Saturday, August 18, 2018

"mak[ing] hay of our marginal status"

Having lost their nerve and "settled for the least epistemic status possible" ("the possibility of mere true belief"), "Christian intellectuals have taken to lauding the epistemic privileges of the margins" in an attempt "to snatch back lost ground."

     William J. Abraham, "Saving souls in the twenty-first century:  a missiological midrash on John Wesley," Wesleyan theological journal 38, no. 1 (Spring 2003):  14, 15 (7-20).

"Was ever another command so obeyed?"

     "Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.

     "To those who know a little of Christian history probably the most moving of all the reflections it brings is not the thought of the great events and the well–remembered saints, but of those innumerable millions of entirely obscure faithful men and women, every one with his or her own individual hopes and fears and joys and sorrows and loves—and sins and temptations and prayers—once every whit as vivid and alive as mine are now. They have left no slightest trace in this world, not even a name, but have passed to God utterly forgotten by men. Yet each of them once believed and prayed as I believe and pray, and found it hard and grew slack and sinned and repented and fell again. Each of them worshipped at the eucharist, and found their thoughts wandering and tried again, and felt heavy and unresponsive and yet knew—just as really and pathetically as I do these things. There is a little ill–spelled ill–carved rustic epitaph of the fourth century from Asia Minor:—'Here sleeps the blessed Chione, who has found Jerusalem for she prayed much'. Not another word is known of Chione, some peasant woman who lived in that vanished world of Christian Anatolia. But how lovely if all that should survive after sixteen centuries were that one had prayed much, so that the neighbours who saw all one's life were sure one must have found Jerusalem! What did the Sunday eucharist in her village church every week for a life–time mean to the blessed Chione—and to the millions like her then, and every year since? The sheer stupendous quantity of the love of God which this ever repeated action has drawn from the obscure Christian multitudes through the centuries is in itself an overwhelming thought. (All that going with one to the altar every morning!)

     "It is because it became embedded deep down in the life of the christian peoples, colouring all the via vitae of the ordinary man and woman, marking its personal turning-points, marriage, sickness, death and the rest, running through it year by year with the feasts and fasts and the rhythm of the Sundays, that the eucharistic action became inextricably woven into the public history of the Western world. The thought of it is inseparable from its great turning-points also. Pope Leo doing this in the morning before he went out to daunt Attila, on the day that saw the continuity of Europe saved; and another Leo doing this three and a half centuries later when he crowned Charlemagne Roman Emperor, on the day that saw that continuity fulfilled. Or again, Alfred wandering defeated by the Danes staying his soul on this, while mediaeval England struggled to be born; and Charles I also, on that morning of his execution when mediaeval England came to its final end. Such things strike the mind with their suggestions of a certain timelessness about the eucharistic action and an independence of its setting, in keeping with the stability in an ever–changing world of the forms of the liturgy themselves. At Constantinople they 'do this' yet with the identical words and gestures that they used while the silver trumpets of the Basileus still called across the Bosphorus, in what seems to us now the strange fairy-tale land of the Byzantine empire. In this twentieth century Charles de Foucauld in his hermitage in the Sahara 'did this' with the same rite as Cuthbert twelve centuries before in his hermitage on Lindisfarne in the Northern seas. This very morning I did this with a set of texts which has not changed by more than a few syllables since Augustine used those very words at Canterbury on the third Sunday of Easter in the summer after he landed. Yet 'this' can still take hold of a man’s life and work with it.

     "It is not strange that the eucharist should have this power of laying hold of human life, of grasping it not only in the abstract but in the particular concrete realities of it, of reaching to anything in it, great impersonal things that rock whole nations and little tender human things of one man’s or one woman’s living and dying—laying hold of them and translating them into something beyond time.  This was its new meaning from the beginning.  The Epistle to the Hebrews pictures our Lord as saing from the moment of his birth at Bethlehem, 'Other sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a Body hast Thou prepared for me; Lo I come to do Thy will, O God'.  On the last night of His life it was still the same:  'This is My Body'—'And now I come to Thee'.  It was the whole perfect human life that had gone before and all His living of it that was taken and spoken and deliberately broken and given in the institution of the eucharist."

