I have just noticed that Archbishop Lefebvre and Father Frederick Faber had, by etymology and meaning, the same surname. Effectively, both of them were called Smith. Appropriately enough – they were both craftsmen who built things to last. Habent sua fata, as I have said before, nomina.

I remember a long time ago a sensible sub-editor coming up to me with a book in his hand, called ‘Mr. Smith’, or ‘The Smith Family’, or some such thing.  He said, ‘Well, you won’t get any of your damned mysticism out of this,’ or words to that effect.  I am happy to say that I undeceived him; but the victory was too obvious and easy.  In most cases the name is unpoetical, although the fact is poetical.  In the case of Smith, the name is so poetical that it must be an arduous and heroic matter for the man to live up to it.  The name of Smith is the name of the one trade that even kings respected, it could claim half the glory of that arma virumque which all epics acclaimed.  The spirit of the smithy is so close to the spirit of song that it has mixed in a million poems, and every blacksmith is a harmonious blacksmith.

Even the village children feel that in some dim way the smith is poetic, as the grocer and the cobbler are not poetic, when they feast on the dancing sparks and deafening blows in the cavern of that creative violence.  The brute repose of Nature, the passionate cunning of man, the strongest of earthly metals, the weirdest of earthly elements, the unconquerable iron subdued by its only conqueror, the wheel and the ploughshare, the sword and the steam-hammer, the arraying of armies and the whole legend of arms, all these things are written, briefly indeed, but quite legibly, on the visiting-card of Mr. Smith.  Yet our novelists call their hero ‘Aylmer Valence’, which means nothing, or ‘Vernon Raymond’, which means nothing, when it is in their power to give him this sacred name of Smith, this name made of iron and flame.  It would be very natural if a certain hauteur, a certain carriage of the head, a certain curl of the lip, distinguished every one whose name is Smith.  Perhaps it does; I trust so.  Whoever else are parvenus, the Smiths are not parvenus.  From the darkest dawn of history this clan has gone forth to battle; its trophies are on every hand; its name is everywhere; it is older than the nations, and its sign is the Hammer of Thor   (G.K. Chesterton, in ‘Heretics’.)

  

(I know that Brompton Oratory didn’t look like that in Faber’s lifetime. But he is still the man behind it.)

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AN AGREEMENT

 (Mr. William Clissold regards Birth-Control as the test of liberality: those against it are reactionary; those in favour are for the progressive revolution.)

Where you have laid it, let the sword divide;
And your unmotherly Medea be
Here sundered from our human trinity,
The Mother and the Virgin and the Bride.

Why should we falter? Ours shall be the mirth
And yours the amaze when you have thinned away
Your starving serfs to fit their starveling pay
And seen the meek inheriting the earth.

That Christ from this creative purity
Came forth your sterile appetites to scorn
Lo; in her house Life without Lust was born,
So in your house Lust without Life shall die.

(This is from Chesterton’s lateish collection of poems, ‘The Queen of the Seven Sword’. Wiliam Clissold was a character which H.G. Wells used to expound his own opinions about life.)
Happy feast of St Joachim – and of St Anna too, if you are observing hers today. St John Damascene rather charmingly calls them a chaste pair of rational turtle doves.

O memorable time, when St. Aidan and the Irish monks went up to Lindisfarne and Melrose, and taught the Saxon youth, and when a St. Cuthbert and a St. Eata repaid their charitable toil! O blessed days of peace and confidence, when the Celtic Mailduf penetrated to Malmesbury in the south, which has inherited his name, and founded there the famous school which gave birth to the great St. Aldhelm! O precious seal and testimony of Gospel unity, when, as Aldhelm in turn tells us, the English went to Ireland “numerous as bees;” when the Saxon St. Egbert and St. Willibrod, preachers to the heathen Frisons, made the voyage to Ireland to prepare themselves for their work; and when from Ireland went forth to Germany the two noble Ewalds, Saxons also, to earn the crown of martyrdom!

Such a period, indeed, so rich in grace, in peace, in love, and in good works, could only last for a season; but, even when the light was to pass away from them, the sister islands were destined, not to forfeit, but to transmit it together. The time came when the neighbouring continental country was in turn to hold the mission which they had exercised so long and well; and when to it they made over their honourable office, faithful to the alliance of two hundred years, they made it a joint act. Alcuin was the pupil both of the English and of the Irish schools; and when Charlemagne would revive science and letters in his own France, it was Alcuin, the representative both of the Saxon and the Celt, who was the chief of those who went forth to supply the need of the great Emperor. Such was the foundation of the School of Paris, from which, in the course of centuries, sprang the famous University, the glory of the middle ages (‘Idea of a University’, Introductory).

