in glory take us
With Thee on high.

Friday, February 14, 2020


After some prompting by Facebook friends I finally got around to looking at the "Old Book Illustrations" site. There are thousands of illustrations, all out of copyright, searchable by subject, artist, or book title, and wonderfully scanned in several resolutions. Looking at a few of the artists that were familiar I selected the illustrations below as samples of what is available. You may not want to visit unless you have plenty of time to browse.
Arthur Rackham, Hansel & Grethel & other tales, "Hansel put out a knuckle-bone, and the old woman, whose eyes were dim, could not see, and thought it was his finger, and she was much astonished that he did not get fat."
Howard Pyle, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Sidney Paget, The Hound of the Baskervilles, "Holmes Emptied Five Barrels"

George Cruikshank, Oliver Twist, "Oliver Asking for More"
Old Book Illustrations

Thursday, February 13, 2020


Browsing my bookshelves this afternoon I came to Whittaker Chambers' Witness. It was his autobiography concentrating particularly on his time as a Communist and spy for the Soviet Union and subsequently, some time after leaving the Party, he exposed the other members of the espionage ring in testimony before Congressional committees and ultimately in court. Although long disputed, it is now indisputable that he was right about Alger Hiss. From "The Foreword in the Form of a Letter to My Children":
...I was a witness. I do not mean a witness for the Government or against Alger Hiss and the others. Nor do I mean the short, squat, solitary figure, trudging through the impersonal halls of public buildings to testify before Congressional committees, grand juries, loyalty boards, courts of law. A man is not primarily a witness against something. That is only incidental to the fact that he is a witness for something. A witness, in the sense that I am using the word, is a man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences. ....

But a man may also be an involuntary witness. I do not know any way to explain why God's grace touches a man who seems unworthy of it. But neither do I know any other way to explain how a man like myself—tarnished by life, unprepossessing, not brave—could prevail so far against the powers of the world arrayed almost solidly against him, to destroy him and defeat his truth. In this sense, I am an involuntary witness to God's grace and to the fortifying power of faith.

It was my fate to be in turn a witness to each of the two great faiths of our time. And so we come to the terrible word, Communism. My very dear children, nothing in all these pages will be written so much for you, though it is so unlike anything you would want to read. In nothing shall I be so much a witness, in no way am I so much called upon to fulfill my task, as in trying to make clear to you (and to the world) the true nature of Communism and the source of its power....

It is not new. It is, in fact, man's second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: "Ye shall be as gods." It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man's relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God. It is the vision of man's mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man's liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man's destiny and reorganizing man's life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man's mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God. ....
Whittaker Chambers, Witness, 1952.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

"Equal upon principle"

On the anniversary of his birth, from an Independence Day speech Lincoln delivered on July 10, 1858:
.... We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty—or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,—with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,—we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these [Independence Day] meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations.

But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration [loud and long continued applause], and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. [Applause.]

...[T]his argument of the Judge [Douglas] is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent, and I hold if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it! [Voices—“me” “no one,” &c.] If it is not true let us tear it out! [cries of “no, no,”] let us stick to it then [cheers], let us stand firmly by it then. [Applause.] ....

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

"We ask no victories that are not Thine"

A hymn written in 1864: "At the time the hymn was written the war had reached a turning-point. Following the bloody Battle of the Wilderness the nation was torn by a spirit of fear, bitterness and grief. Hence the reference in the first stanza to 'the night profound' which enshrouded the American people, and the prayer for God's guidance and strength." (Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion)

Stanza 2 is omitted in the performance above.

Eternal Ruler of the ceaseless round
Of circling planets singing on their way,
Guide of the nations from the night profound
Into the glory of the perfect day,
Rule in our hearts, that we may ever be
Guided and strengthened and upheld by Thee.
We are of Thee, the children of Thy love,
The brothers of Thy well belovèd Son;
Descend, O Holy Spirit, like a dove
Into our hearts, that we may be as one;
As one with Thee, to whom we ever tend;
As one with Him our brother and our friend.
We would be one in hatred of all wrong,
One in our love of all things sweet and fair;
One with the joy that breaketh into song,
One with the grief that trembleth into prayer,
One in the power that makes Thy children free
To follow truth, and thus to follow Thee.
O clothe us with Thy heavenly armor, Lord,
Thy trusty shield, Thy sword of love divine;
Our inspiration be Thy constant Word;
We ask no victories that are not Thine;
Give or withhold, let pain or pleasure be,
Enough to know that we are serving Thee.

Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion, Hodder & Stoughton, 1985.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Reading Paul

A small group of Baylor University Scholars and I are reading the New Testament, in a slightly peculiar fashion. I’ve asked them to read each book not in the canonical order, but in the likely order of composition, and to imagine themselves as followers of the Way, this new faith centered on Jesus of Nazareth, whom we believe to be the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the whole world. But we don’t know whether we’re doing it right. The Way is quite recent, has spread by word of mouth, and no one account of its essentials meshes perfectly with the others. When someone brings to us a painstakingly-copied letter or narrative from what we believe to be an authoritative source, we pounce on it, we treasure it, we read it with forensic attention. And what do we learn?

We have all been struck by certain matters of tone.

