Thursday, July 26, 2018

"The incarnation of unsentimental love"

My father enjoyed reading J.B. Phillips' The New Testament in Modern English (1958) and it does read well. In 1967 Phillips' Ring of Truth: A Translator's Testimony was published. In it he describes insights he gained from that experience. It's a short book of only five chapters. The fourth chapter is titled "The Truth of Jesus." From that chapter:
Yet woe betide any man who tries to fit this man into any political or humanitarian slot! Those pacifists who would claim him as their champion would do well to remember that it was a soldier, a Roman commissioned officer, who most evoked the admiration of Jesus. The parable of the talents is enough to show that Jesus recognised the fundamental inequality of men in ability and possessions. The stories of Jesus abound in such inequalities, in the difference between master and man, hard working and lazy, prudent and improvident. It is true that he denounced hypocrisy, exploitation, and lack of compassion. But he made no attempt, as probably Judas Iscariot hoped, to make himself a national champion. The "other-worldly" aspect of his teaching cannot be fairly ignored. "My kingdom," he insisted, "is not of this world." Yet it had already "come upon men unawares" and was even then "among" or "within" them. The way men treated one another in this world was of paramount importance, but Jesus recognised the obvious unfairness and injustice in the here-and-now. In the end, justice would be done and be seen to be done, but not in this time-and-space world. Jesus was no sentimental "do-gooder," and he spoke quite unequivocally about rewards and punishments "in the world to come." He declared that a man who harmed one of his "little ones" would be better off dead. Some of the most terrifying words ever written in the New Testament are put into the mouth of Jesus. Yet they are not threats or menaces but warnings given in deadly earnest by the incarnation of unsentimental love.

What I am concerned with here is not to write a new life of Jesus, but to set down my witness to the continued shocks which his words and deeds gave me as I approached the Gospels uninsulated by the familiar cover of beautiful language. The figure who emerged is quite unlike the Jesus of conventional piety, and even more unlike that imagined hero whom members of various causes claim as their champion. What we are so often confronted with today is a "processed" Jesus. Every element that we feel is not consonant with our "image" of him is removed, and the result is more insipid and unsatisfying than the worst of processed food.

"There is a land..."

Words by Isaac Watts, music arranged by Vaughan Williams

There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign,
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.
But timorous mortals start and shrink
To cross this narrow sea;
And linger, shivering on the brink,
And fear to launch away.
There everlasting spring abides,
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heavenly land from ours.
O could we make our doubts remove,
Those gloomy thoughts that rise,
And see the Canaan that we love
With unbeclouded eyes!
Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Stand dressed in living green:
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between.
Could we but climb where Moses stood,
And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s stream, nor death’s cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

"Mistakes were made"

Every form of denominational polity is imperfect. But the current scandals affecting American Catholicism and the obvious failure of the hierarchy to deal with them over many years is appalling. Alan Jacobs wonders whether the Catholic understanding of "the threefold order of ministry" and the form it took might be a factor:
I believe that the classic threefold order of Christian ministry (bishop, priest, deacon) is indeed embedded in the earliest Christian communities. You can see these roles beginning to form by noting how the letters of the New Testament employ the terms (episkopos, presbyteros, diakonos) — but the evidence is sketchy, and there are few details. The threefold order could have taken different forms that it did, and I’m inclined to think that, as the saying goes, mistakes were made.

The most lasting and consequential of those mistakes was the decision to model episcopal governance on the administrative structures of the Roman Empire. I say “decision” but I suspect it was an unconscious inclination to mimic the dominant social organization of time, in much the same way that churches today mimic the broader culture’s entertainment and business models. In any case, just as the Roman Empire came to be divided into provincia, each of which contained several or many municipia, so ecclesiastical systems gradually emerged which followed this general practice. ....

An ecclesiastical organization modeled on an administrative organization will inevitably take on an administrative character, and that is what has happened to the episcopacy. ....

The long, slow, but ultimately irresistible process by which bishops became managers is one of the largest contributing factors in the sex-abuse crisis in the Church today. Very few bishops are wickedly predatory like Uncle Ted McCarrick; but men who have been raised to the episcopacy because they were thought to have managerial competency, and men who clearly lack managerial competency but understand that their job demands that they acquire it, are equally unlikely to think that it’s any of their business to exercise fraternal discipline of someone managing a different department in the same organization. The affordances of the episcopacy as it is currently constituted (more or less throughout the world) strongly dispose it to disciplinary ineffectuality. ....