Telling the truth about Ireland is not very pleasant to a patriotic Englishman; but it is very patriotic [. . . .] The truth about Ireland is simply this: that the relations between England and Ireland are the relations between two men who have to travel together, one of whom tried to stab the other at the last stopping-place or to poison the other at the last inn. Conversation may be courteous, but it will be occasionally forced. The topic of attempted murder, its examples in history and fiction, may be tactfully avoided in the sallies; but it will be occasionally present in the thoughts. Silences, not devoid of strain, will fall from time to time. The partially murdered person may even think an assault unlikely to recur; but it is asking too much, perhaps, to expect him to find it impossible to imagine. And even if, as God grant, the predominant partner is really sorry for his former manner of predominating, and proves it in some unmistakable manner – as by saving the other from robbers at great personal risk – the victim may still be unable to repress an abstract psychological wonder about when his companion first began to feel like that (‘The Crimes of England’, chapter V, AD 1914).

In his delightful book Enthusiasm, Ronald Knox remarks on the Jansenist belief that the Church is destined to decline continuously from her pristine excellence until the end of the world. He says that this opinion would be as hard to justify from history as it is from theology. Newman in Loss and Gain puts the same Jansenist view in the mouth (if I remember correctly) of Campbell, the Scotch Protestant, but without giving any indication of whether he himself endorses or opposes it.

Chesterton, I think in his book on Chaucer, recounts how he was once asked by a very intelligent agnostic whether he thought that the human race improved as time went on, or degenerated, or stayed about the same, and that the questioner seemed to think that he had covered all the possibilities. In reply he asked the other chap whether he thought that Ebeneezer Brown of 22, The Beeches, Tooting Bec, improved, degenerated or stayed about the same between the ages of 30 and 40 (I quote from memory, and invent the names.) Chesterton says that it then seemed to dawn on his interlocutor that the answer rather depended on Mr Brown and how he chose to behave. In other words, for Chesterton, because man has free will there is no necessity for the human race to go in any direction in particular. This is certainly an invigorating way to answer our question, but I’m not sure the conclusion follows. There is such a thing as having moral certainty about future events that will depend on free will; St Thomas says somewhere that in a town full of irascible people, you can be sure an argument will break out at some point, even though you can’t tell in advance when or between whom. In the same way, one could hold that the human race will go in a certain direction even though each man is free to go where he wants.

Maritain throughout his writing has a theory that both good and evil increase in the human race as time goes by, like the wheat and the cockle growing side-by-side. I suppose this means that the just will on average be more just, and the unjust on average more unjust from one century to the next. I don’t think he really tries to prove this, though he does make the point that if persecutions intensify, those who resist them will need to have a correspondingly greater holiness. On the other hand, even if his theory were true, it could still be the case that an increasingly large number of people became unjust in every age. Also, since the cockle on his account can be within the Church as well as outside, it wouldn’t help to answer the question about how the Church on earth was destined to fare.

Tolkien, in a private letter from 1956, wrote: “I am a Christian and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat.” I like those quotation marks around ‘history’. Presumably they signify that the subject as usually studied is defective, as abstracting from the supernatural truths that alone allow us to understand it. But why ‘a long defeat’ rather than a series of victories and defeats? Presumably he was thinking of history as tending toward the reign of the antichrist, which he must have considered as the final period of history, ended only by the eucatastrophe of the second coming.

St Thomas, speaking about how the articles of faith have grown over the years from Abraham onwards, says this:

The final consummation of grace came about through Christ, and so His time is called ‘the fullness of time’. Consequently, those who were closer to Christ, whether before, like John the Baptist, or after, like the apostles, knew the mysteries of faith more fully. We see the same thing in regard to the condition of a man, who has {bodily} perfection in youth, and a man is the more perfect in proportion as he is close to youth, whether before or after (2a 2ae 1, 7 ad 4).