We begin with some of the letters of Paul. He begins hopefully. .... (more)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Hating the sin but not the sinner

On one of the Facebook pages I visit daily there appeared a quotation attributed to C.S. Lewis:
“There is someone I love, even though I don’t approve of what he does. There is someone I accept, though some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive, though he hurts the people I love the most. That person”
I like the quotation very much. It does seem like something Lewis could have written. But since it was presented without a source my curiosity about where he wrote it sent me to Google. Someone at Essential C.S. Lewis has done the research:
It’s just the type of thing you would expect C.S. Lewis to encourage somewhere in his writings. In fact he does! But, he just does NOT use those exact words. While known for making concise profound statements, he expresses this sentiment with a lot more words (details below). So, what we have pictured above is another example of taking material from C.S. Lewis and paraphrasing it. ....

All is not lost, because there is a good candidate for where those thoughts originated. In Mere Christianity there is a chapter entitled “Forgiveness” (Book 3, Chapter 7) where at the end of the fourth paragraph he begins a second point that sounds like the ideas in this questionable quotation.
From that chapter in Mere Christianity:
.... I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again. .... (emphasis added)

Friday, February 7, 2020

Helpless laughter

From "No flash in the pan by John Steele Gordon" about my favorite series of historical novels:
.... This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first installment of the Flashman Papers, entitled simply Flashman.

Through the course of twelve books Flashman finds himself, despite his best efforts, at the heart of nearly every major military disaster of the nineteenth century: the First Anglo-Afghan War, the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Indian Mutiny, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, Rorke’s Drift, even Custer’s Last Stand. And, thanks to luck and guile—Flashman always had plenty of both—he came up smelling like a rose every time. By the end of his life he was a brigadier general and a Knight of the Bath. He had been awarded numerous decorations for bravery, including the British Victoria Cross, the American Medal of Honor, and the French Légion d’honneur, all of them richly undeserved. ....

Flashman was the brilliant conception of the British author George MacDonald Fraser. Flashman had been a minor character in Thomas Hughes’s Victorian classic Tom Brown’s School Days—so minor he didn’t even have a first name in that book. As the school bully at Rugby, Flashman had made Tom Brown’s life hell until he had been expelled for drunkenness. ....

But Fraser took this thinly fleshed-out character and brought him to life by means of a masterly literary conceit. Had he simply written these books as third-person novels, it is unlikely they would have caught on....

Instead, Fraser wrote them in the first person, explaining that they were actually the memoirs of Harry Flashman. “The great mass of manuscript known as the Flashman Papers,” he wrote, “was discovered during a sale of household furniture at Ashy, Leicestershire, in 1965.... The papers, which had apparently lain untouched for fifty years, in a tea chest...were carefully wrapped in oilskin covers.” All Fraser had to do, he explained, was edit them very lightly and supply footnotes and endnotes. As far as I know, the Flashman Papers are the only novels in the English language, perhaps besides Tolkien’s, with extensive back matter, at least back matter written by the author and not an English professor determined, as they always are, to make a good book boring. ....

And the endnotes reveal another of Fraser’s literary conceits. For while Harry Flashman is completely fictional, the world he lived in for so long (his dates are 1822–1915) was very real, as were many of the characters and events in the Flashman Papers. Fraser sticks to history as much as possible. Flashman wrote that he met Florence Nightingale, for instance, at Balmoral, Queen Victoria’s Scottish estate, on the night of September 22, 1856, and, indeed, Nightingale was there that day, as recorded in Queen Victoria’s letters. ....

...Flashman is absolutely honest and forthright about his manifold deficiencies as a human being. Memoirs are not exactly famous for their warts-and-all qualities, but the Flashman Papers are most definitely warts and all and then some. Flashman knew exactly what a rotter he had been all his life and had no trouble with it.

Each of the twelve Flashman books stands alone and can be read independently in any order. They were certainly not written in chronological order. But if you are new to Flashman, I’d advise reading them in chronological sequence, though not one right after another. Like a rich and delicious dessert, the Flashman Papers should be consumed one portion at a time. ....

And one final note of caution: these wonderful books are best read either alone or in the bosom of the family. For if you read them in a public place such as a suburban commuter train or a doctor’s waiting room, you will, from time to time, burst out in helpless laughter and everyone will turn around and look at you.

You have been warned. (much more)
The Wikipedia article on The Flashman Papers includes, at the end, the books listed according to the chronology of Flashman's fictional life:

No flash in the pan by John Steele Gordon | The New Criterion

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Detection Club

In 1933, Lucy Malleson – who published detective stories under the name Anthony Gilbert – received a letter from one of her literary heroes. Dorothy L Sayers, creator of the flamboyantly monocled detective Lord Peter Wimsey, was writing to invite her to join the Detection Club, a secret society for crime writers, which Malleson regarded as “an association of the aristocracy of the detection writing world”. “Everything snobbish in my system,” Malleson recalled, in her memoir Three-a-Penny, “acclaimed this opportunity to hobnob with the great.” With some trepidation, she arrived at the Northumberland Avenue Hotel in London for the initiation dinner, to be swept up by “a massive and majestic lady in a black dress” – Sayers herself – and led down a hall lit only by flickering tapers. On instruction, Malleson placed her hand on a skull, which an impassive John Rhode was holding on a cushion, while the club’s president, GK Chesterton, dressed in a scarlet cloak and flanked by torchbearers, intoned commandments “in a voice that might have come from the abyss”. Malleson was to swear that her detective would make no use whatsoever of “Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God”; that she would “conceal no vital clues from the reader”, and be sure to “honour the King’s English”. Should she fail in her solemn duty, Chesterton warned, a curse would befall her: “May other writers anticipate your plots, may total strangers sue you for libel, may your pages swarm with misprints, and your sales continually diminish!”

