Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Man Who Was Thursday - Round-up

General Comments on the Book

J.R.R. Tolkien had a distaste for allegory because, among other reasons, it is difficult to maintain consistancy due to the limits of metaphor. Yet, despite himself, he has not prevented many literary scholars interpreting his opus Lord of the Rings as being largely allegorical. But has not been to the detriment of the work's overall appreciation. If anything it has enhanced it.

We love allegories. From the earliest literature, through Aesop's fables and the tales of the Brother's Grimm, we see the basic human desire to learn without knowing it. In reading Thursday, I'll admit that I was worried the allegory might reach critical mass and just unravel at some points. Somehow, though, Chesterton has achieved a brilliant allegorical tale without losing any of the entertainment and intrigue of a spy novel. Of course, a lighthearted approach was necessary - the book didn't take itself too seriously, and that what enabled it to get accross such a serious message. Some of the plot twists seemed almost childish - yet, this too, was all part of the allegory, when we found out the complex identity of Sunday.

A final note on that. Lest some poor unsuspecting bloke wander onto my blog years down the line, and I'm dead and unable to account for myself, I should make it clear here that I don't believe Sunday represents God, per se. Rather, Sunday represents an aspect of God in the Universe. He really represents, in a way, the Sabbath - and also the eighth day of creation. He personifies, if you will, God's actions, but not the mysterious being Himself. This, I think, is an important subtlety which allows the metaphor room to stretch its legs.

My final assessment of the work is that it is a fun read, masterfully written, and an easy way to get unsuspecting people thinking about God. I also found it to be rather moving, and very insightful into the human condition - something for which Chesterton is always dependable.

Book Club Roundup

We've had some fairly decent discussion.

I think the best threads have centered around the problem of evil and the question of theodicy. How do we justify God's ways to man? The Book of Job was referenced by one of the interlocuters, and I think it a good book to keep in mind when analyzing Thursday. It is certainly one archetypal pattern upon which many of the discussions are based.

Another rather striking theme that came up is this notion of God's seeming "mischieviousness." The mirth of God, which Chesterton says is the one trait that seems too terrible for Him to show us, really is a heavy subject to contemplate. We read in the psalms about God "laughing His enemies to scorn" in His high heavens. We know somewhere in His eternal being there is a sense of joy. And to contemplate it through the lens of time is to understand all the more poignantly the sacrifice of the cross. God humbled himself, yes; He "did not disdain" to become one of us, certainly. But, I think there's more than that. "God so loved the world" that He redeemed us out of that same eternal joy which seems impertinent to us in the face of evil and the challenges of human life. God justifies His laughing His enemies to scorn (like Sunday's playing games with the six cops when they give chase) by sending His Son to us in the same eternal joy. I think sometimes we shortchange God's gift of love, like seeing it as a "last resort" or something like that. We look at the crucifixion separate from the resurrection, or we see it too much through human eyes and we forget that God wrought our great redemption willingly - but more than willingly, with joy in His heart. Anyone who has sacrificed something for the sake of love knows the bitterness of the sacrifice belies something sweet at the center of it all. The strange, warm smile on Sunday's face at the end of the book which seems to eclipse everything else is, I think, the embodiment of this profound mystery - God's joyful love of man, joyful even in giving His only Son for our sake.

Something we have not touched on much throughout the novel, but a definite theme that comes through, is Chesterton's dealing with other philosophical or theological systems. He touches on things like nihilism, absurdism, ethicism, existentialism, and especially materialism. If anybody wants to take up this thread, please feel free. But I do think it worthy to point out as a major theme in the book, because one can easily look to it for some good one-liners of apologetics.