He is not speaking here about an increase in the articulation of the mysteries of faith, I think, since then it would not be true that knowledge declines after the apostles. After all, we have their writings, and we have the commentaries on them made by the Fathers and doctors which make explicit many things contained only implicitly in Scripture. He must therefore be speaking of the depth of understanding, or intensity of faith. But this comes about, as he explains elsewhere (2a 2ae 6, 1) through the grace given to intellect and will; by charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But this apparently implies that sanctifying grace is poured out more abundantly insofar as people are closer in time to the Incarnation and Pentecost. If the mysteries of faith are more keenly understood the closer people are to the time of Christ, this must be because charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – which are proportioned to one’s degree of sanctifying grace – are given more abundantly, the closer one is to that time. This would be fitting, as emphasising the central place of the Incarnation within history. It would also fit in with some remarks of St Gregory the Great which I have quoted elsewhere in these chronicles:

By the awful course of the secret dispensation, before this Leviathan appears in that accursed man {antichrist} whom he assumes, signs of power are withdrawn from holy Church. For prophecy is hidden, the grace of healings is taken away, the power of longer abstinence is weakened, the words of doctrine are silent, the prodigies of miracles are removed

St Bede, like St Jerome, thought that the overthrow of antichrist would come before the end of the world. But he still thinks that there will be very little true faith left at the end of the world. Commenting on Luke 18:8 (“When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?”), Bede writes:

When the almighty Creator shall appear in the form of the Son of man, so scarce will the elect be that not so much the cries of the faithful as the torpor of the others will hasten the world’s fall.

Were the Janensists, then, correct? Is the Church a kingdom gradually sliding into decay, which will be saved from extinction only by the coming of the Lord? Things are more complicated. For one thing, not only has the Church on earth expanded in numbers from about 120 on Pentecost Sunday to its present membership, but also there have been periods since Pentecost when the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace was surely increasing; for example, from AD 33 to AD 133. This is certainly a victory for the city of God over the city of man. The Church has also progressed in the ever more perfect elaboration of sacred doctrine and the possession of more splendid liturgical rites (whether these are used is another question). Also she has progressed in having an ever greater treasury of merit and satisfaction on which to draw, and more examples of holiness, through the lives of the saints who have passed to their reward. Moreover, as Vatican I taught, her continued existence is in itself a sign of her divine mission, and this sign in the nature of things becomes more striking with the passage of time. All these things are triumphs over the kingdom of darkness.

Nevertheless, it could still be true, as seems to be implied by the words of St Thomas, that the average level of grace of those in the Church is lower in every generation; it could also be true that the percentage of those in the Church living fervent lives is in continual decline. Yet even this could be a tendency rather than an iron law. St Thomas uses the analogy of the human body, which is more perfect the closer it is to youth. Yet while this is true others things being equal, it may be that a particular man exercises more or has a better diet, and so is stronger or has more stamina, at some time earlier or later than at his natural peak of health. So it could be that the exercise demanded by the stress of particular events, for example, universal persecution, will temporarily raise the average level of holiness in the mystical body; or it could be that the intake of many new members to whom God wishes to attach a special blessing (for example the Jews, for the sake of their fathers) will have the same effect. But all the same the underlying trend would be downwards. Yet any given Christian may still achieve heroic sanctity, if he wants. And the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace can increase even if the average level of their sanctity decreases; though other things being equal, for example if there are no new pagan lands to evangelise, this seems less likely than likely.

A happy and fervent new year to all the saints at Laodicea.

In October

Where are they gone that did delight in honour
Abrupt and absolute as an epic ends,
What light of the Last Things, like death at morning,
Crowns the true lovers and the tragic friends?

Young priests with eager faces bright as eagles,
Poor scholars of the harp-string, strict and strong,
All the huge thirst of things irrevocable
And all the intolerant innocence that died young.

The dark largesse of the last gesture flinging
The glove in challenge or gold in sacrifice—–
Where are they gone that had delight in honour,
That the world grows so greedy and so wise?

Vow and averted head and high refusal
Clean as the chasm where the dawn burns white,
Where shall they go that have delight in honour
When all men honour nothing but delight?

Out of the infinite came Finality,
Freedom that makes unfathomably sure,
For only a wind of all the widest windows
Can close with such a clang that iron door:

The doors that cannot shut shall never open
Nor men make windows when they make not walls,
Though emptiness extend its endless prison
In the white nightmare of its lengthening halls.

Shall they not rise and seek beyond the mountains
That which unsays not and is not forsworn?
Where should they wander and in what other Eden
Find the lost happiness of the hope forlorn,

Look in what other face for understanding,
But hers who bore the Child that brought the Sword,
Hang in what other house, trophy and tribute,
The broken heart and the unbroken word?