The Detection Club had been established three years earlier by a group of crime writers that included Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Baroness Orczy and Ronald Knox. Chesterton was its first president, replaced in 1936 by EC Bentley; Sayers, originally the club’s secretary, held the chair from 1949. And ever since its foundation, members have regularly convened in London restaurants and hotels, at dinners notorious for their macabre rituals and mock-serious insistence on their “fair-play” creed, which also prohibits the use in any detective plot of “hitherto undiscovered poisons”, “more than one” secret room or passage, or the introduction of identical twins without proper warning. ....

Sayers died suddenly in 1957, whereupon the Detection Club presidency passed to Agatha Christie, who was so shy that a co-president (Lord Gorell) had to be appointed to make the speeches and toasts. Yet the club goes on. In the course of my research, I was lucky enough to be invited by the current president, Martin Edwards (author of an excellent history of the club, The Golden Age of Murder), to the club’s annual dinner. .... (more)

Sunday, February 2, 2020

"Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation"

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart 
In peace, according to Thy word: 
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, 
Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; 
A light to lighten the Gentiles, 
And the glory of Thy people Israel. 
And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:25-35 KJV)

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

"A breath of springtime as the autumn winds blow"

Michael Dirda on re-reading (which he doesn't do very much):
...[S]ome folks discover the secret to thwarting the meretricious allure of the evanescently contemporary. Instead of picking up new books, they go back to old favorites. There are people who every year reread The Lord of the Rings or Jane Austen’s six novels or the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes or all the plays of Shakespeare. My favorite college professor reread Madame Bovary whenever he taught the novel, which was essentially every year for three decades. He said that each time he found something new in it. Oscar Wilde contended that if a book wasn’t worth reading over and over again, it wasn’t worth reading at all. ....

One sure sign that a reader has reached old age is that he or she loses interest in new fiction. Seen it all. Been there, done that. It’s then that people nearly always do return to the books they loved when young, hoping for a breath of springtime as the autumn winds blow. And if they aren’t rereading Treasure Island or The Secret Garden? Then it’s likely to be the Bible, Plato’s dialogues or Montaigne’s essays because these inexhaustible classics address nothing less than the meaning of life, which really means, of course, the meaning of our own lives.

Alan Jacobs

I've been quoting Alan Jacobs quite a lot recently. It occurred to me that it has not been just "recently" so I did a search of the blog. Almost from its beginning I've been quoting from his books, his blog entries, and more. I have decided that it is time to create an "Alan Jacobs" label here. References to his work can be found here or by going to the label below.

Idle words

.... In response to the Pharisees who claim that it is through Beelzebub that Jesus casts out demons, he lashes them: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (The same principle is at work in the parable of the unforgiving servant, who ends by being condemned according to the standard he applied to his fellow servant. Measure for measure….)

It is curious that Jesus speaks of the Pharisees’ accusation against him as a “careless word” — and disturbing that he clearly does not mean thereby to excuse them. Perhaps we would like to think that our careless words are more forgivable than our calculated cruelties, but it seems that we will “give account” for all our words alike. I doubt that we think about this often enough. There is sure wisdom in the Great Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim, much used in the Orthodox world, which begins thus: “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk.” Idle talk! — how many of us would think to place, near the head of a long prayer to be repeated frequently in Lent, a plea to be delivered from that?

And yet many have been my idle words over the years. I wonder how much harm they have done to others, and even to me. ....

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

C.S. Lewis on reading

Alan Jacobs links to "an annotated anthology I was invited to edit — and then disinvited," consequently unfinished, but what he did finish would be interesting to anyone who reads and who enjoys C.S. Lewis.
.... But this man who could take delight in old books, old poems, that few others could read except as a matter of scholarly duty and under duress, was also a lifelong lover of children’s books. “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” And in the last scholarly book he published in his lifetime, An Experiment in Criticism (1961), he celebrated and defended once more the child’s way of reading.
As there are, or were, families and circles in which it was almost a social necessity to display an interest in hunting, or county cricket, or the Army List, so there are others where it requires great independence not to talk about, and therefore occasionally to read, the approved literature, especially the new and astonishing works, and those which have been banned or have become in some other way subjects of controversy. Readers of this sort … are entirely dominated by fashion…. Yet, while this goes on downstairs, the only real literary experience in such a family may be occurring in a back bedroom where a small boy is reading Treasure Island under the bed-clothes by the light of an electric torch.
Few indeed are the scholars — fewer still the great scholars, and Lewis was indisputably a great scholar — who could write so passionately in defense of the way he read when he was a small child, or who could enjoy The Wind in the Willows as much at age sixty as he had at age ten. This distinctive ability to read in so many ways, and for so many reasons, is what makes Lewis such a wonderful guide to the world of reading. ....

Lewis’s letters are full of accounts of the re-reading of his favorite books — a habit that those for whom adding to their list of Books Read is a major incentive to picking up a book cannot readily understand. For Lewis it was a practice so deeply ingrained that he felt it had to be restrained. When he reviewed The Lord of the Rings (which perhaps he should not in good conscience have done, given his intimacy with its author, but we’ll set that aside for now) he commented that “the book is too original and too opulent for any final judgment on a first reading. But we know at once that it has done things to us. We are not quite the same men. And though we must ration ourselves in our re-readings, I have little doubt that the book will soon take its place among the indispensables.” ....  (more)

Monday, January 27, 2020


Perfect. Thanks, Joel.

"If he loved God’s law then so should we."

