St. Philip Benizi (1233-1285) and the Servite Order of the Sorrows of Mary

Dr. Robert Hickson

7 March 2021

Saint Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274)

Epigraphs

Chewing in exile his bitter cud of memories, Dante had plenty to say in The Divine Comedy about his native city of Florence. Even amid the splendours and alleluias of Paradise, he [Dante] permits the ex-troubadour Falco to flame suddenly into denunciation [from Heaven!] of the City of the Flower [Florence, Italy], the devil’s own weed, ‘planted by him [Satan] who first turned his back upon his Creator‘….

“Fined and banished [from Florence] under the pain of death in 1302,….the sombre poet [Dante, d.1321] neither forgave his city nor forgot. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he never deigns to mention, in the Commedia or elsewhere, a very noble and saintly contemporary with whom he probably brushed shoulders in the streets [of Florence] more than once. Born [in 1265] thirty-two years after Fra Filippo Benizi, who became the fifth General of the Servite Order and was canonised at length in 1671, Dante must, like any other Florentine of his day, have known the eminent friar [Philip Benizi] at least by sight and repute for some time [d. 1285].” (D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait: Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285) (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1959), page 1—my bold emphasis added.)

***

There are saints in the calendar of many kinds, some born in sanctity in every century and some achieving it, in some cases after half a lifetime of storm and stress. The huge, rough, tough, violent-tempered soldier who became St. Camillus de Lellis, and has been called the father of the Red Cross and the field-ambulance, is an outstanding example at one end of the scale; examples of the ‘cradle-saint’ at the other end [of the scale] are plentiful enough. Saint Philip Benizi is one of these latter, clad through life in that invisible armour which the Enemy is powerless to penetrate. Prayer came naturally to him from the beginning. Hold Writ was his normal reading, and a special devotion to the Mater Dolorosa drew him inevitably into a new order inspired by it [i.e., the religious order of the Servites].” (D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait: Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285) (1959), page 24—my emphasis added.)

***

“Many of them [these psychological and cultural theories] omit the point that Servite devotion to the Sorrows of Mary—which are the Prophecy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt, the Loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem, the Meeting on the Way to Calvary, the Witnessing of the Crucifixion, the Taking-Down of Christ from the Cross, and the Burial [i.e., with the Feast of the Seven Dolours, now celebrated on 15 September]—is neither morbid nor morose. There will be few men of his age [the 13th Century] radiating a serener joy all his life than Fra Filippo Benizi.” (D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait: Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285), page 25—my emphasis added.)

***

In 1959 a book was published in English on the Thirteenth Century in Europe, and especially on a lesser known saint in the Marian Servite Order—which is also called the Servants of the Sorrows of Mary. That modest saint was Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285).1

My brief essay now proposes to accentuate Saint Philip’s good influence upon a wide variety of men and women, despite the abiding inattentiveness of one often bitter exile, namely his famous fellow Florentine: the poet Dante (1265-1321).

By way of contrast, our learned and sympathetic author, D. B. Wyndham Lewis, recurrently presents for us “that pre-eminently [Philip] Benizian blend of serene simplicity and holy obstinacy which foils the world.” (134-135—my emphasis added) We, too, shall now try to be more attentive and grateful, as well.

It is now fitting for me to select and present a few representative passages from the book which vivify the principles and character of Saint Philip Benizi, often with his older mendicant companions:

It is not difficult to picture them trudging very slowly along the dusty highroad in their black woollen habits shouldering their sacks. An hour or so after leaving Bologna they reached the site of a considerable portent, to which there is sufficient testimony.

At a point of the road near Castroleone, about five miles out of Bologna, a large solitary tree standing in the baking fields [in August of 1269] a little distance off the highroad offered the only shade for miles. A knot of figures could be seen already under its branches. In compassion for his two elders [of his Servite Order], now lagging and weary, Fra Filippo [the elected General of the Marian Order, as of 1267] turned of the road for a rest. As they approached the tree they were welcomed by raucous laughter and rude japes, and perceived that the group was composed of soldiers and women of the lowest type, possibly drunk. The roughest company was unlikely to daunt a medieval friar, who was well used to it, but this collection proved even worse than the tavern-company which waylays Glutton in Piers Plowman [William Langland’s fine and rhythmical 14th-Century long-line poem] on his way to confession….

Under a fusillade of obscenities and blasphemous raillery Fra Filippo spoke up, rebuking the offenders, firmly but without heat, in the name of Christ and His mother, and bidding them amend their language for their souls’ sake. They received the reproof with viler insults and louder and uglier blasphemies, the women doubtless being far more fluent than the men. As they bellowed and screamed and laughed a premonition came to St. Philip. “My dear brethren,” he said, facing them during a pause with tears in his eyes, “there are some of you here who, unless they repent, are due to die this very day. Almighty God is very kind and pitiful. Turn you to Him and He will have mercy on you—He has sent me even now to call on you for this. Be certain that if you turn to Him He will forgive, but if you refuse you may well tremble. His bow is bent, His arrows are sharp, the weapons of death are ready. Give up this vicious life and trust in His mercy who does not desire the death of a sinner, but that he may turn from his wickedness and live.