My final thought on the novel goes back to that very first discussion. We teased this out a little bit, but I don't know that we've ever drawn out the full implications of the original question of "anarchy vs. order." My thought here, again, centers on the person of Sunday and on that idea of there being an "eigth day" of creation. Sunday, in the Genesis counting, is the final day - the seventh day. Christianity looks to the same day and puts it at the beginning of the week, because it is the day on which the new creation takes life. Sunday, then, is the beginning and the end in a sense. Somehow, these realities coexist in a harmony. And I think that this is the answer Chesterton proposes to the riddle about order and anarchy. I had thought all along that Chesterton's use of the tree as a symbol of anarchy versus a lightpole as a symbol of order was a bit weak. And I think he meant it to be. The tree is anarchic in a way, but also teliologically ordered. It has a purpose of "treeing." The universe paradoxically embodies order and disorder in some strange sort of harmony as creation groans in labor pains. Chesterton seems fascinated with this in many of his works. He seems fascinating with the work of the Son in the Father's creation. And I think the two sides of Sunday - the dark, incomprehensible back and the strange, terribly warm and goodnatured face - are Chestertons attempt to illustrate a bit of this mystery to us.

The End... almost

Well, these are my final thoughts on the novel. Discussion will continue (hopefully) below in the combox. The SCS crew of the book club are all invited to participate in a group discussion of the work coinciding with a presentation of Orson Welles' radio version of Thursday. Details to follow.

To all who participated, thank you. To all who at least read along, thank you. I hope that the discussion that has taken place here has been of some use to people who have stumbled onto the blog through search engines and the like. The body of criticism on this novel seems small enough that I think our humble contributions here might at least count as a drop in the bucket. If we encouraged one person to pick up the book (or any book for that matter, particularly a Chesterton one), I consider it to have been a worthwhile endeavor. I know I've learned something. Thanks, again.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

It's a fact!

Great minds quote Chesterton!

I feel vindicated...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I Missed This, Too...

Joseph Pearce (one of my favorite literary scholars) has been contributing regularly over at the First Things blog, On the Square. Check it out.

How Did I Miss This?

The American Chesterton Society has a blog!!!

Added to the blogroll. Check it out.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Blogroll Update

Please notice the new banner over on the right-hand side. I downloaded some old episodes of the "Rosary Army" Podcast the other day, and I think they have a neat idea. They make twine rosaries and give them away for free, and teach others how to do the same. Great, theraputic hobby, and a great, cheap way to evangelize. So, they get a link.

They also have a Total Consecration Podcast ( that covers all 34 days of the St. Louis de Montfort method. Check it out. Might be worth downloading.

My first ever "Vlog"

Nod to Dan over at the Shrine for this. When I saw it, I had to post it. This is one of my all time favorite Python bits.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Why Do I Blog?

Because I learn a lot by doing it!

Check out Father Z's blog for a very interesting fact. Gosh, the blogosphere is an amazing deposit of knowledge.

Time for a Good Fisking

Rocco has posted a link to an Inquirer story about one of the "newly ordained" women from the ceremony in Pittsburg who happens to be a (former) Catholic of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The article, as Gerald notes, is "full of crap." But I wanted to make a little more explicit the reason that it's full of crap.

The article.

From the first line, there is an unfair slant in the article:
Eileen DiFranco sang the hymns, prayed and took Communion as she had done at countless other Catholic Masses.
Note that the service is refered to as one among "other Catholic Masses." This is not even a logical inference, and a very unfair job by the Inquirer. Why? Because it's not even some sort of technical, existential level at which this was not a Catholic Mass. This wasn't even ostensibly a Catholic Mass. Reading on, we find that she "led the service as an ordained priest" and that it took place at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown. No amount of sacramental theology is required to see that this is something different. Even if you think that the "Catholic Mass" is nothing more than a show of some sort, the fact is that every "other" Catholic Mass is "led" by a man and nearly always takes place in connection with some Catholic worship site. If I went to McDonalds and heard some fat woman singing the Marriage of Figaro, I could hardly say I'd attended the Opera and heard that great Baritone piece from the Barber of Seville.

The next bit of nonsense is not with the article itself, but with the woman heretic about whom it was written. Mrs. DiFranco told her congregation that "Nothing is impossible with our God... not even a woman priest." I'm surprised that the applause which greeted her did not coincide with the falling away of the floor of the building and the tearing apart of the very fabric of existence that bound the place together. Because her statement, in a sense, has sought to undermine that very fabric of existence. It's a law of philosophy called the law of identity and of non-contradiction. And it goes like this: a thing is what it is, and a thing cannot both be and not be in the same way at the same time.