.... If Jesus is who he claims to be, then surely his opinion should be very influential in shaping our own.... Should we bail on the Old Testament?

Not at all. Here are three things that Jesus believed about the Old Testament:
  1. The Old Testament was historical. Generally speaking, Jesus viewed the Old Testament as telling about people that really existed and events that really happened. Sure, there are poetic portions (e.g., the Psalms) and apocalyptic portions which are highly symbolic (e.g., Ezekiel), but Jesus understood the historical portions to be, well, historical. ....
  2. The Old Testament was authoritative. In all of Jesus’ disputes and debates (and there were many), the highest court of appeal was always what Scripture had to say. Curiously, this was even an agreed-upon reality with Jesus’ enemies. Despite all their theological disagreements, they never disagreed about the role of Scripture as the ultimate authority. ....
  3. The Old Testament was inspired. On top of this, Jesus affirmed most plainly that the Old Testament contains the words of God himself. When it speaks, God speaks. Take, for example, Matt 19:4: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother…” (more, elaborating on each point)

Sunday, January 26, 2020


Re-posted because Gertrude Himmelfarb.

Can the clock be turned back? Can social disintegration be reversed? When it seems that things are falling apart, that "the center cannot hold," it may help to remember that there have been times when things did move in a more hopeful direction. For instance, Gertrude Himmelfarb, the great historian of 19th century England, described how the Victorian Era saw a remarkable improvement:
.... One of the extraordinary facts about Victorian England, which came as a revelation to me, was the low illegitimacy rate. Around 1845 the illegitimacy ratio was 7%; by the end of the century it had come down to less than 4%. In the poorest part of London, east London, it was 4% at its peak and 3% by the end of the century. Remember, this was a time of enormous political, economic and social turmoil: the industrial revolution, the cultural revolution, urbanism and so on. And yet it in spite of all these difficulties, illegitimacy was considerably reduced and the English emerged from this period in a state of re-moralization – in dramatic contrast to our present situation where illegitimacy rose from 5% in 1960 to nearly 30% today. ....

.... Like the low illegitimacy rate, the low crime rate is quite extraordinary. There was a drop in the crime rate of nearly fifty percent in the second half of the 19th century; again in dramatic contrast to the crime rate in our own times which in the past thirty years has risen ten-fold. The low crime rate was a reflection of the Victorian virtues – work, temperance, orderliness, and responsibility.

It was also a reflection of the degree to which this ethos had been internalized. We tend to think of stigma and sanctions as being externally imposed by society, by law and coercion. But in fact, what was most characteristic about Victorian England was the internalization of these sanctions. For the most part they were accepted by the individual willingly, even unconsciously; they were incorporated in his superego, as we would now say. This combination of external and internal sanctions made for a powerful ethos, an ethos supported by religion, law, and all the other institutions of society. ....
Alan Jacobs has been thinking about a book describing England in the preceding century and the tendency to believe that "progress" can only move in one direction:
I think it’s fair to say that most of us living in America today assume that, as we like to put it, “you can’t turn back the clock,” that history always and inevitably moves in a liberalizing direction. And we think that whether we consider such “liberalizing” as the epitome of good or the embodiment of evil or something in between. It seems to be endemic to Americans to embrace the “Whig interpretation of history”, that is, to see the whole of history as marching inexorably towards us, to see everything culminating in ourselves — whether we happen to like that culmination or not.

But when we seriously compare the social world of England in 1750 to the social world of England in 1850, it becomes harder to sustain the Whiggish model. As C.S. Lewis once commented, “as to putting the clock back”:
Would you think I was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do? But I would rather get away from that whole idea of clocks. We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.
Of course, we can and will disagree about what counts as real progress — about whether the clocks are wrong at all, and, even when we agree that they are wrong, where they should be re-set. But the key point is that history does not move in a single, inevitable direction — or at least, has not done so thus far — and if we imagine our grandchildren’s world as nothing but a continuation of our own, an extension or our own values and inclinations, we may prove in the end to be as wrong as wrong can be. [more]
Learning from Victorian Virtues | Acton Institute, A Not-So-Distant Mirror | Big Questions Online

Saturday, January 25, 2020

"Values" or "Virtues"?

From Keith Windschuttle, "Gertrude Himmelfarb & the Enlightenment":
.... She did not use the term “Victorian values,” as almost every historian of the subject did at the time. The Victorians themselves, she pointed out, did not use the word “values.” This anachronism only arose in the mid-twentieth century as a way to relativize morality. It implied that anyone’s values were the moral equivalent of anyone else’s. Some values could not be better than others, only different. Instead, she insisted on using the term “virtues.” In a much-quoted passage Himmelfarb wrote:
Hard work, sobriety, frugality, foresight—these were modest, mundane virtues, even lowly ones. But they were virtues within the capacity of everyone; they did not assume any special breeding, or status, or talent, or valor, or grace—or even money. They were common virtues within the reach of common people.
To the Victorians, she argued, virtues were fixed and certain, not to govern the actual behavior of all people all the time, but to serve as standards against which behavior could be judged. When conduct fell short of those standards, it was deemed to be bad, wrong, or immoral, she said, not merely misguided, undesirable, or, that weasel-word, “inappropriate.” ....
Also quoted in the essay, from a book I own:
The beasts of modernism have mutated into the beasts of postmodernism—relativism into nihilism, amorality into immorality, irrationality into insanity, sexual deviancy into polymorphous perversity. And since then, generations of intelligent students under the guidance of their enlightened professors have looked into the abyss, have contemplated those beasts, and have said, “How interesting, how exciting."
— Gertrude Himmelfarb, On Looking into the Abyss (1994)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

"Shot through with meaning"

Christopher Tolkien died last week. From "Christopher Tolkien Was The Unsung Hero Of Middle Earth":
My map
.... From the very beginning, Tolkien had a hand in crafting what would become one of the greatest literary achievements of modern times. As a boy, he would point out inconsistencies in the ornate stories his father told—stories that eventually became The Hobbit, first published in 1937 when Christopher was just 13. He helped his father sort through competing versions of stories, histories, timelines, and especially the geography. He drew the now-famous map of Middle Earth that accompanied the 1954 publication of Lord of the Rings, giving shape to the world that helped form his imagination, and in turn shaping the imagination of millions.

