I’m very excited to announce that I have a forthcoming book (sometime this fall) from Angelico Press.
BEYOND TENEBRAE: Christian Humanism IN THE TWILIGHT OF THE WEST.
(initial) table of contents if you’re interested: PrefaceIntroduction: Beyond Tenebrae
Section I: Conserving Christian Humanism• Humanism: A Primer• Humanism: The Corruption of a Word• The Conservative Mind• Burke and Tocqueville• What to Conserve?• Conserving Humanism Section II: Personalities and Groups• T.E. Hulme: First Conservative of the Twentieth Century• Irving Babbitt’s Longings• Irving Babbitt and the Buddha• The Christian Humanism of Paul Elmer More• The Order Men• Willa Cather• Canon B.I. Bell• The Conversion of Christopher Dawson• Christopher Dawson and the Liberal Arts• The Gray Eminence of Christopher Dawson• Nicholas Berdyaev’s Unorthodoxy• Theodor Haecker: Man of the West• The Inklings• Two Tolkiens, Not One• Sister Madeleva Wolff• Peacenik Prophet: Russell Kirk• St Russell of Mecosta• Eric Voegelin• Eric Voegelin’s Gnosticism• Eric Voegelin’s Order• Flannery O’Connor• Clyde Kilby• Friedrich Hayek’s Intellectual Lineage• Ray Bradbury at His End• Shirley Jackson’s Haunting• Wendelin E Basgall• Julitta Kuhn Basgall• Ronald Reagan’s Ten Words• The Optimism of Ronald Reagan• Walter Miller’s Augustinian Wasteland• Alexander Solzhenitsyn as Prophet• The Ferocity of Marvin O’Connell• The Good Humor of Ralph McInerny• The Beautiful Mess that is Margaret Atwood; Conclusion: Confusions and Hope
A liberal education centered on the western tradition remains unfocused on career success, which prepares students for a marketplace in which they may or may not achieve their goals. Hillsdale College Provost Dr. David Whalen began freshman orientation in 2007 with this declaration, “You have not come here for job training. You have come to let us mess with your minds!” While Dr. Whalen meant this to be a laugh line, he also communicated a significant point. A four-year education costing approximately $100,000 was not intended to help the incoming freshman get a job. Instead, the goal of a liberal education is a transformed perspective on the world recognizing truth, beauty, and goodness as the purposes of human society. At the end of that path, the student may find work, but ultimately the recipient of a liberal education should be prepared to weather the storms of life regardless of economic position.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/02/liberal-education-preservation-free-society-josh-herring.html
“Long before the outbreak of terrorism and the invasion of drugs, the English author and philosopher, C.S. Lewis, called attention to the grievous danger of the abolition of man which lies in the collapse of the foundations of morality. He thus gave stress to humankind’s justification upon which the continuance of man as man depends. Lewis shows the continuance of the this justification with a glance at all the great civilisations. He refers not only to the moral heritage of the Greeks and its particular articulation by Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoa. These intended to lead man to an awareness of reason in his being and from that to insist upon the cultivation of ‘his kinship of being with reason.’ Lewis also recalls the ideas of the Rta [sic] in early Hinduism which asserts the harmony of the cosmic order, the moral virtues and the temple rituals. He underscores in a special way the Chinese doctrine of the Tao: ‘It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on. . . It is also the Way in which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar. Modern mankind has been persuaded that human moral values are radically opposed one to another in the same way that religions are. In both cases the simple conclusion is drawn that all of these are human inventions whose absurdity we can finally detect and replace with reasonable knowledge. This diagnosis, though, is extremely superficial. It hooks on to a series of details which are set up in random fashion, one next to the other, and so it arrives at the banality of its superior insight. The reality is that the fundamental institution concerning the moral character of being itself and the necessity for harmony between human existence and the message of nature is common to all the great civilisations; and thus the great moral imperatives are also a possession held in common. C S Lewis expressed this emphatically when he said: ‘This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law, or Traditional Morality or the First principle of Practical Reason, or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and to raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory.’ Morality has been eroded and man as human being has worn away with it. It is no longer prudent to ask why one should hold fast to this kind of survival. Once more I would like to have C S Lewis put in a word. He saw this process already in 1943 and described it with keen accuracy. He discerns in it the old compact with the Magician: ‘ . . . give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, our selves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us . . . It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere “natural object” . . . The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his dehumanized Conditioners.’ Lewis raised this warning during the second World War because he saw how, with the destruction of morality, the very capacity to defend his nation against onslaught of barbarism was imperiled. He was objective enough, though, to add the following: “I am not here thinking solely, perhaps not even chiefly, or those who are our public enemies at the moment. The process which, if not checked, will abolish man, goes on apace among Communists and Democrats, no less than among Fascists.” This seems to me to be a common of great import. Lewis refers as well to the law of Israel, which unites cosmos and history and intends above all to be the expression of the truth about man as much as the truth about the world. An appreciation of the great civilisations discloses differences in detail; but starker by far than these differences is the great common strain which reveals itself as early evidence of the human business of living: the teaching of objective values which are manifest in the being of the world; the belief that there are attitudes which are true in accord with the message of the All and therefore good and that there are other attitudes as well which are contrary to being and thus are wrong for good and for all.”