The words in their quiet earnestness had some effect. The majority sobered down in shame, as the typical medieval ruffian was always liable to do when so addressed; but a blackguard minority turned angry, belching horrid blasphemy and menacing the friar with consequences if he did not shut his mouth and go. Fra Filippo continued unmoved to plead with them. (63-65—my emphasis added)

The reader may now better appreciate further the provocations and responsive warnings that took place before “the Judgment of Castroleone” (65) condignly and fearfully soon took place (65-66).

Another set of revealing incidents occurred in Florence, and then in Pistoia, while Philip was still the revered General of the Servite Order, and it all started after the death of the Bishop of Florence and the resultant acclamations on behalf of Philip spontaneously:

Since the death of…[the] Bishop of Florence, in December 1274, the see had been vacant [and it would remain so “till 1286, the year after St. Philip’s death” (83)], and violent-faction quarrels even over the question of a successor were frequent. Preaching daily at the Annunziata Fra Flippo harangued his fellow-citizens, noble, bourgeois, and proletarian, with eloquence and point. If they were incapable of making peace for themselves, he cried one evening, they might at least unite in praying the Holy See to give Florence a bishop capable of settling their foolish and murderous quarrels.

This seems to have penetrated. As the preacher [Philip] continued, a buzz went around the crowd. The Annals preserve the gist of it. Vivacious Tuscan gestures and flashing dark eyes may be easily supplied in imagination. (82—my emphasis added)

As Philip Benizi heard the gathering acclamations to have him as their bishop, he slipped hastily out “and quitted Florence then and there for some refuge unknown, and probably Monte Senario, to emerge a week or two later at Pistoia.” (83)

He was to encounter further disorders at Pistoia too:

In Pistoia the citizens were brawling politically and socially as elsewhere—Guelf against Ghibelline….In Pistoia likewise the generosity of the municipality and private citizens towards religious orders, and the mendicants [such as the Servites] in particular, in the matter of alms for building and endowment, demonstrates that typically medieval blend of ungovernable passions and unstinted charity which is so baffling to the modern world. Guelf and Ghibelline, having listened to the same Mass and sermon and given alms in the same dish, would whip our their swords again outside the church door and resume the fight. In his exhortations from the pulpit Fra Filippo minced no words….The city [of Pistoia], like Florence and others, is an accursed and wretched Babylon and its citizens are men of blood, creatures with neither sense nor reason, sacrificing human lives and souls to the Evil One their idol; calling on the Lord only in blasphemy, inviting His terrible judgment. Yet if they will but seek peace, the God of Peace will forgive and be with them all. ‘Meanwhile we, servants of the Most Blessed Virgin, implore her to obtain for you from Almighty God the blessings of peace, unity, and concord….’ (83-84—my emphasis added; and Philip’s own words are, at the end, partly quoted.)

Once again we may see how Saint Philip’s own words have also touched the sincere hearts of some men, even bravos and ruffians:

His [Philip’s] words had considerable effect. Many conversions are spoken of by the early chronicles; many scenes of reconciliation between enemies, many returns to religion, not a few recruits to the Servants of Mary. Among these in Pistoia was a leading Ghibelline bravo named Vanni Buonaccurso, noted for impiety, ferocity, and bloodlust. Having heard a sermon by St. Philip, he followed him afterwards into the priory and fell on his knees, saying that God’s word had pierced his heart and begging to be heard in confession. Soon afterwards he was admitted into the novitiate of the Servants of Mary. He turned out as passionate in good work as he had been [passionate] in evil doing. The cultus [public veneration] of Blessed Bonaventure of Pistoia was approved in 1828.(84—my emphasis added.)

Now we may consider Saint Philip’s influence on a prominent Guelf in Florence:

A more gratifying reward than anything the Republic could offer had come to Fra Filippo. Among the chief disturbers of Florentine peace was a member of the leading Guelf clan of the Adimari, a huge, quarrelsome swashbuckler of immense strength named Ubaldo, now in his late thirties. Brought up from childhood in an atmosphere of flaming pride and vengeance, twice exiled with his fellow-Guelfs, he had long since become a formidable duellist and a portent in Florentine affrays. Equipping him instinctively with an eagle beak and fierce hawk-like eyes, one may very well see Messer Uboldo degli Adimari stepping with his lackeys across a piazza in his steel hauberk and bassinet and particoloured hose, had on sword-hilt, ready to spring as a tiger. He too was powerless against the arrow of grace. Accidental (as the world would say) contact with Fra Filippo Benizi during the late peace-negotiations changed Ubaldo’s life. Not long afterwards, having made all possible reparation to his enemies, Ghibelline and other, he took the Servite habit and, after many penances and vigils, Holy Orders. A few months after his elevation to the priesthood Fra Filippo took Fra Ubaldo for his confessor, which speaks sufficiently for his new character, and he remained one of the best beloved of disciples until the General’s [Philip Benizi’s own] death [in the Autumn of 1285]. After thirty-five years of religious life Fra Ubaldo died in the odor of sanctity. His impressive remains rest in the [Servite] chapel on Monte Senario, not far from the [seven holy] founders’ shrine. (88-89—my emphasis added)

All of the seven original 1233 Holy Servite Founders—Servants of the Seven Sorrows of Mary—were canonized together by Pope Leo XIII, in 1888.