It is not too much to say that without Christopher Tolkien, we would not really have J.R.R. Tolkien or the fully realized world of Middle Earth. How much poorer we would be without it. Although The Lord of the Rings and the entire Tolkien compendium established fantasy as a literary genre, these works were themselves far more than fantasy as we understand the term today. J.R.R. Tolkien called them fairy-stories, but he meant it in a sacramental sense.

The world of Middle Earth, with its elves and dwarves and wizards and orcs, was shot through with meaning, and it revealed something true about our own world, not just about good and evil but about truth, beauty, and goodness as such. That’s why the saga of Middle Earth has resonated down the century. We recognize ourselves in this enchanted world, where the veil between the spiritual and physical is thinner, and in that recognition our world becomes re-enchanted, despite the ravages of scientism and secularism and modernity. ....
I've owned the map since high school. I didn't know it was the work of Christopher Tolkien.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Good intentions

From an interesting and wide-ranging 1998 interview with Roger Scruton:
In America the assumption is usually that the conservative is an apologist for the rich, or a religious fanatic, if not an abortion clinic bomber. Where liberals are seen as, at worst, well-intentioned but wrong.

That's a very parochial view, of course. Obviously, one element in conservatism must be that to be successful is not a sin, and I think conservatives on the whole have more patience with the idea of human success, and more desire to create a world where success is rewarded. Whereas it's true that what you call liberals — our left — is much more interested in supporting the underdog and usually believes some philosophy to the effect that the sufferings of the underdog are caused by the wealth and privilege of the successful, Marxism being the archetype of all such philosophies. And I think that's all nonsense — that the sufferings of the underdog are not caused by the fact that some people have managed to rescue themselves from this predicament. On the contrary, the more people who rescue themselves, the better. They create opportunities in their wake.

That's not the way liberals see it. If you are a purely materialistic person who sees everything human in terms of how much money is involved, then all you will see about conservatives is that they favor the rich, because you don't see any other difference between people than the amount of wealth they have. I take the view that conservatism has nothing fundamentally to do with wealth. It has to do with social order. Of course if you're in favor of the forces that create social order, you're in favor of the forces which make it possible for people to become wealthy. But that's a byproduct. I do agree that liberals have this reputation for being nice and conservatives for being nasty.

Isn't that a terrible PR problem? The liberals own the good intentions.

The fact is if you really want to think in terms of good intentions, Lenin and Hitler and Mao had thousands of them. But of what relevance are intentions? Intentions imposed in this belligerent and self-righteous way on the rest of us are actually deeply offensive, I think. It's true that liberals find liberals to be very nice and conservatives very nasty. But that's part of the narrow-mindedness of liberals. Conservatives in my experience are much more able to find moral value in liberals than liberals are in conservatives, because liberals, while believing themselves to be the most open-minded of people, are unable to see conservatism, or any opposition, as anything more than a moral failing.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Confession and forgiveness

Continuing to read Scruton:
...[I]t is by seeing our world in Christian terms that I have been able to accept the vast changes that have shaken it. Acceptance comes from sacrifice: that is the message conveyed by so many of the memorable works of our culture. And in the Christian tradition the primary acts of sacrifice are confession and forgiveness. Those who confess, sacrifice their pride, while those who forgive, sacrifice their resentment, renouncing thereby something that had been dear to their hearts. Confession and forgiveness are the habits that made our civilization possible.

Forgiveness can be offered only on certain conditions, and a culture of forgiveness is one that implants those conditions in the individual soul. You can forgive those who have injured you only if they acknowledge their fault. This acknowledgement is not achieved by saying 'yes, that's true, that's what I did' It requires penitence and atonement. Through these self-abasing acts, the wrongdoer goes out to his victim and re-establishes the moral equality that makes forgiveness possible. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition all this is well known, and incorporated into the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church as well as the rituals and liturgy of Yom Kippur. We have inherited from those religious sources the culture that enables us to confess to our faults, to make recompense to our victims, and to hold each other to account in all matters where our free conduct can harm those who have cause to rely on us. ....
Roger Scruton, How to be a Conservative, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Redeem the time

Samuel Johnson:
O LORD, who wouldst that all men should be saved, and who knowest that without Thy grace we can do nothing acceptable to Thee, have mercy upon me. Enable me to break the chain of my sins, to reject sensuality in thought, and to overcome and suppress vain scruples; and to use such diligence in lawful employment as may enable me to support myself and do good to others. O Lord, forgive me the time lost in idleness; pardon the sins which I have committed, and grant that I may redeem the time misspent, and be reconciled to Thee by true repentance, that I may live and die in peace, and be received to everlasting happiness. Take not from me, O Lord, Thy Holy Spirit, but let me have support and comfort for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