By saying that "nothing is impossible for God" in reference to her "ordination" as a priest, she has said so in reference to a "nothingness" - in other words, ironically, Mrs. DiFranco has suggested that nothing is possible for God. I don't mean that she has suggested God can't do anything. But rather that He can do nothing. What am I talking about? Well, if we think about the words of Scripture, where we find that "nothing shall be impossible for God," we can infer a great metaphysical truth. God is pure existance. He cannot not exist. He must act in accord with the Divine Nature, and the Divine Nature is pure act and power. And there are extensions to this. Because even though God can create anything He likes, He can't create a "nothing." He can't make a square circle. He can't make a rock too large for Him to move. Why? Because His action identified with His nature, and His nature is pure action. A "square circle" would be a circle that is both a square and circle at the same time in the same way - it is nothing. Because God must be God (i.e., He cannot not be God) so any square which He creates must be a square and any circle a circle. We must understand this not on some semantic level of terms applied (call the two existents anything you like) but on the level of true being. If a circle were really, in its very being, full of "squareness" - well, then, it's a square.

And, see, Mrs. DiFranco is a woman. In order for God to make her able to be "ordained," then she would either not be a woman as we understand "womanness" or the ordination would not be an ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood as it has been established by Christ. This is because Holy Orders - a sacrament - is rooted in the Person of Christ, with His two natures. The "requirement" of male priesthood is like the "requirement" that a square have four sides and four right angles. It is a question of identity. The thing has been made to be what it is. And even God cannot make something both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect - for He operates in accord with His nature. And since priesthood is connected - identified - with maleness, and Mrs. DiFranco is connected with femaleness, then she cannot be a priest. Aristotle tells us that. Revelation tells us that. It is not a limitation of God's power or a mere "edict" - it is a metaphysical truth rooted in the nature of God and the law that govern all existence. A female priesthood is impossible, so long as we understand "priesthood" to really be what it is. I am not trying to theologically say that God could not make another reality, of another name, to which Mrs. DiFranco might be conformable. I am saying that the sacramental priesthood, as it stands now - as it is now - does not allow for identification with her. For Ms. DiFranco to say that she has the same priesthood as, say, Pope Benedict, is for her to declare that God has made a circle a square, without diminishing its circleness. It's a vacuous statement. It means, really, nothing. And, I repeat her words: NOTHING is IMPOSSIBLE - that is, N-O-T P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E - for God.

The next statment with which I take issue is the following:
The Rev. Bernie Callahan of the Church of the Beatitudes said DiFranco's ordination and first Mass were a sign that "paths are being opened to Catholic women."
I ask you: HOW? Explain to me, please, someone: HOW!?

Ignoring the false premise that the Catholic Church closes any "paths" to women that lead anywhere (as opposed to nowhere, or nothing, as we've shown above) - this is still a logically ridiculous statement. Along what "new path" has Mrs. DiFranco tread? It isn't new. People have been walking out of the Church since it's foundation. We've never closed off those roads. To do what Mrs. DiFranco has done is as ridiculous as me driving an RV into Canada, unfurling an American flag from the fender, and proclaiming that the boundaries of the USA have expanded with my flight. In reality, I would simply be an expatriate sitting in a foreign land deluding myself. I could then proclaim that I've opened up a "new path" for all Americans. That anyone who wants to be an American, but not live within the bounds of the land, can do what I've done. And suppose that thousands - even millions follow me.