This month of luminous and golden ruin
Lit long ago the galleys and the guns.
Here is there nothing but such loitering rhyme
As down the blank of barren paper runs,

As I write now, O Lady of Last Assurance,
Light in the laurels, sunrise of the dead,
Wind of the ships and lightning of Lepanto,
In honour of Thee, to whom all honour is fled.

(G.K. Chesterton)

 

The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. . . . Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. . . . We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. . . . We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed (Chesterton in 1905).

Today is perhaps the worst day for Christian civilisation since the fall of France to the freemasons in the 18th century. If I were an American citizen I should certainly be hoping for a secession of the healthier states from the tyranny now being exercised from Washington D.C. Let the whole land-mass be shared between two entities, a real State and the pseudo-state. One cannot live with such people. They are brain-washed. They are more like zombies than human beings. This is not like the co-existence of Catholics and pagans in the Roman empire. The pagans did not by their laws abolish marriage and the family, or even dream of such a thing.

One can pray for these people and do penance for them; one cannot live with them in society.

I suppose what we might call the Blackadder Goes Forth version of the First World War is pretty standard by now. It might be summarised as “Both sides as bad as each other, engaged in slaughter out of commercial ambition and stupid jingoism, until one side happened to win” (it’s not only materialist historians who speak like this, incidentally; a recent article of John Rao’s seemed to take the same view.) Yet even such a version of history seems preferable to the Daily Telegraph attitude of solemnly commemorating the heroic sacrifice of our forefathers while simultaneously promoting abominations that would have caused those same forefathers to say that the country they defended had simply ceased to exist.

There was a painful juxtaposition of headlines on the front page of the Telegraph at the time of the 100th anniversary of the start of the war last year. One of them said: ‘We will never forget’. The other one said, ‘What’s wrong with {excuse me} sperm banks for lesbians?’, the columnist arguing that nothing was. Never forget, forsooth. When it comes to the civilisation we were fighting for, or rather that those young men were fighting for, whose names we read on the war memorials, often several from the same family in even the smallest English village: they forgot long, long ago.

I’ve been reading recently some of the articles that Chesterton wrote in his weekly newspaper column during the War. While the style is recognisably his, they have an elevation of tone that sets them apart from his peacetime works. He has no doubt that the cause of the Allies is not only just, but that the fight is essentially spiritual: a war for the what remained of Christendom, for natural law, justice, the traditions of chivalry and honour and civilisation, against that mixture of brutality, totalitarianism, and mystical self-worship which is evoked by the word Prussia (I wonder if he had any inkling that the young emperor of Austria was a saint?) In one sense, namely as a defence of Belgium, the justice of the war is obvious, and can be judged by posterity as easily as by contemporaries. With regard to the spiritual essence of the combat, insisted on by Chesterton, things are less easy. It is not one or two obvious facts but a multitude that can justify one in speaking as he does. Spiritual things, though supremely real, are subtle, and it is hard for those who have not directly experienced them to speak of them. Yet Chesterton’s words carry conviction. Here are a few variations on a constant theme:-

Prussia was not a nationalist democracy which chose evil; it was not a nation, or even, in the proper sense, a people. It was simply such accidental crowds of colourless, lumpish, outlying northern men as certain chiefs could hammer and harden into mere regiments conscious of no flag. It is necessary to be ruthless because we must reach the centre of the machine in order to break the spring – or, perhaps, the spell. But it is not necessary to be hopeless, because in a sense the men living under it have never yet lived at all. There is nothing in their native and somewhat mild character to prevent their ripening under a better civilisation into very happy and humane Europeans. In that sense this is quite strictly to be called a religious war – in that it is waged to save souls by hypothesis capable of salvation (March 17th, 1917).

We hear this conflict called, not unreasonably, the most horrible war of history. But the most horrible part of it is that it would not be the most horrible war. Wars more and more horrible would follow the failure to vindicate and restore Christian equity and chivalry in this one. This does not make the fight less ghastly to the feelings; but it does make it more inevitable to the mind. It is, even in its most intense agony, still a problem of the reason, and even of the senses – of the sense of external things (29th September, 1917).