John D. MacDonald

Yesterday was an anniversary of the birth of John D. MacDonald in 1916. I haven't read him recently but there was a time when I sought out his books — especially the Travis McGee stories, each with a title referencing a color, e.g. Dress Her in Indigo. CrimeReads provides "The Wit and Wisdom of John D. MacDonald," some of the quotations in his own voice, others from characters in the stories. Each of these is from one of the books:
“Being an adult means accepting those situations where no action is possible.”

“Education is something which should be apart from the necessities of earning a living, not a tool therefor. It needs contemplation, fallow periods, the measured and guided study of the history of man’s reiteration of the most agonizing question of all: Why?”

“Every day, no matter how you fight it, you learn a little more about yourself, and all most of it does is teach humility.”

“Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won’t cheat, then you know he never will. Integrity is not a search for the rewards of integrity. Maybe all you ever get for it is the largest kick in the ass the world can provide. It is not supposed to be a productive asset. Crime pays a lot better. I can bend my own rules way, way over, but there is a place where I finally stop bending them. I can recognize the feeling. I’ve been there a lot of times.”

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The second generation

Just acquired: Michael J. Kruger, Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church. The description on the back cover:
Initially Christianity possessed little social or cultural influence and found itself fighting for its life. While apostolic tradition was emerging as a rule of faith," factions contested the nature of the gospel, and pagan philosophers found its claims scandalous. And although its pathway was tenuous, Christianity was forming structures of leadership and worship, and a core of apostolic texts was emerging as authoritative. But it was the challenges, obstacles, and transitions faced by Christians in the second century that, in many ways, would determine the future of the church for the next two millennia.

It was a time when Christianity stood at the crossroads.
From Amazon's description:
Michael Kruger's introductory survey examines how Christianity took root in the second century, how it battled to stay true to the vision of the apostles, and how it developed in ways that would shape both the church and Western culture over the next two thousand years. Christianity at the Crossroads provides an accessible and informative look at the complex and foundational issues faced by an infant church still trying to determine its identity. The church's response to the issues of heresy and orthodoxy, the development of the canon, and the transmission of the Christian Scriptures not only determined its survival, but determined the kind of church it would be for generations to come.
And from a comment at Amazon:
Over the course of seven chapters, Kruger surveys the sociological makeup of second-century Christianity (chapter 1), its political and intellectual acceptability (chapter 2), and its ecclesiological structure (chapter 3). The next two chapters interact with Walter Bauer’s seminal book, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, and describe both the diversity (chapter 4) and unity (chapter 5) of the Church during this time. Finally, Kruger examines the “bookish” nature of Christianity during this period (chapter 6), concluding by making a case that the canon of the New Testament was functionally established by the end of the second century (chapter 7).
This should be an interesting read.

Monday, July 23, 2018


I've been browsing through Affirmations of God and Man (1967), a collection of quotations where I have often found, or rediscovered, something I very much liked. The last two posts below were the result of things I read here. The final entry in the book is this poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I post it here because it is so very good.

The Bent World
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

"The dark ages before us"

From an essay by T.S. Eliot in 1930:
The Universal Church is today, it seems to me, more definitely set against the World than at any time since pagan Rome. I do not mean that our times are particularly corrupt; all times are corrupt. I mean that Christianity, in spite of certain local appearances, is not, and cannot be within measurable time, “official.” The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.


One of the better-known quotations from C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy:
In reading Chesterton, as in reading Macdonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere—"Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," as Herbert says, "fine nets and stratagems." God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.
All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. George Macdonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it. Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too. Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed. On the other hand, those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete—Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire—all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called "tinny." It wasn't that I didn't like them. They were all (especially Gibbon) entertaining; but hardly more. There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Order restored, justice done

.... In his long essay “The Guilty Vicarage,” W.H. Auden, a self-confessed detective story “addict,” went so far as to argue that a good whodunit presents each murder as a microcosm of the Fall and should therefore be set in “an innocent society in a state of grace” because “the more Eden-like” the setting is, “the greater the contradiction of the murder.”

Auden’s analysis is persuasive, but his definition of proper detective fiction is much too narrow. The Los Angeles inhabited by Raymond Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe, for example, is far from Edenic. With a dramatis personae consisting of blackmailers, prostitutes, hired thugs, and crooked cops, it’s about as fallen a world as can be imagined.