The last portion of A Florentine Portrait memorably presents Saint Philip’s preparation for death, as well as his gradual farewell to his Servite brothers. One representative aspect of this depiction is worthy of our consideration now, with the hope that the reader might slowly read and savor the last thirty pages or so of the book.

Here begins, as follows, that one aspect of his life and farewell, as above proposed:

So Fra Filippo returned to Florence [after seeing, in May 1285, the Pope in Rome], to work and wait in prayer and patience as before…. It was while he was thus engaged that Fra Filippo was informed by an interior voice, one day or night during prayer, that he had not very much longer to live.

Thanksgivings for this good news offered, Fra Filippo [as the Superior General] at once set about winding up affairs in hand with the assistance of Fra Lottaringo, whom he had long since designated as his successor. This concluded, he retired for a space to the Monte Senario cave of former years [8 miles north of Florence] to equip his soul for the final journey….

Fra Filippo [then] had no other ties with Florence outside the Annunziata. He had, moreover, decided already where to live his last days. The smallest and poorest of all the Servite houses of Italy was the priory of San Marco at Todi of Umbria. Where could a General of the Servants of Mary, after a lifetime of evangelical poverty and humility, more fitly die? ….

Fra Filippo, with his two friars in attendance, took the road to Umbria, sighting the red-tiled roofs of Todi in the late afternoon of August 9, 1285. (109-112—my emphasis added)

Now we go with Philip in approach to Todi and San Marco:

There was a great bustle towards sunset in the streets of Todi. An exuberant populace was streaming down to the southern gate, carrying flowers and flourishing leafy branches…. Some horsemen passing St. Philip and his brethren on the road had announced their approach, and a spontaneous mass-reception was afoot….Having perceived, to his dismay and horror, that the crowd ahead was already strewing the road with leaves and flowers, as if he had been some person worthy of honour, Fra Filippo hoped to escape round the walls and take refuge in San Marco undetected. As he and his companion-friars made their way round to the Orvieto gate two women stepped out of the shadows at a lonely part of the way and accosted them. These were prostitutes, it appeared; but, they sobbed as St. Philip questioned them with compassion, unwilling ones, driven to this shame by hunger and despair. One of the friars carried a little unexpended alms in the common purse, just enough for three days’ bare subsistence. Handing it to the women, Fra Filippo implored them to leave off their trade for the next three days at least, and meanwhile to pray hard and commit themselves to God’s pity and providence. On their own accord they promised, weeping, to go to confession, and turned away. “What punishment, do you think, my brothers,” asked Fra Filippo indignantly as the friars went on, “has Almighty God in store for those of the heartless and hypocritical rich who drive the poor into slavery like this?”

As he spoke they reached the Orvieto gate, to be met by a considerable crowd surging out with cries of “Ecco Flilippo! Evviva il santo!” ….

The two penitent prostitutes encountered by Fra Filippo and his companions near the Orvieto gate [came again]. According to…an eye witness, these women came to San Marco next day to make their confession to St. Philip in person. At their second visit Fra Filippo recommended total withdrawal from the world…. and the women, destined to figure on the Servite rolls as Blessed Helena and Blessed Flora, took him at his word. (115-117—my emphasis added)

Such is another abiding presentation of the character and manner and sanctity of Saint Philip Benizi. Moreover, “the essence of St. Philip’s message for the Atomic Age [as of 1959], as for any other, [is expressed by]: love, humility, patience, compassion, self-sacrifice, self-effacement, the sharing of the sufferings of the Mother of Sorrows with the seven swords in her heart.” (133—my emphasis added)

FINIS

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1 D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1959), 137 pages. All further references to this brief essay will be to this 1959 text, and placed above in parentheses in the main body of our comments for convenience.

Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton on Membership in the Catholic Church: Questions and Discernments De Ecclesia

Dr. Robert Hickson

10 February 2021

Saint Scholastica (d. 543)

Muriel Agnes Hickson (d. 2009)

Epigraphs

“The ecclesiastical magisterium, in teaching and guarding this dogma [as of 1958], insists that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church and at the same time likewise insists that people who die without ever becoming members of the Catholic Church can obtain the Beatific Vision.” (Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, The Catholic Church and Salvation, page x—my bold emphasis added)

***

“Ultimately the process [of obtaining salvation in eternal life] is achieved and perfected when the person saved comes to possess the life of grace eternally and inamissibly [i.e., incapable of being lost], in the everlasting glory of the Beatific Vision. There is genuine salvation, however, when the man who has hitherto been in the state of original or mortal sin is brought into the life of sanctifying grace, even in this world, when that life of grace can be lost through the man’s own fault.” (Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, The Catholic Church and Salvation, page 134—my bold emphasis added)