Here's the trick: there has to be some certification. If America didn't "recognize" me, who cares if Canada did? If America wouldn't proclaim my new excursion to be a true American "path," then I would have changed nothing. And suppose so many would follow me that we could somehow "force" America to change. Well, let's consider, for a moment, the question of identity again. We might call the changed reality that we had originated "America." But what if America were somehow a metaphysical identity. What if America could only really be the reality of what the country had been before we had inflicted our change. Then, call it what we may, the new reality would not really be "America" at all. It would be something new. I'm not saying thta Ms. DiFranco and her like can't inflict all sorts of damage and scandalize the Church and lead many away from the fold. But the Church cannot not be true. And even if the majority of Catholic apostacized and followed her on her radical journey down her "new path," the old borderlines could never be erased. They are drawn too deeply. They might be ignored - but the reality of what the Church is has been rooted too deeply to subvert in Truth. There are no new paths. There is one "Way," and that way is Truth and Life. Mrs. DiFranco has gone the (far from new) path of untruth. And whatever flag she unfurls, she is merely an expatriate in a foriegn land as she stands now.

Toward the end of her homily, DiFranco told the congregation that "in Jesus, there was never a disconnect... . The words excommunication and intrinsically disordered would not have been part of Jesus' vocabulary."
Where do you find that? How do you support that?

What about burning chaff and wailing and grinding of teeth? What about goats being placed on the left hand? What about body parts being cut off from the whole? What about it being better for some that they had never been born? What about the rich man who spurned Lazarus? What about the lukewarm being vomited forth from His mouth?

This is the very worst of Cafeteria Catholicism. Jesus Christ has humbled Himself enough and has subjected Himself to us infinitely. How dare we try to change Who He is and what He said in order to suit us? It's ironic that Catholics are most often accused of this, and yet our Doctrine is the only system that upholds the fulness of Truth, balancing Mercy and Justice, Love and Righteous Anger.

And, the final irony is that my response to this whole thing is to pray more fervently for Mrs. DiFranco, because I realize that there really are consequences and that the danger in which she's placed herself is very real. I pray that she is mercifully excommunicated and brought to see how she has separated herself from the truth. I pray that the emotional and intellectual blocks that have somehow prevented her from seeing Church teaching in it's fullness are removed like scales from her eyes. And I pray that readers of this shoddy Inquirer article are not led further down these very old paths of folly and lies.

Blogroll Update

Over on my blogroll, I've added the blog of the Aquinas and More Store from which I frequently purchase items such as breviary ribbons and other hard-to-finds. Check it out.

NB: They also have a cool email service that reminds you when various Novenas are to be prayed.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Reflection: The Feast of the Transfiguration

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John,
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them....

As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration - in the East, the Metamorphosis. This is one of my favorite feasts in the liturgical calendar. I especially like the way that Mark tells the story in his account which was read today at Mass. So, here, a reflection on the matter.

* * *

Earlier this week, a friend of mine and I were discussing the upcoming Feast of the Transfiguration. With his typical candor and honesty, he remarked that he feared he would not be able to embrace the celebration fully, because he lacks an "internal sense of the Resurrection."

The comment made an impact on me, and I began to think about what he said. Of course, we could all use a better internal sense of the Resurrection - a more immediate sense of its reality and it's power in our daily incarnate existence. But my friend had the insight to know that the event on Mount Tabor of Christ's transfiguration is linked very closely to the mystery of the Resurrection.

Of course, Christ's command to keep the event a secret is part of the continuing theme of Mark's "messianic secret." But, I imagine the confusion of the disciples in this case was more than simply a confusion about the identity of their teacher. They'd seen Him perform miracles - they'd seen Him raise others from the dead. But what was probably most confusing was this reference to resurrection in connection with the transfiguration which they had just seen. In other words, they were probably not so confused as what it "meant" as in literal meaning - but rather, what was the full import of this strange sight. They most certainly would have thought back to Daniel's messianic prophecy about the "one like a Son of Man" ascending before the throne of the Ancient One. They were probably convinced that this Teacher of theirs was the Messiah - the one who made the lame walk, the blind see, and the dead rise from their graves. But the dead they had seen rise from their graves had been essentially the same - they had not appeared so differently as Christ did when He was transfigured before their eyes. So, what, then, did He mean in this moment by mentioning "rising from the dead?"