Auden’s insistence on an innocent society forces the detective story in a more purely allegorical direction. In the real world, there is no group of people in which one is guilty and the rest untainted. Even the detective cannot remain immaculate. Marlowe, for example. must constantly fight to avoid being subsumed by corruption. ....

I have already established that murder throws the cosmos into chaos. In Auden’s ideal detective story, this chaos is a temporary aberration. In Chandler’s novels, it is a reminder that although all the lines we see are crooked, it is still worth believing in such a thing as straightness. ....

In Auden’s estimation, the disruption of the paradise by murder creates a state of affairs in which, for the first time, “the law becomes a reality and...all must live in its shadow, till the fallen one is identified. With his arrest, innocence is restored, and the law retires forever.” The poet has no less an authority than St. Paul to back him up: “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions... [T]he law was our guardian until Christ came” (Galatians 3:19, 24 ESV). ....

Even if finding the killer does not actually restore society to Auden’s perfect “state of grace,” it at least reminds us that there is such a thing as justice. Our fallen world will never see a complete adherence to God’s Universal Law, but a solved crime gives us, if not a return to Eden, at least a foretaste of heaven and an antidote to nihilism. ....

Monday, July 16, 2018

"God be merciful to me a sinner"

From Kevin Williamson's review of The Death of Stalin
.... Man is a bag of appetites and urges, not all of which are conducive to his own happiness and well-being or that of those around him. Beria, Uday and Qusay Hussein, Mao and his endless parade of virgins, Jack Kennedy and his girl-a-day routine, Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski. What kind of men become monsters?

One possible answer: Those who get the chance.
For the thoroughgoing materialist (“dialectical and historical materialism,” Stalin called it), none of that should be surprising. If you believe that H. sap. is only time’s favorite monkey — that man is meat — then there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for the kind of behavior we’re talking about, and no need to justify it, since there is nobody to justify it to. If you believe that man ought to be better, it implies that he can be better, and that “better” means something. And here materialism fails us, which is why Marxism became an ersatz religion. Christianity is a fortunate religion in the sense that the endless moral failings of its leaders (and followers) keeps illustrating, generation after generation, the fundamental facts of the creed. The creeds based on human perfectibility, which is the romantic notion at the heart of all utopian thinking, have as their main problem the countervailing example of everybody you’ve ever met and ever will.

It is tempting to make like the Pharisee rather than the publican and say: “God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” It is unpleasant to meditate on the truth at the center of Christianity, and perhaps at the center of all wisdom: I am like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous. (I have never been guilty of collecting taxes.) We must sympathize with the victims and care for them, but we must also identify with the malefactors, who are made of the same stuff as we are, cut from the same crooked timber. In the black comedy of The Death of Stalin, we see men — extraordinarily powerful men — who mainly are acting not out of malice or inherent wickedness but out of terror. The survival instinct is even more powerful than the libido. It is tempting to think that you’d comport yourself with more integrity in those circumstances, but would you really? Down in Beria’s dungeon, with the gunshots audible from the room next door — would you really? (One of history’s little ironies: The Lubyanka was originally the headquarters of an insurance company.) Would you be so brave with your wife and children being held in another cell? Or would you beg, connive, lie, simper, degrade yourself, and, if necessary, murder to keep yourself and your loved ones away from those gunshots?

Can you ever really trust a weak man? Is there another kind?

To understand power, one must understand weakness, especially the weaknesses that are particular to men. Human weakness is what necessitates that we constrain power—political power, especially, but also other kinds of power. We are not governed by angels, and there aren’t very many of those in the boardrooms, either. The advice that we put not our faith in princes applies to princes of the church and captains of industry, too. All that we have — culture, technology, civilization, democracy, the rule of law, government — is provisional. What’s permanent is what the publican knew. .... [more]

Saturday, July 14, 2018

For the sheer joy...