***

In 1958, there was, in lucid prose, a timely and timeless, historical and theological book published just before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) by Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton. Its main title is The Catholic Church and Salvation and its partly explanatory subtitle is In the Light of Recent Pronouncements by the Holy See.1 From the outset, Fenton makes us aware of one developing accent in modern theology as it would soon again show itself more fully and mercifully—if not vaguely and laxly and even equivocally–at the Second Vatican Council:

Any person who is at all familiar with what the great mass of religious and theological writings of our times [up to 1958] have had to say about this dogma is quite well aware of the fact that, in an overwhelming majority of cases, these writings have been mainly, almost exclusively, concerned with proving and explaining how this dogma [“irreversible doctrine”] does not mean that only members of the Catholic Church can be saved. (ix-x—my emphasis added)

Throughout his searching book, Fenton even discusses the challenging matter of an “implicit desire” as well as the comparable matter of a person’s somehow being “in”—or “within”—the Church, but not “a member of the Catholic Church.”

Therefore, we now specifically ask, even at the outset of our commentary, just how one may be in the Catholic Church, but not be a member of the Church? (We must certainly, and always fittingly, acknowledge that we must never set limits to the Omnipotent Mercy of God!) We must, moreover, always consider how, as professed Catholics, we are practically and prudently to conduct ourselves amidst non-Catholics—especially as a Catholic missionary today. And we should thus be well grounded, but on what kinds of fundamental doctrines and on what theoretical premises, lest we be too superficial and have an incomplete presentation of the proportionate truth?

At one point of his final chapter on “Some Sources of Misunderstanding” (165-189), Fenton says:

The teaching that man could be in the Church only in intention or desire and not as a member and still attain eternal salvation “within” this society is, of course, tremendously important. It is a part of Catholic doctrine about the nature of God’s ecclesia. (170)

In his earlier chapter entitled “Salvation and the Basic Concept of the Church” (145-164), Fenton makes another important note in passing:

If a man really fights for truth and virtue, if he really works to serve and to glorify the Triune God, then he is fighting on the side of, and in a very real sense “within,” the true Church itself. (163)

Shortly afterwards, Fenton clarifies his own deeper opinion, by way of contrast:

If, on the other hand, a man is not working to please God, to glorify and serve Him, this man does not really love with the love of charity.

The situation of the person who is not a member of the Church, but who is “within” it by intention, desire or prayer can be understood best in comparison with the condition of a Catholic in the state of mortal sin. Despite the fact that he is a member of the society which “steadfastly contends for truth and virtue,” this individual’s will is turned away from God and strives for objectives opposed to those sought by the Church. He is one of those “who refuse to obey the divine and eternal law, and who have many aims of their own in contempt of God, and many aims also against God.” In other words, in spite of his membership in the supernatural kingdom of God on earth, he is actually working and fighting for the things the kingdom of Satan seeks.

The ultimate orientation of a man’s activity comes from the supreme intention of his will. For the man in the state of grace, this supreme intention is the love of charity. It is the desire to please God in all things. The man in the state of mortal sin has some other supreme objective. There is some end he seeks in contempt of God. Even though some of his acts are good in themselves, ultimately his life is directed to the attainment of that end, which is the purpose of the kingdom of Satan.

If a member of the Church should die in the state of mortal sin, he will be condemned forever to hell, the homeland of Satan’s kingdom. He will, in other words, be assigned forever to the social unit in which and with which he was fighting at the moment of his passage from this life. In exactly the same way, the non-member of the Church who dies believing God’s message with the assent of faith, loving God with the affection of charity, and sincerely willing and praying to enter God’s ecclesia, will live forever in the social unit within which he willed and prayed to live and for which he was fighting at the moment of his death. (163-164—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Msgr. Fenton had also earlier made two other formulations:

If a man really fights for truth and virtue, if he really works to serve and to glorify the Triune God, then he is fighting on the side of, and in a very real sense “within,” the true Church itself. And, if a man really has divine charity, he is actually fighting this battle for the Church. (163—my emphasis added)

When a man desires or prays for entrance into the true Church of Jesus Christ, even when this objective is apprehended only in an implicit way by the person praying, the first two of these conditions are necessarily fulfilled….In order that this prayer for entrance into the Church may be effective for salvation, the prayer and the intention behind it must be enlightened by faith and motivated or animated by charity. And it must also be a persevering prayer. (162—my emphasis added)

CODA

As exemplified by this short introduction and its serene citations, one would fittingly and very fruitfully read—and read again and closely—and always with a deeply savor—Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton’s thorough and well-written 194 pages on The Catholic Church and Salvation (1958). Then contrast the comparable words of the Second Vatican Council. The contrast will clarify the mind.

–FINIS–

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, The Catholic Church and Salvation: In the Light of Recent Pronouncements by the Holy See (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1958—some 194 pages in the hardback edition). All further references will be to this edition, and placed above in parentheses of the main body of this essay.

