poetry


charlemagneparis

The Ecumenical Councils of Trent and Vatican I and the Creed of Pius IV all require us to:

…accept the Holy Scripture according to that sense which holy mother the Church hath held, and doth hold, and to whom it belongeth to judge the true sense and interpretations of the Scriptures [and] never take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

If is often said that the Church has, in fact, only very rarely defined the precise meaning of a biblical passage. Whether or not that is true one clear instance of such a definition is the Bull Unam Sanctam which has very precise teaching concerning Luke 22:35-38 and John 18:11. In ordering the disciples to buy a sword if they had not one already, and in telling them that two swords are enough, and in ordering Peter to sheath his sword Our Lord laid out the precise nature of the jurisdiction of the sacramental hierarchy and  the Supreme Pontiff over the temporal power.

Both the temporal and the spiritual power are intrinsic to the Church. The spiritual sword is to be exercised for the specific ends for which the Church was instituted and by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In contrast, the temporal sword must be exercised by members of the Church but cannot be wielded by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy (although they may confiscate it if it is misused and assign it to another) because it is not a means by which the specific ends of the Church may be advanced.

What rarely seems to attract much notice is the reason Our Lord gave for this arrangement:

And he said to them: When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, did you want anything? But they said: Nothing. Then said he unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword. For I say to you, that this that is written must yet be fulfilled in me: And with the wicked was he reckoned. For the things concerning me have an end. But they said: Lord, behold here are two swords. And he said to them, It is enough.

The apostles are told to obtain a sword because Christ will be treated as a criminal. As Our Lord also said at the Last Supper “the servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.” The opposition between the Church and the world is such that the Apostles (and their successors) need to have the protection of force in order to function. Yet, a short time later when Peter uses his sword to try to defend the Lord he is rebuked. “Put up thy sword into thy scabbard”. The Apostles have two swords but they are permitted to wield only one. The word of God is in the power of the clergy the state is to be in the power of the laity.

How does this fit with the prohibition on coercive conversion? The temporal sword of Christendom is essentially defensive. It is not ‘for’ the Church as Boniface VIII insists, it is wielded ‘by’ the Church (the lay faithful). The essential purposes of the Church cannot be advanced by violence but the non-ordained members of the Church can use the temporal sword to defend the Church from external persecution. Once the state is no longer in the hands of the Church this is not possible. So long as the state is non-Christian the Church’s business lies in buying the sword (bringing the temporal order by consent into the possession of the Church). Once it is purchased the sword may be drawn – but only by the laity – to stave off temporal impediments to the operation of the spiritual sword. We do not live by the sword. The life of Christendom is established and maintained by the peaceful spreading of the Gospel. However, once that life has reached the highest temporal level of social organisation the temporal sword can and should be drawn in its defence.

As St Cyril of Alexandria teaches:

He says sell his cloak, and buy a sword: for henceforth the question with all those who continue in the land will not be whether they possess anything or not, but whether they can exist and preserve their lives. For war shall befall them with such unendurable impetuosity, that nothing shall be able to stand against it.

At the beginning of the Song of Roland Charlemagne (in deference to his council) seeks to negotiate a temporal peace with Islam. He seeks to keep his cloak instead of buying a sword. He forgets the truth that he remembers later in the midst of battle with the Emir of Babylon: “Never to Paynims may I show love or peace.” The Lord tells us “the things concerning me have an end” there is no new revelation to dispense us from the unremitting opposition of the world. As Leo XIII teaches “Christians are born for combat”. The faithful must sell their cloaks and buy a sword because the state cannot simply be left in the hands of the pagans if the Church is to survive. This is why the Song ends with a weary Emperor roused from his bed by St Gabriel to carry on the war. He sought not first the Kingdom of God and His justice and so earthly peace is taken from him until he learns his lesson.

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Supernatural is a dangerous and difficult word in any of its senses, looser or stricter. But to fairies it can hardly be applied, unless super is taken merely as a superlative prefix. For it is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature); whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, Essay on Fairy Stories (1947)

Hymn for the Church Militant

Great God, that bowest sky and star,
Bow down our towering thoughts to thee,
And grant us in a faltering war
The firm feet of humility.

Lord, we that snatch the swords of flame,
Lord, we that cry about Thy ear,
We too are weak with pride and shame,
We too are as our foemen are.

Yea, we are mad as they are mad,
Yea, we are blind as they are blind,
Yea, we are very sick and sad
Who bring good news to all mankind.

The dreadful joy Thy Son has sent
Is heavier than any care;
We find, as Cain his punishment,
Our pardon more than we can bear.

Lord, when we cry Thee far and near
And thunder through all lands unknown
The gospel into every ear,
Lord, let us not forget our own.

Cleanse us from ire of creed or class,
The anger of the idle kings;
Sow in our souls, like living grass,
The laughter of all lowly things.