Re-posted from 2009 because it is really good advice:

Bob at Wilderness Fandango offers "Bob's One Big Awesomely Important Tip on Reading" and he is absolutely right.
.... My mother instilled in me the joy of reading when I was a child. She made sure we visited the local library often, and she let us linger there as long as wanted. The point is, long before I knew that reading was good for me, reading was giving me pleasure. And that, my friend, is the key. ....
Here's my advice. Reading is never going to make it to the top of your to-do list if it's merely a chore, a good-for-me duty, like brushing teeth or watching PBS. What makes a kid love reading is the sheer joy of it, and what's going to make an adult love reading is for him or her to discover that joy also. You might say, it's time to start thinking like a kid again!

Now, admittedly, it's harder for adults to discover joy than it is for kids. We're jaded. We think in terms of future pay-off, kids think in terms of present experience. So this is going to take a little shift in thinking for some. The question you need to ask is, what kind of book is going to give me joy? ....

I'm serious. Read for pleasure. Read for joy. Read to be enthralled.

One last point. You may not have ever stopped to think about this, but all your favorite movies are stories. That's what they are. Stories. Story-telling is perhaps the art form that undergirds all other art forms, it is a built-in inclination of all humanity. So if by now you're wondering what kind of book might give you pleasure (and I hope you are), my answer is, it's probably some kind of cracking good yarn, that's what kind. And by the way, your local library is full of these, for every reading level. .... (more)
In my case, it was my father who read to me (even after I could read — I told him I could hear better when he read), took me regularly to the library, and only resisted briefly when I moved from juvenile books to adult fiction. I know I am repeating myself, but there is no better gift a parent can give a child than the love of reading.

Wilderness Fandango: Bob's One Big Awesomely Important Tip on Reading

Friday, July 13, 2018

In the arena

Patrick Kurp's middle son entered the U.S. Naval Academy this summer. Kurp writes that "along with around-the-clock drill and other sorts of physical and psychological training, Plebes at the U.S. Naval Academy are required to memorize and recite on demand vast quantities of text." Two examples:
Theodore Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena":
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

W.E. Henley’s “Invictus"
Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul.
Stirring stuff.
Anecdotal Evidence: `Sustained Many a Wavering and Fearful Heart'

Thursday, July 12, 2018

"Thus we never actually live..."

I've been reading a selection of quotations from Blaise Pascal's Pensées. On his faith:
Thus I stretch out my arms to my Saviour, who, after being foretold for four thousand years, came on earth to die and suffer for me at the time and in the circumstances foretold. By his grace I peaceably await death, in the hope of being eternally united to him, and meanwhile I live joyfully, whether in the blessings which he is pleased to bestow on me or in the affliction he sends me for my own good and taught me how to endure by his example.
Thinking about time:
We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching. Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"Plenteous grace with Thee is found..."

I missed this particular controversy. I agree with his apology. A great Welsh hymn tune with words by Charles Wesley:

Jesu, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound; make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart; rise to all eternity. Amen.

The moral advantage of victimhood

If you've been perplexed by the outrage about "cultural appropriation" this essay, "The Evils of Cultural Appropriation," from Tablet may help explain what is going on. From that:
.... In a culture that increasingly rewards victimhood with status, in the form of op-ed space, speaking events, awards, book deals, general deference, and critical approbation, identity has become a very valuable form of currency. It makes sense that people will lie, cheat, and steal in order to get some. Expressing offense over a white person wearing a sombrero hat might seem ridiculous on its face—but for those who live inside these sententiously moralistic bubbles, it may be both a felt injury and a rational strategic choice.

Complaints about cultural appropriation are not really complaints, they are demands. ....

In their newly released book, The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars, the moral sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning describe the three main moral cultures that exist today, which they give the shorthand labels of dignity, honor, and victimhood. A dignity culture, which has been the dominant moral culture of Western middle classes for some time, has a set of moral values that promotes the idea of moral equality and was crystallized in Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision that people ought to be judged according to the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Victimhood culture departs from dignity culture in several important ways. Moral worth is in large part defined by the color of one’s skin, or at least one’s membership in a fixed identity group: i.e., women, people of color, LGBTIQ, Muslims, or indigenous peoples. Such groups are sacred, and a lack of deference to them is seen as a sign of deviance. The reverse is true for those who belong to groups that are considered historical oppressors: whites, males, straight people, Zionists. Anyone belonging to an “oppressor” group is stained by their privilege, or “whiteness,” and is cast onto the moral scrapheap. ....

One might make the case that while complaints about cultural appropriation are annoying, they are ultimately harmless. What is the harm in showing deference to peoples who have historically been the victims of exploitation, discrimination, and unfair treatment? What is the harm in showing respect and compliance with these new rules—isn’t it a way of making up for past sins?

