minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the tag “chesterton”

A Christmas Carol Poem

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A Christmas Carol poem
by G.K.Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down

A Christmas Carol Poem by G. K. Chesterton

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Christmas Poem.

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Christmas Poem

G.K.Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wife’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

(Gilbert Keith Chesterton)

Jongleur de Dieu

Now everybody knows, I imagine, that the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were an awakening of the world. They were a fresh flowering of culture and the creative arts after a long spell of much sterner and even more sterile experience which we call the Dark Ages. They may be called an emancipation; they were certainly an end; an end of what may at least seem a harsher and more inhuman time. But what was it that was ended? From what was it that men were emancipated? That is where there is a real collision and point at issue between the different philosophies of history. On the merely external and secular side, it has been truly said that men awoke from a sleep; but there had been dreams in that sleep of a mystical and sometimes of a monstrous kind. In that rationalistic routine into which most modern historians have fallen, it is considered enough to say that they were emancipated from mere savage superstition and advanced towards mere civilised enlightenment. Now this is the big blunder that stands as a stumbling-block at the very beginning of our story. Anybody who supposes that the Dark Ages were plain darkness and nothing else, and that the dawn of the thirteenth century was plain daylight and nothing else, will not be able to make head or tail of the human story of St. Francis of Assisi. The truth is that the joy of St. Francis and his Jongleurs de Dieu was not merely an awakening. It was something which cannot be understood without understanding their own mystical creed. The end of the Dark Ages was not merely the end of a sleep. It was certainly not merely the end of a superstitious enslavement. It was the end of something belonging to a quite definite but quite different order of ideas.

—From St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton

Several years ago while transitioning back to the catholic faith, I discovered G.K. Chesterton. Actually this discovery had a lot to do with beginning my journey back to the ancient church. Chesterton was in many ways like a C.S. Lewis but on steroids, and as a lover of Lewis’ writings it wasn’t too hard to jump into the vastness of this man known as the Apostle of Common Sense.

Chesterton has two books which touch on the lives of saints from the Middle Ages which are a must – read for anyone interested in this time in history. One is on St. Thomas Aquinas and the other on this Saint, who must be the most popular outside of catholic culture.

Retablo of St. Francis

It is not uncommon to see statues of Francis adorning gardens, or hear of the Saint held in patronage by modern movements that want to tie in the deep passion of this man to their cause. In fact Francis has become a “saint for all seasons”, if you will, in our modern world; finding patronage among environmentalists, rebels, reformed churches, gays and lesbians, and nature worshippers. But like it or not, the fact is that Francis was catholic, and catholic in the fullest way. He and his followers became fools to the world, and troubadours for God, even if they are more commonly understood as troubadours to the world and fools for God. They lived in poverty, accepted the celibate life, fed the poor, and lived among the sick. The lepers caused no fear, they brought them food and cared for them. Begging was not a shame but a denial of power; they were mendicants in order to spend their time serving others, and their passion may have helped wake up the world of their day, much as it woke up the Church to areas of neglect as it struggled in its task to hold together the whole of western Europe after the collapse of the western Roman Empire.  In the end the greatest point that can be made about Francis is that he was simply a Catholic Saint.

Chesterton’s works can be found on the web and many of his books are available for free on iBooks if you have. If the excerpt above has peaked your curiosity about Francis and maybe even more of Chesterton, then know I give my highest recommendations for both.

A Trinity

Hilaire Belloc

A Trinity

Of three in One and One in three

My narrow mind would doubting be

Till Beauty, Grace and Kindness met

And all at once were Juliet.

a short poem by: Hilaire Belloc

The Ball and the Cross/Stephen of Hungary

St. Shephen King of Hungary by Ladislav Nemeth

O.K., so maybe you know my affinity for G.K. Chesterton, and picked up on the title of one of my favorite books by the “Apostle of Common Sence”. The Ball and the Cross is a fiction that plays out a debate. The story starts as a bit of classic fantasy just like you would expect from the 1920’s, but then shifts to the main characters which are a Roman Catholic and an atheist, who having vowed to kill each other in a dual, end up hashing through the arguments, debates and perspectives until they develop a mutual respect for each other and become friends. The clash of the ancient faith and enlightenment skepticism are often offset by other world-views and philosophies which the main characters encounter in their attempts to begin their dual.