There is one fatal blunder in [the] whole picture of the war between England and Germany, and that is that it is a war between England and Germany. There is no war betweeen England and Germany. What happened, as a simple historical fact, in A.D. 1914 was not  a war between England and Germany, either in origin or occasion, or motive, or proportions, or excuse. What happened was a war between Prussian and the remains of the older civilisation which Prussia had not yet subdued, and with which England only threw in her lot at the last moment, by a belated implulse mainly noble, but almost entirely new. It is profoundly true that now the very existence of England is bound up with beating Prussia; but that is a result of her largely unexpected act and its many unexpected consequences (December 1st, 1917).

What we have been fighting is the half-finished design of a sort of inverted Roman Empire. It is one in which the least civilised instead of the most civilise power is on top; and one which originally radiated not from an old republican city, but from a new royal court. Bavaria is part of it only as Bulgaria is also a part of it. They both belong to it, in the sense that the Bavarian King would say to the Kaiser what the Bulgarian King also said to the Kaiser: Ave Caesar (August 24th, 1918).

Suppose we were at war, like the Children of Israel, with a Phoenician State vowed to the worship of Moloch, and practising infanticide by flinging babies into the fire. If we used strong words about smiting such enemies hip and thigh, I think it would be unreasonable in essence, though it might sound reasonable in form, for some sage to say to us: “Are there no good Phoenicians? Do not Phoenician widows mourn for their warriors? Is it probable that even Phoenician mothers are born without any motherly instincts?” The answer is that all this misses the main fact; which is a very extraordinary fact. The wonder is not that some Phoenician mothers love their babies, but that most Phoenician mothers burn their babies. That some mothers revolt against it is most probable; that many mothers have so many feelings urging them to revolt against it is almost certain. But Moloch is stronger than the mothers – that is the prodigious fact for the spectator, and the practical menace for the world. When Moloch’s image is fallen, and his fane laid waste; when his worship has passed into history and remains only as a riddle of humanity – then indeed it may be well worth while to analyse the mixed motives, to reconstruct in romance or criticism the inconsistencies of cruelty and kindness. But Moloch is not fallen; Moloch is in his high place, and his furnaces consume mankind; his armies overrun the earth, and his ships threaten our own island. The question on the lips of any living man is not whether some who burn their children may nevertheless love their children, it is whether those who burn children shall conquer those who don’t. The parallel is practically quite justifiable; what we are fighting has all the regularity of a horrible religion. We are not at war with regrettable incidents or sad exceptions, but with a system like the system of sacrificing babies, a system of drowning neutrals, a system of enslaving civilians, a system of attacking hospital services, a system of exterminating chivalry. We do ot say that there are no exceptions; on the conrary, we say that there are exceptions; it is our whole point that they are exceptions. But it is an almost creepy kind of frivolity that we should be speculating on the good exceptions at a moment when we ourselves are in peril of falling under the evil rule (July 20th, 1918).

And just after the Armistice:-

There is another form of the same materialist fallacy which fools have sown broadcast for the last four years. Its most fashionable form may be summed up in the phrase, “It will all be the same a hundred years hence.” I have read pacifist poems and essays in which the old rhetorical flourish to the effect that the corn will grow on the battlefield, or the ivy on the ruined fortress, is seriously used to suggest that it makes not difference whether the battle was fought or whether the fortress fell. We should not be here at all, to moralise about the ivy on castles and the corn on battlefields, if some of the great conflicts of history had gone the other way. If certain barbarian invasions had finally swept certain civilised districts, men would very probably have forgotten how to grow corn, and would certainly have forgotten how to write poems about ivy.

Of some such Eastern Imperialist it was said, as a sort of proverb, that the grass would not grow where he had set his foot. Europe has been saved from turning gradually into such a desert by a series of heroic and historic wars of defence, such as that of the Greeks against the Persians, of the Romans against the Carthaginians, of the Gauls against the Huns, of Alfred against the Danes, or Charles Martel agains the Moors. In each one of these cases the importance of the result does not decrease, but does definitely increase with time. It increases with every new generation that is saved from that destruction, with ever new civilised work that is built on that security, with every baby that might never have been baptised or reared, with every blade of grass that might never have grown where it grows today (November 23rd, 1918).

Though the darkness has returned and Moloch is again in his high place, yet what was gained by their sacrifice will at least always have been gained. Whether or not there can still be continuity for our civilisation, those young men have at least left us an example. So in those words of Tolkien that so moved his friend Lewis, both of whom fought on the Western Front, I say that these were “great deeds, not wholly vain”.