Archive for January, 2012

January 30, 2012

always just going to have a leader

Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book describes the “Monkey People” (or “Bandar-log”):

They were always just going to have a leader, and laws and customs of their own, but they never did, because their memories would not hold over from day to day, and so they compromised things by making up a saying, “What the Bandar-log think now the jungle will think later,” and that comforted them a great deal.

January 26, 2012

we like heroes in shirtsleeves

My teaching experience has led me to believe that unless my aims are more broadly defined than to make my students rational thinkers, I will surely fail to achieve even that. Education must address the whole student, the teacher’s methods, the books and lessons, the traditions, and regulations of the school—all must express not just ideas, but norms, tending to make young people not only rational, but noble.

From Norms and Nobility: a Treatise on Education by David Hicks in his “Preface to the 1990 Edition” on page vi.

This quote (with which Hicks opens chapter one) is closely related:

I know that we live in an age where the homely or psychological detail is considered all-important. We like heroes in shirtsleeves, or, in other words, we don’t like heroes. But things were not always that way, and today is not forever.

From Louis Auchincloss’ 1964 novel The Rector of Justin (quoted by David Hicks in Norms and Nobility on page 1).

Finally, a passage about teachers in such schools:

Having now had an opportunity to study schools as a headmaster as well as a teacher, I would argue that the teacher, not the curriculum proposed in this book, needs to be the focus of reform. The greatest value of the curriculum proposed in this book, I now believe, is that it sustains and nurtures teachers as practitioners of the art of learning while discouraging non-learners from entering the profession.

…Schools are places where students learn because they are places where teachers learn. Only a school (and by extension a curriculum) that encourages teachers to be always learning will keep its teachers fresh and fearless and its students happy and motivated in their studies, ready to test their lessons against life.

From Norms and Nobility by David Hicks in his “Preface to the 1990 Edition” on page viii.

January 18, 2012

at its heart a collision and a contradiction

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (43-44):

Like that of potter, the act of the weaver is well suited to recall the Primordial Act creating the world, while the cloth calls to mind creation itself.

Cloth … is defined by its warp and woof. The threads of the warp are fixed and straight, thereby symbolizing the fixed elements, the principless and laws of the world, being. The threads of the woof are mobile and entwined, and thus clearly represent the variable and contigent element, the event, the individual, becoming. ALso, it will be noticed that the fundamental structure of cloth, constituted by a warp and woof crossing each other perpendicularly, reproduces the form of the cross. In the latter, the vertical axis is, as it were, linking the earth to heaven, wheras the horizontal branch is, rather, terrestrial, symbolizing the extension of the world and beings. … Their intersection determines the relations of the being in question with the cosmic milieu surrounding it. For example, the individual nature of man is the meeting of these two threads.

…The weaver is initially faced with a pile of loose threads, as the potter is with a heap of clay. …The human artisan then separates the threads, and places them one by one in order, each according to where it will fit into the composition of the cloth, just as the potter shapes his clay and imprints upon it the form of the pot.

This reference by Hani to the form of the cross (and to the meeting point at its heart) brings to mind this passage from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.

January 18, 2012

the beauty and sanctity of the act of modeling

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (33-37):

The author of Ecclesiasticus pauses a moment to watch the potter at work and gives us a graphic portrait of him, a sort of generic picture and a rather rare passage in sacred literature:

So doth the potter sitting at his work, turning the wheel about with his feet, who is always carefully set to his work, and maketh all his work by number. He fashioneth the clay with his arm, and boweth down his strength before his feet (Eccles. 38:32-33).

This care, this skill, this freedom of the human artist before his work, perfectly evokes the attitude of the Divine Artist vis-à-vis His creature.

All men are from the ground, and out of earth, from whence Adam was created. As the potter’s clay is in his hand, to fashion and order it all: all his ways are according to his ordering: so man is in the hand of him that made him, and he will render to him according to his judgment (ibid, 33:10, 13-14).

…G. Duhamel … was inspired by the spectacle of the famous potters of Jerba. We shall observe how he was to capture the beauty and sanctity of the act of modeling:

When the soft, stone-free roll is placed on the small wheel, Yamun spring lightly to his place. He murmurs the humble prayer sanctifying every need—In the name of God!—and the mystery begins. It is the beginning of the world…. Yamun imparts a circular movement to the apparatus, the movement of the stars, the principle of all genesis…. A earthen flower rises, rises and opens, although he scarcely seems to touch it. He follows its ascension, caresses it, and restrains it with awe. Like a god, Yamun concentrates on his work, and suddenly it is finished. With a single stroke of the wire, he detaches it from the socle. An offering! With careful hands, he holds it up. Is it real? It has risen so quickly from the original ground, that we might believe that simply dreaming it was enough to make it.