Conversations with Father John A. Hardon About the Incarnation of Christ

Dr. Robert Hickson

30 December 2020

Saint Sabinus (d. 303)

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (d. 2000)

Epigraphs

“How many of the three infused theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity—did Christ’s Sacred Humanity possess?” (Father John A. Hardon, S.J. in a conversation with R. Hickson in the late 1980s.)

***

“Christ as well as His Blessed Mother were both morally free, we trust, but were they thus free to sin? In Heaven we too are to be free, but will we in Beatitude thereby be free to sin? These exceptional capacities, limits, and gifts of liberty appear to be higher forms of freedom which are now especially to be aspired to by us, and striven after—with persevering virtue and under Divine Grace.” (Father John A. Hardon, S.J. in a conversation with R. Hickson in the early 1990s.)

***

In the recent public discourse concerning our federal U.S. presidential elections and their ongoing turbulent aftermath, there has been much mention of our seeking after and attaining “more liberty” and “more freedom.” When I first heard these often used but undefined conceptual words, I asked myself a couple of questions: “what do you mean and how do you know?”; secondly, do you also say or imply a “freedom from something”? or, rather, is it especially a “freedom for something”? Is it a liberation from, or a liberation for? Or are we to understand that both forms of freedom are intended to have a purposive accent and resolute orientation, even if they are not always abidingly virtuous? As in a desperate escape from a palpable tyranny.

These posed questions have also caused me to recall some things Father John Hardon, S.J. first told me, and then asked of me, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It involves some sacred Catholic matters and illuminates for us still some differentiated aspects of freedom and liberty. For example, the traditional words “Libertas Ecclesiae” have not the same meaning as “Libertas Religiosa”—calling for the Liberty of the Church, as distinct from calling for the vaguer modernist and ecumenical sense of “Religious Liberty” which became prominent, but often conveniently equivocal or even intentionally undefined in the discussions and official documents of Vaticanum II (1962-1965) and in the later years.

In the late 1980s, the Jesuit Father John A. Hardon told me about an earlier incident with his Catholic seminary students in New York at Saint John’s College. During one exchange of ideas with his theological students about the Humility of God in the Incarnation, he had surprisingly asked them: how many of the theological gifts did Jesus possess in his Sacred Humanity? Almost all of the seminarians then promptly answered: “All three of these infused gifts!”

To these unexpected words of a more or less common opinion (as lucidly expressed by his seminarians in their theology class), Father Hardon himself promptly made a terse summary critique and began a further commentary about those who had surprisingly thought that Christ’s humanity possessed all three of the Theological Virtues. Father Hardon said: “You do not thus seem to understand the fuller meaning of Christ’s Hypostatic Union.”

Father Hardon then proceeded to say of the Incarnation of Christ that “Christ is a Divine Person Who has assumed a passible Human Nature. That is to say: His Sacred Humanity showed forth that His assumed nature was both passible (able to suffer) and abidingly capable of genuine moral freedom, which thereby also enabled Him to accept and to choose freely His own sacred Passion. Christ was not a Monothelite, one who claimed that Christ had no truly free human will, but only a divine will. If that were so, it would mean emptying out the meaning of His freely chosen Passion, to include His Agony in the Garden, Lacerations, Crucifixion and Death.” (Monothelitism was gradually observed to be the subtlest of all the Christological Heresies. We should still consider this fact.)

Moreover, it was in Virginia a few days later that Father Hardon—himself a Dogmatic Theologian by formation—very slowly and quite sadly said to me in person that he was quite surprised by his mature seminary students: their unexpected and abiding doctrinal errors as they were openly expressed by his advanced seminarians in New York. Father Hardon then even began to examine me, a laymen, before we went together into Father Hardon’s local catechetical class on the Church’s traditional Doctrine of Grace: Divine Grace. That is to say, he also first proposed to me me several pertinent questions on Christology; and he then asked me for my own specific answers, to include my explanation and dogmatic rationale for the Doctrine of the Hypostatic Union along with some of its indispensable unfolding implications. (It is so that I shall not likely forget those solemn tests and answers under Father Hardon’s candid and close scrutiny. They indeed taught me trenchantly how to understand many other doctrinal matters of permanent moment.)

One of those implications Father Hardon also discussed with me presented to me another formidable mystery: “the temptations of Christ” Who suffered acutely and greatly, especially because Our Lord did not have a Fallen Human Nature. That is to say, unlike us with our perduring Fallen Nature, most of us. That is to say, it is so but for a few exceptions, such as with Mary His Mother herself who was, like her Son, also sinless from her Immaculate Conception on, and throughout her lived actions and ponderings of her heart and mortal life.

Father Hardon also asked me another truly searching and challenging theological question: “What do strict Calvinists and faithful Lutherans have in common with Pelagianism – specifically concerning the special Gifts that our Proto-Parents were given and received in their Creation before the Fall?”