"True but boring, ...exciting but false"

Roger Scruton authored some fifty books. I've read only a few. One that I haven't has been among those often recommended in the days since his death. How to be a Conservative (2014) just arrived in the post. From his Preface in the "New Edition":
The conservatism I shall be defending tells us that we have collectively inherited good things that we must strive to keep. In the situation in which we, the inheritors both of Western civilization and of the English-speaking part of it, find ourselves, we are well aware of what those good things are. The opportunity to live our lives as we will; the security of impartial law, through which our grievances are answered and our hurts restored; the protection of our environment as a shared asset, which cannot be seized or destroyed at the whim of powerful interests; the open and enquiring culture that has shaped our schools and universities; the democratic procedures that enable us to elect our representatives and to pass our own laws — these and many other things are familiar to us and taken for granted. All are under threat. And conservatism is the rational response to that threat. Maybe it is a response that requires more understanding than the ordinary person is prepared to devote to it. But conservatism is the only response that answers to the emerging realities, and in this book I try to say, as succinctly as I can, why it would be irrational to adopt any other.

Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created. This is especially true of the good things that come to us as collective assets: peace, freedom, law, civility, public spirit, the security of property and family life, in all of which we depend on the cooperation of others while having no means singlehandedly to obtain it. In respect of such things, the work of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation slow, laborious and dull. That is one of the lessons of the twentieth century. It is also one reason why conservatives suffer such a disadvantage when it comes to public opinion. Their position is true but boring, that of their opponents exciting but false.

Because of this rhetorical disadvantage, conservatives often present their case in the language of mourning. Lamentations can sweep everything before them, like the Lamentations of Jeremiah, in just the way that the literature of revolution sweeps away the world of our frail achievements. And mourning is sometimes necessary; without 'the work of mourning' as Freud described it, the heart cannot move on from the thing that is lost to the thing that will replace it. Nevertheless, the case for conservatism does not have to be presented in elegiac accents. It is not about what we have lost, but about what we have retained, and how to hold on to it. Such is the case that I present in this book. ....
Roger Scruton, How to be a Conservative, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019.

Modern times

In his Conservatism (2017) Roger Scruton contrasts the experience of an American conservative with one in Britain by observing that an American "can confess to being a conservative without being socially ostracised." Maybe, but it probably depends on where the American lives or works. Scruton:
...Orwell's political fables contain an accurate and penetrating prophecy of the political correctness that has since invaded intellectual life in both Britain and America. The humourless and relentless policing of language, so as to prevent heretical thoughts from arising, the violence done to traditional categories and natural ways of describing things, the obliteration of memory and assiduous policing of the past — all these things, so disturbingly described in Nineteen Eighty-Four, are now routinely to be observed on university campuses on both sides of the Atlantic, and those conservatives who draw attention to the phenomenon, as Allan Bloom did in his influential book The Closing of the American Mind (1987), are frequently marginalised or even demonised as representatives of one of the forbidden 'isms' or 'phobias' of the day — racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, etc. In a society devoted to 'inclusion' the only 'phobia' permitted is that of which conservatives are the target.

This situation, which puts conservatives at an enormous disadvantage in the intellectual world, has inevitably changed their way of defining themselves, and made the 'culture wars' central to their sense of what they are fighting for and why. Understanding political correctness and finding the ways to combat it have therefore become prominent among conservative causes. Is political correctness simply the final stage of liberal individualism — the stage at which all barriers to a self-chosen identity are to be removed? If so, which of those barriers can conservatives still defend against the onslaught, and how can they justify the attempt? Or is it rather a derogation from the great liberal tradition, a way in which equality has become so urgent and dominating a cause that nothing of liberty remains, and all social life is absorbed into a relentless witch-hunt against the defenders of social distinctions? ....
Roger Scruton, Conservatism, Chapter 6, "Conservatism Now," Profile Books, 2017.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The suicide of the Humanities

Ross Douthat on "a package of essays from The Chronicle of Higher Education on the academic world that helped educate me — the humanities and especially the study of literature....":
The package’s title is a single word, “Endgame,” and its opening text reads like the crawl for a disaster movie. “The academic study of literature is no longer on the verge of field collapse. It’s in the midst of it.” Jobs are disappearing, subfields are evaporating, enrollment has tanked, and amid the wreckage the custodians of humanism are “befuddled and without purpose.”

The Chronicle essays cover administrative and political battles, the transformed hiring process, the rebellions of graduate students, and the golfing-under-a-volcano aspects of the Modern Language Association conference. But the central essays are the ones that deal with the existential questions, the ways that humanism tries — and lately fails — to justify itself. ....

A thousand different forces are killing student interest in the humanities and cultural interest in high culture, and both preservation and recovery depend on more than just a belief in truth and beauty, a belief that “the best that has been thought and said” is not an empty phrase. But they depend at least on that belief, at least on the ideas that certain books and arts and forms are superior, transcendent, at least on the belief that students should learn to value these texts and forms before attempting their critical dissection. ....

...[W]hen I was an undergraduate...our so-called “core” curriculum promised to teach us “approaches to knowledge” rather than the thing itself. It was, and remains, an insane view for humanists to take, a unilateral disarmament in the contest for student hearts and minds; no other discipline promises to teach only a style of thinking and not some essential substance. ....

.... This should, by rights, be a moment of exciting curricular debates, over which global and rediscovered and post-colonial works belong on the syllabus with Shakespeare, over whether it’s possible to teach an American canon and a global canon all at once. Instead, humanists have often trapped themselves in a false choice between “dead white males” and “we don’t transmit value.” ....