The short answer to these questions is, no. The notion that a person can be held as responsible for actions that he or she did not commit strikes at the very heart of our conception of human rights and justice. ....

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"When politics is everything..."

Carl Trueman responding to a proposal to once again revise The Book of Common Prayer:
...[The Prayer Book's] content reflects a form of Christianity that ultimately reflected not so much the politics of Reformation England as the basic elements of historic Christianity and of earthly existence. Those elements include the God of the catholic creeds, and human life bookended by birth and death and lived in a world full of the joys and sorrows, drudgery and delights, of ordinary, universal human experiences—love, marriage, illness, bereavement. There are services and prayers in The Book of Common Prayer that address all of these hardy perennials, connecting them to the Trinitarian God revealed in Jesus Christ.

That, I suspect, is one reason why the basics of the Prayer Book stayed in place for so long, with revisions being for many generations of the minor sort. Consensus on the fundamentals remained steady, and the changes were accordingly cosmetic. By contrast, the last century has witnessed liturgical change after liturgical change wrought by the various Anglican and Episcopal groupings around the world. None of these changes, as far as I can tell, embodies anything like significant improvement in either prose style or theological content. Tracing the revisions would no doubt prove a fruitful, if depressing, topic for a Ph.D. thesis, as the revisions witness to an age of restlessness and shortsighted obsession with the latest fads.

One of the reasons for this is surely that Christian liturgy—and God himself—have become victims of the abolition of the pre-political: Even those universals of human existence mentioned above—birth, sex, death—have become the political issues of the day via abortion, LGBTQ rights, and euthanasia. For the post colonial mindset, to hold to a traditional liturgy that refuses to play the games of a pan-politicized world is to take a political position. And so traditional liturgy comes under relentless pressure to conform to the latest piety of the dominant political lobbying groups. When politics is everything, God loses his awesome transcendence and human beings take center stage. And the momentary afflictions of the professional victims displace the eternal weight of God’s glory. Historic, biblical Christianity thus becomes irrelevant—no, worse: It becomes the instrument of oppression.

That is why it is no surprise to see that the Episcopal Church in the USA is doing what it does best: planning to screw up the faith of its people yet further by eliminating gendered language about God from the liturgy. It is pulling off the remarkable hat trick of demonstrating profound ignorance about how God-language works, reinforcing the denomination’s divorce from anything resembling historic Christianity, and making itself yet again into a rather insipid and irrelevant tool of the liberal political establishment whose approval it apparently craves. Added to this, we might also anticipate the multiple crimes against graceful prose and theological sanity that such linguistic abominations as “Godself,” represent and which will no doubt pervade the final product.

...[The Book of Common Prayer's] underlying concern is not with the vicissitudes of life considered in themselves, but with those vicissitudes set within the context of a sovereign and glorious God. Its religion is not the effete therapy of our age of victimhood, nor the lazy clichés of contemporary politics. It is the religion of historic Christianity, and both the Prayer Book’s form and its content reflect that. That is why it has no need to strive for relevance. ....

Monday, July 9, 2018


Most of my favorite illustrators were working around the turn of the Twentieth Century which seems to have been a golden era for the illustration of children's books. One of them is Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). Two of his illustrations are below. The first was for Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol and the second for the fairy tale Rapunzel.

Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet; nobody in his dressing gown.

The Witch climbed up.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Inklings in the Great War

To be released on November 11, 2018 — the 100th anniversary of the truce that ended the First World War:

I'm looking forward to this.

"Peace frequently bought by some indulgence and toleration"

…. The extreme of liberty (which is its abstract perfection, but its real fault) obtains nowhere, nor ought to obtain anywhere. Because extremes, as we all know, in every point which relates either to our duties or satisfactions in life, are destructive both to virtue and enjoyment. Liberty too must be limited in order to be possessed. The degree of restraint is impossible in any case to settle precisely. But it ought to be the constant aim of every wise, publick council, to find out by cautious experiments, and rational, cool endeavours, with how little, not how much of this restraint, the community can subsist. For liberty is a good to be improved, and not an evil to be lessened. It is not only a private blessing of the first order, but the vital spring and energy of the state itself, which has just so much life and vigour as there is liberty in it. But whether liberty be advantageous or not (for I know it is a fashion to decry the very principle), none will dispute that peace is a blessing; and peace must in the course of human affairs be frequently bought by some indulgence and toleration at least to liberty. ….