The answer would come, as Jesus said, when He had suffered death on the Cross and rose that first Easter morning. Greeting many of His disciples, Christ was unrecognizable to them. He looked radically different than the Christ they had known. He needed to show His wounds in order for some to know Him. He could enter locked rooms and appear and disappear amidst them. To the majority of His followers, this change must have been very confusing indeed. They must have asked the question "What does this transfiguration mean?"

In Peter's letter today, we see the synthesis of the two questions: What is meant by rising from the dead? And what is meant by this transfiguration? The answer, we read, is that both realities are linked.

The Resurrected Christ had a glorified body, recreated from the tomb. It was not the same body, resuscitated, as had been the case with Lazarus and Jairus' daughter. It was a new creation of a new order, fulfilling and completing the old order. Even though His clothes on earth would not have had the splendor that they had on the mountain, Peter, James and John would surely have recognized Christ in this new form from the vision they had seen that day alone with Him. The brief transfiguration that they had seen was not permanent. Christ would ascend to the Throne of the Most High and receive dominion and power over all. And they would now know that this permanent transfiguration began with the Cross.

"Rising from the dead" does not simply mean recovering from the temporal event of death, only to suffer in another time. That is mere resuscitation - a miracle, yes, but far less than a resurrection to glory. The apostles knew, after seeing Christ rise from the dead, than this Resurrection meant so much more. And the "so much more" that it meant was revealed in part by the miracle of the Transfiguration. Christ was not merely restoring the old order to the same sort of life. He was bringing the Law and the Prophets (signified by Moses and Elijah on the Mountain) to fulfillment in a new order. The life to which He would restore those who believed would be a new life of eternal glory with Him before the throne of God.

But just as Christ's outward appearance after the Resurrection was not fully what it had been in the Transfiguration (and the latter itself not a complete image of Christ as He is in Heaven), so we only catch glimpses of that glory during our earthly life. It is difficult, therefore, to have and maintain an "internal sense of the Resurrection," if we're honest with ourselves. Sure, we profess to believe in the Resurrection of the dead. But if we stop to truly contemplate that mystery, it is difficult not to let our sight be clouded by the veil of this world and what is passing away. Peter knew this when he wrote: You will do well to be attentive to [the prophecy we have received] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. In the Liturgy of the Hours today, we are reminded that the splendor faded over time from Moses's face after his transfiguring encounters with the Lord. Peter's advice to us is to remember the moments of splendor and to not let time efface them in our memory, even if there is less to see of that glory in the passing world.

So, my reflection on this day is that we all do, indeed, need an internal sense of the Resurrection and that we need to meditate on the Transfiguration in order to facilitate this. I have found it fruitful to medidate on the Resurrection with particular remembrance that it is not merely the restoration of life which Christ granted to others before His Passion. Even if I can't fully imagine what the Resurrection truly is, it helps to wonder at the great things it surpasses, and know it to be more. Secondly, I think that the Transfiguration teaches us that we must understand the Resurrection as the completion and fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. When Peter, James, and John saw the Resurrected Christ for the first time, they probably remembered in their minds the vision they had of Elijah and Moses standing at His side. And I think it should be the same for us. We should see Moses and Elijah at the side of the Risen Christ; we should learn the Old Testament well and read Paul carefully in order to understand how the "old dispensations" have been supersceded by the New Covenant in Christ's Blood. Only then will we fully appreciate the magnitude of our sharing in the New Covenant, and of the glory that awaits us if we suffer with Christ and persevere to the end.

Finally, At Long Last... It's Here!

The fifth edition of the Program for Priestly Formation is now posted on the USCCB website.

Check it out.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A Date To Remember...

Posting at Midnight of August 5, 2006.

Every year: Dedication of Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome - Optional Memorial

2000 - Catholic actor Sir Alec Guinness died (but didn't disappear afterwards)

1850 - French master Guy de Maupassant was born. Some years later he'd enter - and get kicked out of - the seminary. Bad egg, but boy could he write!

1912 - L'Abbe Pierre was born, praying already.

1962 - Marilyn Monroe died, having been in and kicked out of many seminaries herself, I'm sure, but not in the same way as the French fellow.

