In 1921 G. K. Chesterton traveled to America for a lecture tour and upon his return wrote of his experiences in a short book entitled “What I Saw in America”. In the introduction Chesterton comments on some of his preconceptions prior to the visit and mentions a couple of things he believed an early 20th century Englishman such as himself would find difficult to comprehend regarding America. One of these is what he calls the “theory of equality”, claiming that the hierarchical and aristocratic Englishman would likely find such a theory an illusion.
In truth it is inequality that is the illusion. The extreme disproportion between men, that we seem to see in life, is a thing of changing lights and lengthening shadows, a twilight full of fancies and distortions. We find a man famous and cannot live long enough to find him forgotten; we see a race dominant and cannot linger to see it decay. It is the experience of men that always returns to the equality of men; it is the average that ultimately justifies the average man. It is when men have seen and suffered much and come at the end of more elaborate experiments, that they see men as men under an equal light of death and daily laughter; and none the less mysterious for being many.
Writing in the 1980s, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) quoted a humorous couplet from the German poet, Wilhelm Busch. I don’t read German, and I don’t have the German original, but the English translation I have doesn’t quite work. So I have “translated” it, retaining I’m quite sure its essence:
Once your worldly reputation is in tatters, You’ll have more time for what really matters.
Cardinal Ratzinger quoted the Wilhelm Busch version of this couplet during those years when he was widely and falsely accused of being an ecclesiastical Neanderthal. It’s quite clear to those who bother to read what he wrote during those years that he used his extra time wisely.
When I posted this some years ago on our old weblog I received a much appreciated and graceful correction from someone who left the following comment:
“Ist der Ruf erst ruiniert, lebt sich’s völlig ungeniert.”
It seems that the quote is actually falsely ascribed to Wilhelm Busch (cf. http://www.gavagai.de/zitat/unbekannt/HHCU01.htm))
I am fine with the first part, but I don’t think that you caught the essence of the second: Ungeniert goes more into the direction of “cavalierly, uninhibited by the opinion of others, not being embarrassed or easily embarrassable (if this term exists).
The Cardinal of course did both: Used his time for what really matters and did so without looking for praise by others or by caring for his reputation.
This lovely Richard Wilbur poem gives up new secrets every time I come back to it.
Two Voices in a Meadow
A MILKWEED Anonymous as cherubs Over the crib of God, White seeds are floating Out of my burst pod. What power had I Before I learned to yield? Shatter me, great wind: I shall possess the field.
A STONE As casual as cow-dung Under the crib of God, I lie where chance would have me, Up to the ears in sod. Why should I move? To move Befits a light desire. The sill of Heaven would founder, Did such as I aspire.
Recorded November 12, 2011 at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture conference on Radical Emancipation: Confronting the Challenge of Secularism. This recorded session features presentations from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology president, Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, and College of Fellows at DSPT members Ron Austin and Gil Bailie.
Imagine reading a splendid poem – using the adjective with all its richness – and being “struck” by its loveliness. It arrests the reader. It takes him to a new place, as we say. It enchants him. Or say one stands before a work of art that inexplicably arrests the viewer in ways for which he would be at a loss to explain.
Now imagine that the person so struck by the beauty of a poem or work of art entertaining thoughts about how it might be altered or improved. The dawning of such a thought would be the end of the enchantment of beauty. Beauty would have fallen into the realm of the practical, the alterable, the mundane. It would have lost its revelatory invitation. It would no longer be a summons.
I suspect that it is this itch to tinker on the part of those of us who lack either the talent or the inspiration to fashion genuine works of art may have been what Heidegger and others found so troubling about a technical civilization – a contradiction in terms.
Or imagine the desire to obtain the beautiful creation, to own it. Understandable though it might be, such a thought would mar the beautiful with the fingerprints of those who snatch at it as a commodity.
“The modification in the spiritual attitude that is contained in this transition from patristic to modern piety can be described as the change from a world-condemning ‘dying to the world’ to a world-affirming ‘dying to the world.’ In other words, in modernity what comes unmistakably to the fore is that even the factor of the Christian mortification to the world stands under the more comprehensive sign of mission. Christian death should not lead us to abandon our natural post in the world where revelation and the order of salvation have placed us; rather, our dying must itself be suffered through while we maintain our post.”
New in our store this month are Gil Bailie’s Reflections on T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and The Hollow Men. Our donors who support our efforts with gifts of $5 per month ($60/yr) or more will receive a complimentary copy of the five part Murder in the Cathedral series in May and June. And our Sustaining Donors who generously provide us with gifts of $25 per month ($300/yr) or more will be mailed the complete 5CD set in June as well as the MP3s. Our donors receive at least 12 complimentary CDs and or MP3s in a year. Please join them in supporting our efforts if you are able.
We and our families, are well and currently making do under the circumstances of enforced isolation. The work of the Cornerstone Forum continues amid the disruptions and distractions. We both have close family members who provide medical care to our community for whom we pray daily. Also, in our prayers are all our faithful donors and supporters. In these days we are even more aware of the great blessing we receive through our friends and supporters.
As we look ahead, we understand that the financial stress caused by the current economic turmoil many are encountering will reduce their ability to materially support our work. God help us all as we strive to continue the work we have been given.
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