St. Stephen of Hungary

The naming of the book has to do with an old christian symbol knows as the Globus Cruciger, which translates as cross bearing orb, or in Chestertonian, a ball and a cross.

It was while looking into the history of St. Stephen of Hungary that in noticed the Confessor King was holding one of these objects, in an icon as well as a statue. The globus cruciger is often seen in the hands of leaders from the middle ages and on. It represents the world, (the globe) and the authority of Christ (the cross). As early as the 5th century this symbol can be found in religious art or writing, and later on would top off church buildings. It is also noteworthy that the world is a globe and not some flat slab or disc; another proof to debunk the flat earth myth.

St. Stephens feast day is August 16th, in the current roman calender, and he lived from 1001- 1038 AD. He is one of several Confessor Kings, or Kings that confessed Christ and are considered Saints, and like some of the other Confessor Kings, he was a warrior as well as a contemplative.  A sort of King Arthur to Hungary, he would bring the country out of the turmoil of rebellion from pagan princes and turned Hungary into a christian nation.

Some may find it strange the idea of a confessor king. Too often the cry of church and state is applied to the medieval church which really misses the point. In fact too often the church and state did not see eye to eye. Emperors were excommunicated and  popes were imprisoned. The tension which existed between the Church and State flies in the face of claims of modern critics who use such church/state stereotypes to push their own idiology/state agendas today. There was a balance then between the civil government and the church, and while the two often did find the time to work together, they also protected their own authorities from control by the other. Much of this would change after the reformation, though to some extent existed in the Eastern Roman Empire, as kings, and Caesars would also take on the responsibilities not only of the empire or state but also of the church, and it is here that the blending of church and state become apparent. Even in cases where the church and state overlapped, it should be understood within the time; after all christianity was the common belief and world view of the middle ages.

Stephen, like the other confessor kings were men who walked in both worlds. Like the ball and the cross, they are symbols on a personal level of the world and the cross, of people who are living in the world but not of it but caught up into a unity of ideas. Like any person of faith be they pauper or king, Stephen walks in two worlds, he is a king who lived his faith, he holds authority over his domain, and yet found his own world the domain of the King of Kings.

Those Dwelling Alone

20120623-074459.jpgIt has often been stated that monasteries were a way to shut the world out, that monks and nuns attempted to hide away in a cloistered life while the world fell to pieces. The term monastery comes from the greek monos and means “to dwell alone”, but in fact “those dwelling alone” had a larger impact on the world than we know. While reading last night I came across a section on this subject from G.K. Chesterton from his excellent “Short History of England” which touches on this subject:

In the tremendous testament of our religion there are present certain ideals that seem wilder than impieties, which have in later times produced wild sects professing an almost inhuman perfection on certain points; as in the Quakers who renounce the right of self-defence, or the Communists who refuse any personal possessions. Rightly or wrongly, the Christian Church had from the first dealt with these visions as being special spiritual adventures which were to the adventurous. She reconciled them with natural human life by calling them specially good, without admitting that the neglect of them was necessarily bad. She took the view that it takes all sorts to make a world, even the religious world; and used the man who chose to go without arms, family, or property as a sort of exception that proved the rule. Now the interesting fact is that he really did prove it. This madman who would not mind his own business becomes the business rule. Now the interesting fact is that he really did prove it. This madman who would not mind his own business becomes the business man of the age. The very word “monk” is a revolution, for it means solitude and came to mean community—one might call it sociability. What happened was that this communal life became a sort of reserve and refuge behind the individual life; a hospital for every kind of hospitality. We shall see later how this same function of the common life was given to the common land. It is hard to find an image for it in individualist times; but in private life we most of us know the friend of the family who helps it by being outside, like a fairy godmother. It is not merely flippant to say that monks and nuns stood to mankind as a sort of sanctified league of aunts and uncles. It is a commonplace that they did everything that nobody else would do; that the abbeys kept the world’s diary, faced the plagues of all flesh, taught the first technical arts, preserved the pagan literature, and above all, by a perpetual patchwork of charity, kept the poor from the most distant sight of their modern despair. We still find it necessary to have a reserve of philanthropists, but we trust it to men who have made themselves rich, not to men who have made themselves poor. Finally, the abbots and abbesses were elective. They introduced representative government, unknown to ancient democracy, and in itself a semi-sacramental idea. If we could look from the outside at our own institutions, we should see that the very notion of turning a thousand men into one large man walking to Westminster is not only an act or faith, but a fairy tale. The fruitful and effective history of Anglo-Saxon England would be almost entirely a history of its monasteries. Mile by mile, and almost man by man, they taught and enriched the land.