To conclude, we have a text from St Irenaeus … presented as a gloss of Ecclesiasticus…:

If then, thou art God’s workmanship, await the hand of thy Maker which creates everything in due time; in due time as far as thou art concerned, whose creation is being carried out. Offer to Him thy heart in a soft and tractable state, and preserve the form in which the Creator has fashioned thee, having moisture in thyself, lest, by becoming hardened, thou lose the impressions of His fingers. [St Irenaeus, Contra haer. IV, 39, 2.]

January 16, 2012

sanctified through the sword in a just war

Here warfare represents creation itself as a struggle, and finally the triumph, of order against the disorder of original Chaos. (War, moreover, is justified to the extent that it aims at eliminating a disorder and reestablishing the order demanded by the law of creation):

Thou rulest the raging of the sea [symbol of the chaotic powers]: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them. Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm (Psalm 88, cf. Psalm 103, Isa. 51:9).

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (28). And a little further on with more on just war (30):

War, on earth, is nothing but the reflection of the heavenly battle of Light against Darkness, of Christ against the Serpent. A christian can be sanctified through the sword in a just war.

…This means that in a war and on the earthly plane the earthly knight, the Christian soldier, occupies the place of angels, the heavenly cavalry surrounding Christ in the struggle against Evil.

Note on the Psalms quoted above: many commentators connect the cloven heads of Leviathan, Rahab and the storm waves to the cloven (and yet impressively surviving) head of the beast that comes out of the sea to join the dragon in John’s Revelation.

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January 14, 2012

typology therefore needs to be deepened and explained

For when it is said, for example, that the brazen serpent was the ‘type’ of Christ, something is explained, to be sure, but not everything; in particular, it has not been said precisely why the serpent and not some other animal has been chosen to be this ‘type’, which is the essential point. Typology therefore needs to be deepened and explained by symbolism: the type needs to be considered not only in its biblical context, but also in its universal usage and meaning.

…We easily observe that the trees of the brazen serpent and the cross, each bearing the good serpent, are inverse images of the tree of the earthly Paradise, bearing the evil serpent.

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (21).

January 12, 2012

crystallization in an earthly element

In principle, all languages are sacred because their constituent element, speech, or the word, is but an attenuated form of Primordial Speech, the Divine Word, which is the direct source of the creative act, as is shown by the following two quotations from Scripture: ‘God said: Let there be light!’ (Gen. 1:3). As it is written, because of language’s fundamental sanctity we shall have to account for ‘every idle word’; to utter an idle word is, in fact, somewhat equivalent to ‘taking the Name of God [as essential Word] in vain’. The sacredness of speech naturally extends to writing, which is the fixation of Sound–aerial by nature–and as if its crystallization in an earthly element. …This is why the handling of letters, or the art of writing, like the function of teaching, constitutes a skill directly related to the sacred, especially as literature itself is always originally sacred. The scribe, like the cleric, therefore belong by right to the priestly order, which directly represents the divine order on earth.

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (5-6).

January 11, 2012

occupations and skills of God

A study of the ‘occupations and skills of God’ should normally begin with the two highest: the priesthood and kingship, except that these are no longer occupations properly so-called, but rather functions. These two functions are those of teacher and sacrificer, governor and judge, spiritual authority and temporal power, and are the immediate and most elevated reflections of the divine activity ad extra, and in particular of the Divine Word. As these functions go beyond the very notion of occupation, we shall postpone speaking of them until we come to explain the foundations of a sacred politics and sociology. We shall therefore concentrate in divinis on three occupation attached to and, to an extent, specifications of these two functions: the scribe, the physician and the warrior.

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (5).

January 9, 2012

coming beneath the light of that star

This first item is an unpublished prayer by Christine Perrin, responding to “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot (for a 9th grade history class event in 2012). Eliot’s poem is below.


Lord, you know we are walking this road
toward your star; we left, or tried to leave,
our palaces, our sherbets; leaving itself
has been painful and has shown us
the ambiguity in our hearts. Why did I think
that coming beneath the light of that star
would make this easier? You were born,
you died, and so must we. Be near
in the cursed dark, give us hope that one day,
without doubt, we will arrive, we will experience
the undiluted pleasure of your suffering
and loving face. Give us patience as we make
our way, falteringly, to the cleft in the rock.

And here is the poem by T.S. Eliot to which this prayer is a response:

Journey of the Magi

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

January 5, 2012

you will not get either comfort or truth

Truth, if we are honest, must trump all forms of beauty, including what we like and what comforts us. Comfort, Lewis thinks, is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end. If you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth, only wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”

From C. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty (Baggett et al) in the essay “Lewis’s Philosophy of Truth, Goodness and Beauty” by Peter Kreeft (p. 35). Kreeft is quoting Lewis’ Mere Christianity (p. 25).

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