Saturday, July 7, 2018

"But like a child at home"

We sang one of my favorite hymns this morning in worship, Isaac Watts' paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm: "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need." I particularly like the last lines of the final verse.

My shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
He leads me, for His mercy’s sake,
In paths of truth and grace.
The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.
When I walk through the shades of death    
Thy presence is my stay;
One word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.

My Shepherd Will Supply My Need

Friday, July 6, 2018


It seems unlikely that I will ever return to London. I've allowed my passport to lapse and I dislike what airline travel has become. On the other hand, if I could afford to travel on the Queen Elizabeth 2.... I didn't have this Murder Guide to London when I was last in the city. It is about actual crimes. It contains fourteen tours of various parts of London directing attention to—as the title indicates—locations associated with murders. Chapter 2, "The East End," includes this (the bold locations would be places on the tour map):
The Whitechapel Murderer' was the original title accorded the unknown 'Jack the Ripper'. Although his murders fell within the tight compass of one square mile, they strayed outside Whitechapel proper to Spitalfields, a region named for a medieval priory and hospital, and developed into attractive streets of elegant houses by refugee Huguenot silk weavers in the eighteenth century. But silk weaving ceased to flourish and by the 1880s the fine eighteenth-century streets had fallen into disrepair: many spaces between them had been filled by wretched brick shacks that could be let cheaply as one-room lodgings.

To the north, on the other side of Bethnal Green Road, lay another slum area of narrow brick streets and blind alleys. 'The Nichol', around Old Nichol Street, was infested by gangs whose livelihood was robbing, mugging and extortion. Whitechapel and Spitalfields were more unsalubrious than unsafe, but the Nichol gangs terrorised the sreetwalkers from time to time.

So when the body of Emma Smith was found viciously stabbed outside the cocoa factory at the union of Brick Lane with Osborn Street on Easter Monday 1888 the police assumed (probably correctly) that 'Nichol' hooligans were responsible.

August Bank Holiday saw another murder. Martha Tabram or Turner was found on the first-floor landing of a tenement in George Yard (today's Gunthorpe Street), a narrow alley leading off Whitechapel High Street under a dim arch. Her throat had been cut, and there were a few random stabs in her abdomen. Police soon discovered that Martha and a friend known as 'Pearly Poll' had picked up a couple of soldiers the night before. Pearly had gone off with her client, leaving Martha and the other soldier near George Yard at midnight. Pearly failed to identify either man in a garrison parade at the Tower.

The discovery of Mary Anne Nichol's body in the gateway opposite Essex Wharf; Bucks Row (today's Durward Street) on August 31st started the real scare in Whitechapel. 'Polly' Nichol's throat was cut and her abdomen was horribly mutilated. Senior police officers who studied the documentary evidence concluded (a couple of years later) that this was the first actual 'Ripper' murder, but the police carrying out the investigations at ground level, like the general populace, took it for the third.

A week later Annie Chapman's body was found in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, disembowelled, her throat cut, and her few pathetic coins arranged at her feet. To get to the yard, Annie and her murderer passed through the narrow passageway from the front door of the house in which seventeen people slept. Yet nobody had heard a sound.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Always ready for a good argument

From a Peanuts series wherein Linus has decided to be a fanatic. These seem to have a certain current relevance.


A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim. — George Santayana

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

"A tree will wither if its roots be destroyed"

On the occasion of the one-hundred-fiftieth birthday of the United States President Calvin Coolidge, who was himself born on the 4th of July, delivered a speech in Philadelphia:
.... It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history. Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed. ….

.... A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if its roots be destroyed. In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause. ….

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers. ....