–Edited down version of a speech by then Cardinal Ratzinger.
Taken from Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Fisher Lecture” at Cambridge University, January 25, 1988. See “Cardinal Ratzinger in Cambridge,” BRIEFING 88, vol. 18, no. 3 (5 February 1988); reprinted in the CANADIAN CSL JOURNAL no. 63 (Summer 1988), 4-5.
I’m very proud to announce our third publication for SPIRIT OF CECILIA books, SEEKING CHRISTENDOM: AN AUGUSTINIAN DEFENSE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION.
This was a book–roughly 82,000 words–I wrote over Christmas break, 2002-2003, and then revised four times between 2003 and 2008. I wrote it in between writing the biographies of J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Dawson as a way to understand Christian Humanism. I wanted to know its scope as well as its limits, hoping to find something to move well beyond the simple and deceptive left-right spectrum.
Here’s the opening to the original version:
The nineteenth century witnessed the flourishing of progressivist thought in social relations, politics, religion, and biology. Everything was evolving, or so it seemed, toward the better. Smiles were more frequent, and lives just kept getting happier, as the citizens of the world were becoming one, homogenized, contented mass. The blessings of modernity entangled everything, East to West, claiming that no more perfect offerings needed to be made. Once properly educated and the childhood superstitions of the race outgrown, the prophets of modernity assured us, the masses collectively would speak as a god. In a word, according to intellectuals such as Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, it would soon be “utopian.”
It was a lie.
Modernity was a trap, and we were its greatest victims. We failed to resist, and it greedily fed on us. In democratic regimes, the brightly colored and candy-coated machines of bureaucracy and large corporations mechanized us, making us far less than human. In non-democratic regimes, the damage proved much worse, nearly irreparable. Beginning with the assassination of a relatively minor figure by an equally obscure terrorist group in 1914, the twentieth century drowned in its vast killing fields, gulags, holocaust camps, trench warfare, and weapons of mass destruction. Whether in the camps of the European or Asian ideologues, some humans, convinced of the righteousness of their cause, viewed all other human persons as nothing more than a collection of parts, ready to be dismembered and reassembled in a Picasso-esque fashion, or perhaps simply quartered and then quartered again. Armed with the ideological doctrines of fascism, National Socialism, and Communism, the twentieth-century became a century of the inverted vision of Ezekiel: wheels within wheels, endlessly spinning, the abyss ever expanding, ever within reach. All that was sacred became irrelevant. All who remained relevant were shot. And, the State and its faithful companion, War, demanded the sacrifice of much blood to the restored gods. Demos, Mars, and Leviathan became ascendant, taking possession of the field, and claiming victory, their appetites insatiable.
Eala earendel, engla beorhtast, ofer middangeard monnum sended, ond soðfæsta sunnan leoma, torht ofer tunglas, þu tida gehwane of sylfum þe symle inlihtes! …
swa þec nu for þearfum þin agen geweorc bideð þurh byldo, þæt þu þa beorhtan us sunnan onsende, ond þe sylf cyme þæt ðu inleohte þa þe longe ær, þrosme beþeahte ond in þeostrum her, sæton sinneahtes; synnum bifealdne deorc deaþes sceadu dreogan sceoldan.