Monday, January 13, 2020

"A sanctified somewhere"

From an appreciation of Roger Scruton:
.... From him most of all I took my own idea of what conservatism is, the attempt to preserve or recover a home in this world — a place of consolation, a sanctified somewhere that connects us to the dead, the unborn, and our neighbors through love, memory, and sacrifice. A place that belongs to us and implants in us a longing for the true home that can never be destroyed by storms, war, neglect, or the encroachment of speculative exurban developers who want to replace our homes with parking lots and Panera Bread. We put in our labors to preserve freedom, decency, and culture, so that our children receive this somewhere as a place prepared for me by my father. ....

Sunday, January 12, 2020

"Be ye sure..."

Sir Roger Scruton died today (1944-2020). I have referred to him and/or quoted him many times on this site. For instance this, from Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life (2006):
Perhaps there is no more direct challenge to secular ways of thinking than the famous Hundredth Psalm, the Jubilate Deo, as translated in the Book of Common Prayer. .... The psalmist enjoins us to be joyful in the Lord, to serve the Lord with gladness and to come before his presence with a song. ....

Once we came before God’s presence with a song; now we come before his absence with a sigh. The triumphs of science and technology, the vanquishing of disease and the mastery over nature—these things coincide with a general moroseness, the origin of which, I believe, is religious. Someone who turns his back on God cannot receive his gifts with gratitude, but only with a grudging resentment at their insufficiency. No scientific advance will bestow eternal youth, eternal happiness, eternal love or loveliness. Hence no scientific advance can answer to our underlying religious need. Having put our trust in science we can expect only disappointment. And seeing, in the mirror raised by science, our own aggrieved and sullen faces, we are turned to disaffection with our kind. That is why the singing stops.

The psalmist goes on to remind us of the remedy: ‘Be ye sure that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves.’ This sentence contains all of theology. .... (more)

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Tradition and authority

This is from an essay by Russell Kirk included in What is Conservatism? (1964):
...[I]f people really desire genuine freedom, they need to know genuine authority. "Authority" is not the policeman's baton. "Conscience is an authority," Newman writes in his essay on John Keble; "the Bible is an authority; such is the Church; such is Antiquity; such are the words of the wise; such are historical memories, such are legal saws and state maxims; such are proverbs; such are sentiments, presages, and prepossessions." Authority, in fine, is the ground upon which prudent action must be performed. If a man acknowledges no authority, he sets himself up as Cain, and before long he is struck down by nemesis, which follows upon hubris.

Political authority, the claims and powers of a legitimate state, though an important part of this complex of authority which rules our lives, is no more than a part. Sometimes authorities conflict; indeed, most of the great disputes of history have been, in essence, controversies over the higher source of authority. And such debates never are wholly and finally resolved. ....

Human nature being irremediably flawed, so that all of us in some degree rebel against the people and the institutions to which we owe most, there is in every man a certain impulse to make himself God: that is, to cast off all authority but his own lust and whim. From this vice comes the corrupting influence of total power upon even the best of natures. The rebellion of Lucifer is the symbol of this ancient anarchic impulse—the passion for overthrowing the just authority of God, that upon the vacant throne of authority the rebel may make himself absolute. Yet the doom of such risings is as sure as Lucifer's. For a grown man to rebel against all authority is as ludicrous as for a three-year-old child to defy his parents: whether they are good parents or bad, he can live scarcely a day without them. ....

Fulbert of Chartres and Gerbert of Rheims, those two grand Schoolmen, said that we moderns are dwarfs standing upon the shoulders of giants. We see so far only because we are elevated upon the accomplishment of our ancestors; and if we break with ancestral wisdom, we at once are plunged into the ditch of ignorance. All that we have and know is founded upon the experience of the race. As Burke put it, "The individual is foolish, but the species is wise." Men have no right, Burke said, to risk the very existence of their nation and their civilization upon experiments in morals and politics; for each man's private capital of intelligence is petty; it is only when a man draws upon the bank and capital of the ages, the wisdom of our ancestors, that he can act wisely. Without resort to tradition and prescription, we are left with merely our vanity and the brief and partial experience of our evanescent lives. "What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!"

G.K. Chesterton expressed much the same truth when he wrote of "the democracy of the dead." When we decide great questions in our time, he held, we ought to count not merely the votes of our contemporaries, but the opinions of many generations of men—and particularly the convictions of the wise men who have preceded us in time. By trial and error, by revelation, by the insights of men of genius, mankind has acquired, slowly and painfully, over thousands of years, a knowledge of human nature and of the civil social order which no one individual possibly can supplant by private rationality.

This is true especially in matters of morals, politics, and taste....
The book is available from Amazon in a new edition.

Russell Kirk, "Prescription, Authority, and Ordered Freedom," in What is Conservatism, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964, pp. 23-40.

Thursday, January 9, 2020


Commenting on the royal soap-opera this morning, Rod Dreher quoted from an earlier essay of his. I'm already tired of Harry and Meghan, but liked this:
.... Scruton’s observation highlights a fault line bisecting latter-day Anglo-American conservatism: the philosophical split between traditionalists and libertarians. ...[T]o paraphrase the historian George H. Nash, is [conservatism] essentially about the rights of individuals to be what they want to be or the duties of individuals to be what they ought to be[?]