G.K. Chesterton

One might have supposed that the use of ‘Olympus’ for ‘Heaven” would be limited to Renaissance Italy, like the story of the churchman who kept a votive lamp perpetually burning before a bust of Plato. But no, there it is in Paul the Deacon’s 8th Century hymn to St John the Baptist:-

Nuntius celso veniens Olympo/ Te patri magnum fore nasciturum,/Nomen et vitae seriem gerendae/Ordine promit (A messenger coming from high heaven discloses in due order to thy father that thou wouldst be born great, thy name, and the course of life thou wouldst lead)

Personally, I don’t object to it, as a nod to the idea that whatever is beautiful or well-founded in pagan mythology and aspiration is fulfilled in Christianity. But the use of ‘Jove’ for God or even ‘Diana’ for the Blessed Virgin, both of which apparently happened on occasion, is clearly beyond the pale.

And e’en as she walked as one dreaming, sweet, pale as the evening star,
The spell of the wanton was snapped, and the revel of gods rolled afar,
And she brightened the glens that were gloomy, and softened the tribes that were wild,
Till the world grew a worshipping choir round the shapes of a mother and child.
 
O Woman, O Maiden and Mother, now also we need thee to greet
Now in ages of change and of question I come with a prayer to thy feet
In the earthquake and cleaving of strata, the lives of low passions we see,
And the horrors we bound in dark places rejoice, having hope to be free:
Wild voices from hills half-forgotten laugh scorn at all bonds that restrain:
O queen of all tender and holy, come down and confound them again!
 
– G. K. Chesterton

No, not for all the positive response to my German Autumn Poetry Excesses I would not have subjected you to any more German, had it not been for the encouragement of Aelianus (whom I would accuse, if I was uncharitable, of hoping of Google trafic), and for long-time annoyment with one particular German Marian Hymn.
It used to be a very nice Marian hymn, one just as Marian hymns ought to be: praising Our Lady, assuring her of our devotion, begging her for intercession with the confidence that there is nothing that needs to daunt anyone protected by her;  plus the whole with an appropriately touching tune:

OLD

Maria zu lieben, ist allzeit mein Sinn
in Freuden und Leiden ihr Diener ich bin
Mein Herz, o Maria, brennt ewig zu Dir
in Liebe und Freude, o himmlische Zier

Maria, Du milde, Du süße Jungfrau
Nimm auf meine Liebe, so wie ich vertrau
Du bist ja die Mutter, Dein Kind will ich sein
im Leben und Sterben Dir einzig allein

Gib, daß ich von Herzen Dich liebe und preis
gib, daß ich viel Zeichen der Liebe erweis
Von Dir mich nichts scheide, nicht Unglück noch Leid
Dich lieb ich auf ewig, Dich lieb ich allzeit

Ach, hätt ich der Herzen nur tausendmal mehr
Dir tausend zu geben, das ist mein Begehr
so oft mein Herz klopfet, befehl ich es Dir
so vielmal ich atme, verbind ich Dich mir

Du Trost der Betrübten, zur Hilf sei bereit
Du Stärke der Schwachen, beschütz mich im Streit
wenn wider mich kämpfen Fleisch, Hölle und Welt
sei Du mir als Zuflucht zur Seite gestellt.

But then, we had renewal, and a new text.  Now, à la  Eucharistic Prayer IV, we give Our Lady a biography of her own life (It is also incorrect, I am assured, as for however lowly the job of a carpenter might have been, we have no indication in the Gospels that th Holy Family was actually destitute – even if this would be helpful in a Revulutionary Christianity way):

NEW

Maria dich lieben, ist allzeit mein Sinn;
dir wurde die Fülle der Gnaden verliehn:
du Jungfrau, auf dich hat der Geist sich gesenkt;
du Mutter hast uns den Erlöser gschenkt.

Dein Herz war der Liebe des Höchsten geweiht;
du warst für die Botschaft des Engels bereit.
Du sprachst: Mir geschehe, wie du es gesagt.
Dem Herr will ich dienen, ich bin deine Magd.

Du Frau aus dem Volke, von Gott ausersehn.
dem Heiland auf Erden zur Seite zu stehn,
kennst Arbeit und Sorge ums tägliche Brot,
die Mühsal des Lebens in Armut und Not.

Du hast unterm Kreuze auf Jesus geschaut;
er hat dir den Jünger als Sohn anvertraut.
Du Mutter der Schmerzen, o mach uns bereit,
bei Jesus zu stehen, in Kreuz und in Leid.

Du Mutter der Gnaden, o reich uns die Hand
auf all unsern Wegen durchs irdische Land.
Hilf uns, deinen Kindern, in Not und Gefahr;
mach allen, die suchen, den Sohn offenbar.

Von Gott über Engel und Menschen gestellt
erfleh uns das Heil und den Frieden der Welt.
Du Freude der Erde, du himmlische Zier:
du bist voll der Gnaden, der Herr ist mit dir.

As a former Protestant, the veneration of Our Lady was a major stumbling block for my conversion. Even now (I have to confess) some ofSt. Louis de Montford’s statements about Our Lady (for all he is my year’s Saint)  quite disturbe me. But such a bland hymn text as the new one presented above would absolutely bore me to sleep, if it would not enrage me sufficiently. If a Marian hymn is not either close-to-kitschy pleeding, or satisfactorily triumphant, or of quiet and queenly dignity, it has no right to exisit, IMnsHO.

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Rainer Maria Rilke

[It was always only a matter of time before German poetry cropped up here. Autumn is particularly risky in this respect, of course, and Berenike mentioned sweet wine. – Anyway, we do have one German-speaking reader!]

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