1930 - Neil Armstrong was born - not weightless, to his mother's dismay.

1977 - My older sister, Laina, was born.

1983 - Yours truly came bouncing into the world. Obligatory Memorial

If you need an address to send money, drop me an email.

Just kidding. Prayers, though, for myself, my sister, and an aunt who also shares our birthday would be appreciated. And if you can get any indulgences, I'm sure Sir Alec would appreciate the gesture (although Norma Jean might be more in need).

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Man Who Was Thursday - Chap. 15

Introductory Remarks

Well, we've finished. It's been a worthwhile endeavor, I should hope. I've certainly found the reading of this novel to be an enriching experience. Please limit the discussion in this post (as much as possible) to thoughts of a more specific nature. I will post one final discussion, a sort of "round-up" where we can maybe make some more general observations about the novel. Of course, I realize that to discuss the final chapter, we must discuss it in light of the previous fourteen. However, if you wish to make some sort of inference about how we might apply the message of Thursday in our modern world, or something like that, that would be better saved for the round-up. Thanks.


It would be too obvious to discuss the costumes of each man, although plenty of discussion might take place on that topic alone. Reading these final three chapters has made me hunger to see Thursday made into a film, with all of the modern technology that could really bring such a thing to life on the big screen. These costumes would be something else to see in color.

This chapter smacks of both Job and Revelation. The various creatures represented by the costumed guests before the dias could very easily be the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. And later, when Gregory comes back as an "accuser," who could help but think of how Job begins: with the "sons of God" all gathered around, and Satan coming among them to present his "accusation" against the good soul Job.

The allegory is pretty explicitly revealed in this scene. Chesterton doesn't beat about the bush. Sunday tells us, point blank, that he is the Sabbath - the peace of God. And each of the six days of creation reveal their paradoxical variance with this peace. Finally, Gregory steps forward and sums up the whole matter of theodicy from the perspective of a disillusioned man: "The unpardonable sin of the supreme power is that it is supreme. Oh, I could forgive you everything, you that rule all mankind, if I could feel for once that you had suffered for one hour a real agony such as I -"

And then Chesterton springs his answer. And what a brilliant concept!
Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, 'You lie!' No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, 'We also have suffered.'
One might continue Syme's monologue if he wished: So thus every lamppost may be as rebelliously orderly as the tree. So thus every railway may be as vagrantly destined as the river. It all comes back to that central concept of Chestertonian wonder. Creation is so wonderful not because it must be what it is - but that it might be anything other than what it actually ends up being. The grass might have tragically ended up purple or red or whatever else, because disorder has been introduced into the way of things. But it is green, and we should sing a Te Deum every morning that it continues to be so.

And then Syme turns to Sunday, and asks that marvelous question, and Chesterton, without waste of words, gives us that brilliant answer. I must admit, my heart swelled at the poetic way in which Chesterton handled the final loose end of the "theodicy" debate. The whole book might be seen as a Job, yes, except that one small paragraph, in which Chesterton catches the New Testament aspect of the issue.

Chesterton ends the novel, amusingly, with a bit of a "romantic" twist. And I think this is fitting. Because the allegorical answers that he has provided in Gabriel Syme's answer find application in an everyday question, as well. We might overlook this application. But GK's reference to "the great unconscious gravity of a girl" brings to mind a mystery that is almost as troubling to us men as is the question of theodicy. And the answer is linked, I think. Love is "passion" - it is, in a sense, "suffered." Chesterton has pointed out the Godliness of this "suffering love" and used it to answer the mysteries of our relationship with God. He hints that it might be as helpful a key to understanding our relationships with those other mysterious beings...