From G.K. Chesterton A Short History of England

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Septem Artes Liberales

The Seven Liveral Arts -Herrad Von Landsberg -1180

Several years ago I had the great pleasure of reading my first book from G.K. Chesterton. I have been a fan ever since. A writer of fiction, history, poetry, mystery, plays, and faith; all filled with his trademark paradoxical and profound writing style. One of the first books of his which I read was called Orthodoxy. It is from this book that the following quote is taken, and it concerns a term known as the Dark Ages.

I take in order the next instance offered: the idea that Christianity belongs to the Dark Ages. Here I did not satisfy myself with reading modern generalisations; I read a little history. And in history I found that Christianity, so far from belonging to the Dark Ages, was the one path across the Dark Ages that was not dark. It was a shining bridge connecting two shining civilizations.
If any one says that the faith arose in ignorance and savagery the answer is simple: it didn’t. It arose in the Mediterranean civilization in the full summer of the Roman Empire. The world was swarming with sceptics, and pantheism was as plain as the sun, when Constantine nailed the cross to the mast.
It is perfectly true that afterwards the ship sank; but it is far more extraordinary that the ship came up again: repainted and glittering, with the cross still at the top. This is the amazing thing the religion did: it turned a sunken ship into a submarine. The ark lived under the load of waters; after being buried under the debris of dynasties and clans, we arose and remembered Rome.
If our faith had been a mere fad of the fading empire, fad would have followed fad in the twilight, and if the civilization ever re-emerged (and many such have never re-emerged) it would have been under some new barbaric flag.
But the Christian Church was the last life of the old society and was also the first life of the new. She took the people who were forgetting how to make an arch and she taught them to invent the Gothic arch.
In a word, the most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we have all heard said of it. How can we say that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.

This quote came to mind while reading about the development of education in Europe. As early as the 5th century, schools were forming in monasteries and at cathedrals mostly to teach clergy. Later in the 11th century, universities would arise that would take the knowledge preserved through the collapse of the Roman Empire and set the stage for modern science. It’s through these years when the western empire (Europe) was struggling, that the church, which was the only institution to survive the fall of the Roman Empire, held things in the west together.

Islam, coming in to play in the 7th century took control of much of the former Empire and with the wealth of knowledge gained made several advances in science and math. Byzantium in the east, being the capital of the remaining Empire held things together, but the west was too far removed from the authority in Byzantium to benefit from it’s power. In the west there were several revivals through this period such as the Carolingian Renaissance, and schools of learning in Ireland, and several notable persons such as Saint Isidore of Seville who produced a Latin Encyclopedia in the 7th century. But in all of this it was the church which stabilized the west, and over the years Europe began to get back on track.

The main subjects one would learn during this time were those of the Trivium and Quadrivium. Trivium consisted of Grammar, Dialectic and Logic. These were preparatory for the areas of study in the Quadrivium which were Geometry, Arithmetic, Astrology and Music. Together these formed the seven liberal arts. Upon completion of these, the student would gain a master of arts and from there could advance into the study of Theology, Law or Medicine.

The arts date back to Greek times, but the seven noted above are generally attributed to a 5th century pagan named Marianus Capella. Later they were separated into the Trivium (latin for Way of Three) and Quadrivium (Way of Four). Gerbert d’Aurillac who would become Pope Sylvester II, was pivotal in the education of Europe, having mastered the Trivium and Quadrivium he became a teacher himself having as one of his students the future emperor Otto III. Gerbert is also known for introducing the abacus to Europe, as well as Persian/Islamic numerals for arithmetic (how does one do math with roman numerals?), and the astrolabe.

Sylvester II at the right hand of Holy Roman Emperor Otto III – his former pupil who made him pope in 999.

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