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

"The stuff that dreams are made of"

Sitting atop one of my bookcases is my replica of the Maltese Falcon (which badly needs to be dusted). Mom and Dad gave it to me one Christmas (I had asked for it). It came, just as it appears in the film, wrapped in several layers of newspaper. Last night I happened upon a TCM documentary about Mary Astor who plays Brigid O'Shaughnessy in the movie. Humphry Bogart is Sam Spade and the rest of the perfect cast includes Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Ward Bond. It was directed by John Huston (his first, I think, in 1941). The book, The Maltese Falcon, was one of several "hard-boiled" mysteries by Dashiell Hammett. I hadn't watched the movie for several years but I watched it again last night into today's early morning hours. Superb! I need to read the book again.

Monday, January 6, 2020

"You take the high road..."

From Alan Jacobs' newsletter this morning:
Does anyone arrange music for voices more beautifully than Ralph Vaughan Williams? If you doubt his mastery, take 90 seconds — 90 seconds, that’s all it takes — and listen to “O Taste and See,” the glorious motet RVW wrote to be sung at Holy Communion during the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey, 2 June 1953. Just that minute-and-a-half is a complete education in vocal arrangement.

RVW has an amazing knack for balancing three musical forces: the lead voice alone; the lead voice supported by a choir; the full power of the choir. Notice how beautifully he weaves together those forces in his utterly simple but also utterly perfect arrangement of “Loch Lomond.” It’s just a faux folk song, but one of the loveliest melodies in the world, and RVW knows better than to over-elaborate his arrangement. I especially admire the way he changes the pattern in the third verse: the first two had been solo-and-then-choir, the third is choir-and-then-solo. The lead tenor at the end does so much to emphasize the grief and longing of the song.

Is it a piece of Victorian sentimentality? Maybe. But Victorian sentimentality doesn’t always go astray. ....

Opinionlessness • Buttondown

Sunday, January 5, 2020

T.S. Eliot

I came across this BBC series about T.S. Eliot this afternoon. It is a time commitment, about an hour and a half, but very well done, and if you are interested in the subject, well worth your time.

Friday, January 3, 2020

"The Word became flesh..."

From Ben Dueholm's sermon preview for this coming Sunday:
This Sunday, after a few weeks of angels and shepherds and even wise men, we'll finally hear the vast and yet simple opening to the Gospel according to John. You can read the whole passage here, but for now I'll just take a look at this bit:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
This is a key verse for understanding pretty much the entirety of Christian belief and practice. ....

That was the big claim that made the philosophers hesitate when it came to this new religion. A divine Word carrying out the creative work of God is one thing; that Word becoming flesh, becoming human and living—and being crucified!—among us is another matter. It seemed impossible, not to mention absurd, that the creative power of God should be humbled to earthly existence like that. And yet without that claim, I don't know what Christianity would have become—maybe nothing more than a disappointed Messianic cult that died out as its hopes of vindication within history gradually failed.

Through centuries, and still today, we have to continually hold to this claim against all kinds of skepticism. There were arguments about how exactly the Word and human flesh were connected: was Jesus just an appearance of humanity, or was the Word inside his body, like an astronaut in a space suit? Does it mean that he became the Son of God at some point in his life, such as at his baptism? Or is it really just a way of saying Jesus was especially enlightened and knowledgeable about the Word of God?

The church answered those questions over the years: no, Jesus was not merely apparently human but was really fully human; no, the divine Word wasn't inside him like a parasite in a host, but was truly one with his human flesh; no, Jesus didn't suddenly turn into the Son of God and he wasn't just an especially enlightened or knowing individual. We come back over and over again to the insistence that the eternal, perfect, immortal Word of God was made human flesh and connected God and humanity forever. This insistence changes everything. We aren't just spirits trapped in human bodies. We aren't supposed to be indifferent to our own bodies or the bodies of others. Our frail, mortal, temporary human flesh became the dwelling of God the Word—the Greek word we hear as "lived among us" could be more literally translated as "pitched his tent among us"—and so even our weakness and our suffering and our hindrances are taken up into the absolute holiness of God. ....

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


A New Year's prayer

Samuel Johnson, New Year's Day, 1772:
ALMIGHTY GOD, who hast permitted me to see the beginning of another year, enable me so to receive Thy mercy, as that it may raise in me stronger desires of pleasing Thee by purity of mind and holiness of Life. Strengthen me, O Lord, in good purposes, and reasonable meditations. Look with pity upon all my disorders of mind, and infirmities of body. Grant that the residue of my life may enjoy such degrees of health as may permit me to be useful, and that I may live to Thy Glory; and O merciful Lord when it shall please Thee to call me from the present state, enable me to die in confidence of Thy mercy, and receive me to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The sin of all sins

.... What Leon Kass calls the “higher cynicism” has left many adrift, without recourse to the traditions of wisdom that might provide direction and guidance for life. ....

Despair is the unforgivable sin, for the despairing conclude that God will not or cannot act, that the universe is fundamentally unfriendly and inhospitable to the true, good, and beautiful, and that humanity has lost the imago Dei. To judge in this way is to deny the goodness of the world and its Creator and sustainer, and that is the sin of all sins. ....

...[T]he most indispensable virtue is hope, which is not optimism or a vague sentiment, but a disposition that all will turn out well in the end. ...I would add that this disposition is convinced that God does not fail to keep his promises. Kass insists, wisely, that hope is not hope for change, but rather an affirmation of permanence, of the permanent possibility of a meaningful life in a hospitable and meaningful universe. ....

My resolution for 2020 is to learn a quiet hope. It would do me well. ....