“Hail shining ray! Hail brightest of angels
and illumination of the soothfast sun
sent over middle-earth to all mankind,
more brilliant than the stars—always
you light up every season of your own self! …
so now needfully your own creation
abides you faithfully, so that you send us
the bright sun, and that you come yourself
to illuminate those who for the longest time,
shrouded in shadow and in darkness here,
reside in the everlasting night—
enfolded in our sins, they have had to endure
the dark shadows of death.”
If admirers of J.R.R. Tolkien feel a familiar frisson here — well, they should! In Cynewulf’s expansion of “O Dayspring” — specifically, in the word “earendel” — we find one of the deepest linguistic roots of Tolkien’s Middle Earth legendarium. From that word sprang the work of his heart that occupied him for nearly six decades — The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. Tolkien even riffs on Cynewulf (and thus indirectly on today’s antiphon) on pp. 248-249 of The Silmarillion:
Hail Eärendil, of mariners most renowned, the looked for that cometh at unawares, the longed for that cometh beyond hope! Hail Eärendil, bearer of light before the Sun and Moon! Splendour of the Children of Earth, star in the darkness, jewel in the sunset, radiant in the morning!
Healey Willan (1880-1968), professor at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and organist at St. Mary Magdalene Church in the same city, composed a setting of The Great O Antiphons of Advent for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Concordia Publishing House in 1957. Here’s Willan’s setting of “O Dayspring,” as sung by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia:
O come, Thou Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!
I am extremely proud to announce and launch our ebook publishing concern, SPIRIT OF CECILIA Books. As with the website, St. Cecilia is our patron, and we will be publishing several books a year–dealing with art, culture, film, biography, science fiction, music, etc.
Our inaugural book, Reflections on Reflections: A Close Reading of Edmund Burke, is now available at amazon.com as a Kindle version. We will soon be releasing it in other e-book formats. The price is $2.99. Please support us with your purchase.
Some of my favorite quotes from the lectures of James Wilson, signer of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, delivered at what is now the University of Pennsylvania, 1790-1791.
“Government, in my humble opinion, should be formed to secure and to enlarge the exercise of the natural rights of its members; and every government, which has not this in view, as its principal object, is not a government of the legitimate kind.” [Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals,” 1061]
“In his unrelated state, man has a natural right to his property, to his character, to liberty, and to safety. From his peculiar relations, as a husband, as a father, as a son, he is entitled to the enjoyment of peculiar rights, and obliged to the performance of peculiar duties. These will be specified in their due course. From his general relations, he is entitled to other rights, simple in their principle, but, in their operation, fruitful and extensive. His duties, in their principle and in their operation, may be characterized in the same manner as his rights. In these general relations, his rights are, to be free from injury, and to receive the fulfillment of the engagements, which are made to him: his duties are, to do no injury, and to fulfil the engagements, which he has made. On these two pillars principally and respectively rest the criminal and the civil codes of the municipal law. These are the pillars of justice.” [Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals,” 1062]
“Under some aspects, character may be considered as a species of property; but, of all, the nearest, the dearest, and the most interest. . . . By the exertion of the same talents and virtues, property and character both are often acquired: by vice and indolence, both are often lost or destroyed. The love of reputation and the fear of dishonour are, by the all-gracious Author of our existence, implanted in our breasts, for purposes the most beneficent and wise.” [Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals,” 1063]
“But to that honour, whose connexion with virtue is indissoluable, a republic government produces the most unquestionable title. The principle of virtue is allowed to be hers: if she possesses virtue, she also possesses honour.” [Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals,” 1065]
“It is unwarrantable to bestow reputation where it is not due.” [Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals,” 1066]
“Property must often–reputation must always be purchased: liberty and life are the gratuitous gifts of heaven.” [Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals,” 1066]
“With consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb. By the law, life is protected not only from immediate destruction, but from every degree of actual violence, and, in some cases, from every degree of danger.” [Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals,” 1068]
“Slavery, or an absolute and unlimited power, in the master, over the life and fortune of the slave, is unauthorized by the common law. Indeed, it is repugnant to the principles of natural law, that such a state should subsist in any social system.” [Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals,” 1077]
“As a man is justified in defending, so he is justified in retaking, his property, or his peculiar relations, when from him they are unjustly taken and detained.” [Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals,” 1083]
The above, all taken from James Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals” in Kermit L. Hall and Mark David Hall, eds., Collected Works of James Wilson (Indianapolis, Ind: Liberty Fund, 2007), vol. 2.