Father’s brief answers to my ignorance first spoke of three kinds of gifts received from God before the Fall—as informed and faithful Catholics still affirm—and they were: natural gifts, praeternatural gifts, and supernatural gifts. After the Fall, man lost both the supernatural gifts of Divine Grace and the unique but limited preternatural gifts (e.g., bodily immortality and ordered control of his various passions, and the like), although this latter category of praeternatural gifts, very mysteriously, would never be fully restored, not even after Christ’s Redemptive Passion, Resurrection, and elevating Restoration of the generous life of Virtue and Divine Grace, especially of Sacramental and Sanctifying Graces.

After the Fall, and having been deprived of Grace, man with his natural gifts and his still gifted nature would be nonetheless wounded by ignorance and by our obscuring and disordered passions.

However, as Father Hardon himself accented it, strict Protestants and strict Pelagians both deny the very existence of supernatural and praeternatural gifts generously granted to our Proto-Parents before their Fall. Thus for Protestants, as a consequence, our fallen nature was not just deprived of grace and other prelapsarian gifts, but became even depraved. Man—under these dark premises—was thus thought to be deeply corrupted, not only wounded and deprived; but also depraved. For, it was claimed, that man had now fallen darkly beneath Nature. It was now a matter, not just of a “Natura deprivata,” but also of a “Natura depravata.” A dark view it was of man and his resultant nature, for sure! In contrast to Luther, Catholic theological anthropology shows itself to be more generous and forgiving, I think, but it is not Semi-Pelagian. Therefore, the Catholic way is potentially more joyful, and with supportive good reasons and with hope for a sincere Gaudium et Laetitia.

Father Hardon and I also discussed a note on presumption in relation to hope, as it was first deftly presented by the German Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper; for it is so that presumption, as a form of pride, is also—at least in the Traditional Catholic Catechisms—one of the two sins against hope, the second one being despair (and its preparatory spiritual sloth). Among his other fresh insights, Josef Pieper says that “presumption is the premature anticipation of final fulfillment [Vita Eternal and its Beatitude]”; “despair is the premature anticipation of a final non-fulfillment.”

On another occasion, when discussing with Father Hardon some non-Catholic ideas (especially 1647 Calvinist ones) about freedom, redemption, grace, perseverance, and salvation, the Jesuit priest also deeply and memorably appreciated another wise and succinct Catholic insight spoken to me by Josef Pieper personally in his home in Germany: “Given the riskful and formidable dowry of our individual freedom—and until the very moment of our death—we retain the permanent possibility of our voluntary defection.”

Lest we fall from humility and lest we then fall into sinful presumption, our own hope of salvation—our own Spes Salutis—must recurrently pray for a certain fear: the Donum Timoris, the Gift of Fear. That special fear is that we ultimately could be finally separated from the Good and the Beloved.

The Gift of Final Perseverance, the Catholic Council of Trent has written, is a “Magnum Bonum”—it is indeed, sub Gratia, a very Great Gift. It certainly allows us to live our morally free and manly lives amidst the challenges of a Great Adventure full of risk, and to do it with humility and without that smooth, insidious and self-assured presumption that is—along with despair—regrettably a grave sin against hope.

Father Hardon also abidingly knew all of these components and aspects of adventure and our obligatory responsibility; and he (along with Josef Pieper (d. 6 November 1997)) has helped me so much, and so well, to savour still many fundamental facts and principles of our historic Catholic Faith.

Father Hardon, S.J. died on 30 December 2000, R.I.P. Every day I still pray for him gratefully.

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

Archbishop Viganò: Restore Christianity with Good Literature

Note: this essay has first been published at LifeSiteNews.com and is re-printed here with kind permission.

by Dr. Maike Hickson

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has recently written a preface for a book, Gratitude, Contemplation, and the Sacramental Worth of Catholic Literature, a collection of essays written by my husband Dr. Robert Hickson over the course of several decades. Being a distillation of his life work, this new book aims at presenting to the readers a whole set of inspiring books – most of them Catholic – that can help us restore a Catholic memory. That is to say, these books can help us revive a sense of Catholicity that comes to us from time periods and regions where the Catholic faith was an integral part of the state and society, from a lived faith.

We are very grateful to Archbishop Viganò for his preface, which highlights the importance of culture – and importantly, literature – for the revival of Christianity, and therefore we decided to publish it here (see full text below). His comments aim at turning our minds to the future, preparing the ground for a time where Christ again will reign in the heart and minds of man. His preface is therefore a sort of manifesto of faith and hope, and a wonderful instruction for us on how to go about preparing the ground for Christ.

The Italian prelate and courageous defender of the faith points to the importance of having a memory of our Catholic culture. “Memory,” he writes, “is a fundamental element of a people’s identity, civilization and culture: a society without memory, whose patrimony consists solely of a present without a past, is condemned to have no future. It is alarming that this loss of collective memory affects not only Christian nations but also seriously afflicts the Catholic Church herself and, consequently, Catholics.” The lack of culture among Catholics today, he adds, is “not the result of chance, but of systematic work on the part of those who, as enemies of the True, Good and Beautiful, must erase any ray of these divine attributes from even the most marginal aspects of social life, from our idioms, from memories of our childhood and from the stories of our grandparents.”