     Gregory Dix, The shape of the liturgy (Westminster:  Dacre Press, 1945), 743-746.
this way of doing the eucharist alone fulfils every need of every church in every age. . . . 
     The outlines of that ritual pattern come down to us unchanged in christian practice from before the crucifixion. . . . The needs of a christian public worship have added to these inheritances from our Lord's own jewish piety only an 'introduction' of praise and a brief prayer of thanksgiving [(743)].

Two different keyboards

"The error of antiquity was to believe that the functioning of thought and the conceptual lexicon proper to the philosophy of nature extended to the sciences of nature.  The error of certain modern scientists [(savants)], insofar as they are in search of a philosophy, is to believe that the kind of thinking and conceptual vocabulary proper to the sciences of nature can serve to build a philosophy of nature."

     Or theology of nature, I'm thinking, as with the case of, just possibly, "information theory" (Dan Hardy's use of this notwithstanding).  Jacques Maritain, The peasant of the Garonne:  an old layman questions himself about the present time, trans. Michael Cuddihy and Elizabeth Hughes (New York:  Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1968 [1966]), 140-141.  =Le paysan de la Garonne:  un vieux laïc s'interroge à propos du temps présent (Paris:  Desclée de Brouwer, 1966), 208:
L'erreur de l'antiquité a été de croire que le fonctionnement de la pensée et le lexique conceptuel propres à la philosophie de la nature s'étendaient aux sciences de la nature.  L'erreur de quelques savants modernes, pour autant qu'ils sont en quête d'une philosophie, est de croire que le fonctionnement de la pensée et le lexique conceptuel propres aux sciences de la nature peuvent servir à construire une philosophie de la nature.
     I was wondering if "savants" wouldn't be better translated as "scholars" or "intellectuals" or "the erudite", given that the opening error was an error of antiquity in general and that the more explicit "sciences" is available right here in the immediate context.  But then I saw it opposed to "philosophes" below.
     That admitted, note that there are no "typewriters" ("machines à écrire", even "clavier de machine à écrire"; cf. "machine equipped with the scientific keyboard", below, which is simply "clavier scientifique" preceded by "jouer") in the original, and that while one "writes" ("écrire") with a typewriter, one "plays" ("jouer") a piano (keyboard).  The only consideration going for this translation, it seems to me, is the fact that keyboards might (or might not!) be thought to vary less from keyboard instrument to keyboard instrument than from typewriter to typewriter:
In the team which will work at such a renewal [of the philosophy of nature], each man must be able to use (with relative ease) two typewriters, one equipped with a certain keyboard, the other with a quite different keyboard—one that his discipline has made familiar to him, and the other which, as a man of good will, he will have to learn how to use rather late in the day.  The philosophers should know how to use, at least as amateurs, the machine equipped with the scientific keyboard, and the scientists the one equipped with the philosophic keyboard   [(chacun devra être capable de jouer . . . sur deux claviers différents, l'un que son métier lui a rendu familier, l'autre dont, en homme de bonne volunté, il aura dû apprendre le maniement sur le tard; les philosophes devront savoir jouer, au moins en amateurs, du clavier scientifique; les savants, du clavier philosophique)].  May the angels of true knowledge be there to help them! [(141 =208)]
     Cf., on the two keyboards, p. 273 of the English.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

"No one who has gratitude is the onliest one."

     "We measure time by its deaths, yes, and by its births.  For time is told also by life.  As some depart, others come.  The hand opened in farewell remains open in welcome.  I, who once had grandparents and parents, now have children and grandchildren.  Like the flowing river that is yet always present, time that is always going is always coming.  And time that is told by death and birth is held and redeemed by love, which is always present.  Time, then, is told by love's losses, and by the coming of love, and by love continuing in gratitude for what is lost.  It is folded and enfolded and unfolded forever and ever, the love by which the dead are alive and the unborn welcomed into the womb.  The great question for the old and the dying, I think, is not if they have loved and been loved enough, but if they have been grateful enough for love received and given, however much.  No one who has gratitude is the onliest one.  Let us pray to be grateful to the last."

     Wendell Berry, Andy Catlett:  early travels, part three (Port William novels & stories:  the Civil War to World War II, ed. Jack Shoemaker, The Library of America (New York:  The Library of America, 2018), 496).