.... If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

"With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence"

Posted previously:

Prominent individuals in the Continental Congress, including those who drafted the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, were not orthodox Christians (or, by orthodox standards, Christians at all), although each of them believed in a God who acted in the affairs of men. But many of the others did profess biblical Christianity. Steven Waldman, in Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America:
...[W]e cannot consider only the views of Franklin and Jefferson. Most of the other men in that hall likely imagined something different when they read the phrase Divine Providence—not the god of nature but the God of scriptures. John Hancock, the first to sign, had served as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress when it declared that "it becomes us, as Men and Christians," to rely on "that GOD who rules in the Armies of Heaven." George Read, one of Delaware's delegates, had written the Delaware constitution, which required legislators to take an oath to "God the Father, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, and in the Holy Ghost." New Jersey's delegate was the Reverend John Witherspoon, the president of Princeton, which trained young men to become evangelical ministers. It was Witherspoon who had authored a resolution the year before, on July 20, 1775, calling for a continentwide day of fasting and prayer, and he was hardly a Deist: "I entreat you in the most earnest manner to believe in Jesus Christ, for there is no salvation in any other (Acts 4:12)," he had written. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, who offered the resolution on independence, would a year later propose one creating a national day of prayer in which the people "may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance." Sam Adams, the influential Boston radical, had called for "bringing in the holy and happy period when the kingdoms of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and the people willingly bow to the scepter of Him who is the Prince of Peace."'

Monday, July 2, 2018

Words slipping into the abyss

The miss-use of words often results in the loss of their useful meaning. Today that has pretty much happened to "racist" and "fascist" and "communist." From a 1944 essay in The Spectator, "The Death of Words," by C.S. Lewis:
.... A skilful doctor of words will pronounce the disease to be mortal at that moment when the word in question begins to harbour the adjectival parasites real or true. As long as gentleman has a clear meaning, it is enough to say that so-and-so is a gentleman. When we begin saying that he is "a real gentleman" or "a true gentleman" or "a gentleman in the truest sense" we may be sure that the word has not long to live. ....

And I can think of one word—the word Christian—which is at this moment on the brink. When politicians talk of "Christian moral standards" they are not always thinking of anything which distinguishes Christian morality from Confucian or Stoic or Benthamite morality. One often feels that it is merely one literary variant among the "adorning epithets" which, in our political style, the expression "moral standards" is felt to require; civilised (another ruined word) or modern or democratic or enlightened would have done just as well. But it will really be a great nuisance if the word Christian becomes simply a synonym for good. For historians, if no one else, will still sometimes need the word in its proper sense, and what will they do? That is always the trouble about allowing words to slip into the abyss. Once turn swine into a mere insult, and you need a new word (pig) when you want to talk about the animal. Once let sadism dwindle into a useless synonym for cruelty, and what do you do when you have to refer to the highly special perversion which actually afflicted M. de Sade?

It is important to notice that the danger to the word Christian comes not from its open enemies, but from its friends. It was not egalitarians, it was officious admirers of gentility, who killed the word gentleman. The other day I had occasion to say that certain people were not Christians; a critic asked how I dared say so, being unable (as of course I am) to read their hearts. I had used the word to mean "persons who profess belief in the specific doctrines of Christianity"; my critic wanted me to use it in what he would (rightly) call "a far deeper sense"—a sense so deep that no human observer can tell to whom it applies. ....

What is the good of deepening a word's connotation if you deprive the word of all practicable denotation? Words...can be "killed with kindness." And when, however reverently, you have killed a word you have also, as far as in you lay, blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Chronological snobbery

One of Chesterton's recurring complaints appears again in "The Case for the Ephemeral," the argument that an idea or fashion simply being recent proves it superior. That is what C.S. Lewis would later label "chronological snobbery."
.... These pages contain a sort of recurring protest against the boast of certain writers that they are merely recent. They brag that their philosophy of the universe is the last philosophy or the new philosophy, or the advanced and progressive philosophy. I have said much against a mere modernism. .... It is incomprehensible to me that any thinker can calmly call himself a modernist; he might as well call himself a Thursdayite. But apart altogether from that particular disturbance, I am conscious of a general irritation expressed against the people who boast of their advancement and modernity in the discussion of religion. But I never succeeded in saying the quite clear and obvious thing that is really the matter with modernism. The real objection to modernism is simply that it is a form of snobbishness. It is an attempt to crush a rational opponent not by reason, but by some mystery of superiority, by hinting that one is specially up to date or particularly "in the know." To flaunt the fact that we have had all the last books from Germany is simply vulgar; like flaunting the fact that we have had all the last bonnets from Paris. To introduce into philosophical discussions a sneer at a creed's antiquity is like introducing a sneer at a lady's age. It is caddish because it is irrelevant. The pure modernist is merely a snob; he cannot bear to be a month behind the fashion. ….