Describing this cultural tabula rasa that has taken place among Catholics, Archbishop Viganò goes on to say that “Reading the pages of Dante, Manzoni or one of the great Christian writers of the past, many Catholics can no longer grasp the moral and transcendent sense of a culture that is no longer their common heritage, a jealously guarded legacy, the deep root of a robust plant full of fruit.”

On the contrary, he explains, “in its place we have a bundle of the confused rubbish of the myths of the Revolution, the dusty Masonic ideological repertoire, and the iconography of a supposed freedom won by the guillotine, along with the persecution of the Church, the martyrdom of Catholics in Mexico and Spain, the end of the tyranny of Kings and Popes and the triumph of bankers and usurers.”

Archbishop Viganò clearly shows us that he understands the concept of a “cultural revolution” as developed by the Communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who aimed at winning the minds of the people by influencing and dominating their culture.

This cultural – and with it spiritual – empoverishment among Catholics, according to the prelate, “has found significant encouragement also among those who, within the Catholic Church, have erased 2,000 years of the inestimable patrimony of faith, spirituality and art, beginning with a wretched sense of inferiority instilled in the faithful even by the hierarchy since Vatican II.” It was the very hierarchy of the Church – together with many simpler clergymen – who helped promote such a devastation of the art within the realm of the Catholic Church. Let us only think of the modern churches, altars, and of modern church music!

With powerful words, Archbishop Viganò describes how this destruction is ultimately aimed at God Himself: “Certainly, behind this induced amnesia, there is a Trinitarian heresy. And where the Deceiver lurks, the eternal Truth of God must be obscured in order to make room for the lie, the betrayal of reality, the denial of the past.” In light of this analysis, it nearly seems to be a counter-revolutionary act to revive Catholic literature, Catholic music, Catholic architecture.

Explains the prelate: “Rediscovering memory, even in literature, is a meritorious and necessary work for the restoration of Christianity, a restoration that is needed today more than ever if we want to entrust to our children a legacy to be preserved and handed down as a tangible sign of God’s intervention in the history of the human race.”

It is in this context that he kindly mentions the “meritorious work” of this new book, praising its “noble purpose of restoring Catholic memory, bringing it back to its ancient splendor, that is, the substance of a harmonious and organic past that has grown and still lives today.” He adds that “Robert Hickson rightly shows us, in the restoration of memory, the way to rediscover the shared faith that shapes the traits of a shared Catholic culture.”

Dr. Hickson’s new book was published last month and contains 25 essays on many different Catholic authors, such as Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Maurice Baring, Evelyn Waugh, Josef Pieper, George Bernanos, Ernest Psichari, Father John Hardon, S.J., L. Brent Bozell Jr., and, last but not least, the Orthodox Christian authors Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The themes of this book are war and peace, justice, the Catholic vow, saints, friendship, chivalry, martyrdom and sacrifice, just to name a few. The essays of the book were written from 1982 until 2017, the first being an essay where Hickson developed the concept of “sacramental literature” and the importance of “restoring a Catholic memory.” Anthony S. Fraser, the son of the famous Catholic convert and traditionalist, Hamish Fraser, kindly had edited the essays for his friend, before he so suddenly died on August 28, 2014, the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo. May his soul rest in peace. We thank you, Tony!

Here is the full preface written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò:

Memory is a fundamental element of a people’s identity, civilization and culture: a society without memory, whose patrimony consists solely of a present without a past, is condemned to have no future. It is alarming that this loss of collective memory affects not only Christian nations, but also seriously afflicts the Catholic Church herself and, consequently, Catholics.

This amnesia affects all social classes and is not the result of chance, but of systematic work on the part of those who, as enemies of the True, Good and Beautiful, must erase any ray of these divine attributes from even the most marginal aspects of social life, from our idioms, from memories of our childhood and from the stories of our grandparents. The Orwellian action of artificially remodeling the past has become commonplace in the contemporary world, to the point that a class of high school students are unable to recognize an altarpiece depicting a scene from the life of Christ or a bas-relief with one of the most revered saints of the past. Dr. Robert Hickson calls this inability “deficiency of dogmatic understanding”, “Catholic illiteracy of pestilential proportions”.

Tabula rasa: millions of souls who only twenty or thirty years ago would have immediately identified the Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan or Saint Jerome or Saint Mary Magdalene are capable of seeing only two men along a river, an old man with a lion and a woman with a vase. Reading the pages of Dante, Manzoni or one of the great Christian writers of the past, many Catholics can no longer grasp the moral and transcendent sense of a culture that is no longer their common heritage, a jealously guarded legacy, the deep root of a robust plant full of fruit.

In its place we have a bundle of the confused rubbish of the myths of the Revolution, the dusty Masonic ideological repertoire, and the iconography of a supposed freedom won by the guillotine, along with the persecution of the Church, the martyrdom of Catholics in Mexico and Spain, the end of the tyranny of Kings and Popes and the triumph of bankers and usurers. A lineage of kings, saints, and heroes is ignored by its heirs, who stoop to boasting about their ancestors who were criminals, usurpers, and seditious traitors: never has falsification reached the point of such incomprehensible perversion, and it is evident that the desire to artificially create such ancestry is the necessary premise for the barbarization of the offspring, which is now practically accomplished.