One final note, before I close my observations on this chapter (and I do look forward to the final "wrap-up" where we can really wax philosophical). I find, in the end, the name of Gabriel to have been very appropriate. I have not often venerated the Saint, Gabriel the Archangel. But it occured to me, reading this book, how awesome it must have been to be the first created being to carry the Good News. Before Mary's fiat, before even John the Baptist, Gabriel was informed of God's wonderfully mysterious plan to finally, ultimately "justify" His ways to man and reconcile man to Himself. Since Gabriel's had the longest time to contemplate it, maybe he can help me when I get confused about some of the finer details.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Pithy Insight

From Mark Shea:
Only a healthy spirituality can triumph over a diseased one. The inflamed and diseased spirituality of Radical Islam will not be "triumphed over" by the anemic diseased spirituality of the post-Christian neo-pagan West.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Man Who Was Thursday - Chap. 14

Introductory Remarks

What does it all mean? Chapter 14 finally begins to peal back the veil. I've read to the end of the novel now, and find that Chapter 14 presents the "problem" of the novel in a condensed sort of way. Chapter 15 then makes the "argument" in true Chesterton form. My discussion of this section will be a bit more systematic, rather than in bullet points as with past chapters. I will keep my comments isolated to Chapter 14 here.


The allegory is heavy from the get-go in this chapter. What do you make of the men ploughing through ploughed fields and trudging through dark thickets in pursuit of Sunday "till each was turned into a figure too outrageous to be mistaken for a tramp?"

Reading on, something important occured to me during the conversation between Dr. Bull and the others about how Bull never disliked Sunday because he fancied him as some sort of over-grown baby. This something important was the notion of "mischievousness" - so importantly distinct from "wickedness." And I thought back, as all our six crusaders must be thinking in the novel, on "what it all means." And it occured to me that if Sunday was the man in the dark room, and also the President of the anarchic council - if he really was playing both sides of the chess board - well, then, there was never any real danger. Frustrating as it might be, we have to call "no harm, no foul." For the "bombing" that Sunday had commanded them was a farse: He knew it would never happen, because he knew his six councilmen were disguised cops, for he had chosen them. He knew the cops were in no danger when he sent them in, because he knew there was no serious anarchic council. The whole thing was a bit of mischief. And I must admit, I wondered if Abraham thought the same thing coming down off the mountain with Isaac...

The next section that put me on to the real "problem" of the novel was the Secretary's comments about Sunday's laughter. Sunday represents to Monday something "gross and sad in the Nature of Things." My footnote made much of this and quoted the section from Orthodoxy I have reproduced below.
Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.
Orthodoxy, IX
A beautiful paragraph. But why would God hide his laughter from us? Why does Sunday's laughter so infuriate Monday? The answer is because we - because Monday - cannot understand the "game." It's easy enough for us to conceive of God laughing in our good times. There's that painting of Jesus laughing which I despise because He looks like a Rastafarian. But I hate it for more than that. I had it because it unsettles me. God is, after all, eternal, and all moments are present to Him at once. He's not just laughing through your baby's first steps - he's also laughing through your baby's lukemia, if He's laughing at all. Forgive me the bit of seeming irreverence that it might take to say this. But this is what Chesterton was on about. This is, I think, what the book is all about.

The book is talking about the question of theodicy. How can the universe be "justified?" The old argument from the beginning about order versus anarchy - why was it that the tree, the natural thing was all in chaos in the illustration, and man's doings try to "restore" some sort of order by way of railway timetables? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Why this disorder in the world, in the universe? Yes, the fall, but why did we fall? Why did God make us so that such could happen? I think back to all our discussion of this is Dr. Lowry's class at the Seminary...

Of course, I have something of an answer, and so does Chesterton - but he's fleshing out the problem first. He's trying to look more deeply into it before he springs his "solution" on us. And the disillusionment of the Professor, the stubborness of Gogol, the scorned anger of the Secretary, and the baffled affection of Bull are all symbolic of mankind's experience of this problem. The days of Creation have received crazy messages and been led on a wild chase. Sunday is laughing at Monday. "God is in his heaven..." and mankind always has some place in the pit of the stomach that objects. But is God just in His heaven...?

The end of the chapter alludes to where Chesterton is going. His choice of "Sunday" is also a bit of a hint. I go back to my first observation in this post: the man have journeyed through the dark forests and muddy fields in pursuit of Sunday, and have now arrived, tattered and worn, at a large estate. And what does each find prepared for him? New clothes... Hrmm...

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