We must also recognize that this removal has found significant encouragement also among those who, within the Catholic Church, have erased two thousand years of the inestimable patrimony of faith, spirituality and art, beginning with a wretched sense of inferiority instilled in the faithful even by the Hierarchy since Vatican II. The ancient apostolic liturgy, on which centuries of poetic compositions, mosaics, frescoes, paintings, sculptures, chiseled vases, illuminated chorales, embroidered vestments, plainchants and polyphony have been shaped, has been proscribed. In its place we now have a squalid rite without roots, born from the pen of conspirators dipped in the inkwell of Protestantism; music that is no longer sacred but profane; tasteless liturgical vestments and sacred vessels made of common material. And as a grey counterpoint to the hymns of St. Ambrose and St. Thomas, we now have poor paraphrases without metrics and without soul, grotesque paintings and disturbing sculptures. The removal of the admirable writings of the Fathers of the Church, the works of the mystics, the erudite dissertations of theologians and philosophers and, in the final analysis, of Sacred Scripture itself – whose divine inspiration is sometimes denied, sacrilegiously affirming that it is merely of human origin – have all constituted necessary steps of being able to boast of the credit of worldly novelties, which before those monuments of human ingenuity enlightened by Grace appear as miserable forgeries.

This absence of beauty is the necessary counterpart to an absence of holiness, for where the Lord of all things is forgotten and banished, not even the appearance of Beauty survives. It is not only Beauty that has been banished: Catholic Truth has been banished along with it, in all its crystalline splendor, in all its dazzling consistency, in all its irrepressible capacity to permeate every sphere of civilized living. Because the Truth is eternal, immutable and divisive: it existed yesterday, it exists today and it will exist tomorrow, as eternal and immutable and divisive as the Word of God.

Certainly, behind this induced amnesia, there is a Trinitarian heresy. And where the Deceiver lurks, the eternal Truth of God must be obscured in order to make room for the lie, the betrayal of reality, the denial of the past. In a forgery that is truly criminal forgery, even the very custodians of the depositum fidei ask forgiveness from the world for sins never committed by our fathers – in the name of God, Religion or the Fatherland – supporting the widest and most articulated historical forgery carried out by the enemies of God. And this betrays not only the ignorance of History which is already culpable, but also culpable bad faith and the malicious will to deceive the simple ones.

Rediscovering memory, even in literature, is a meritorious and necessary work for the restoration of Christianity, a restoration that is needed today more than ever if we want to entrust to our children a legacy to be preserved and handed down as a tangible sign of God’s intervention in the history of the human race: how much Providence has accomplished over the centuries – and that art has immortalized by depicting miracles, the victories of the Christians over the Turk, sovereigns kneeling at the feet of the Virgin, patron saints of famous universities and prosperous corporations – can be renewed today and especially tomorrow, only if we can rediscover our past and understand it in the light of the mystery of the Redemption.

This book proposes the noble purpose of restoring Catholic memory, bringing it back to its ancient splendor, that is, the substance of a harmonious and organic past that has grown and still lives today, just as the hereditary traits of a child are found developed in the adult man, or as the vital principle of the seed is found in the sap of the tree and in the pulp of the fruit. Robert Hickson rightly shows us, in the restoration of memory, the way to rediscover the shared faith that shapes the traits of a shared Catholic culture.

In this sense it is significant – I would say extremely appropriate, even if only by analogy – to have also included Christian literature among the Sacramentals, applying to it the  same as action as that of blessed water, the glow of the candles, the ringing of bells, the liturgical chant: the invocation of the Virgin in the thirty-third canto of Dante’s Paradiso, the dialogue of Cardinal Borromeo with the Innominato, and a passage by Chesterton all make Catholic truths present in our minds and, in some way, they realize what they mean and can influence the spiritual life, expanding and completing it. Because of this mystery of God’s unfathomable mercy we are touched in our souls, moved to tears, inspired by Good, spurred to conversion. But this is also what happens when we contemplate an altarpiece or listen to a composition of sacred music, in which a ray of divine perfection bursts into the greyness of everyday life and shows us the splendor of the Kingdom that awaits us.

The author writes: “We are called to the commitment to recover the life and full memory of the Body of Christ, even if in our eyes we cannot do much to rebuild that Body”. But the Lord does not ask us to perform miracles: He invites us to make them possible, to create the conditions in our souls and in our social bodies so that the wonders of divine omnipotence may be manifested. To open ourselves to the past, to the memory of God’s great actions in history, is an essential condition for making it possible for us to become aware of our identity and our destiny today so that we may restore the Kingdom of Christ tomorrow.

+ Carlo Maria Viganò
Titular Archbishop of Ulpiana
Apostolic Nuncio

28 August 2020
Saint Augustine
Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church

Another Memoir of a Slow Learner: The Judeo-Masonic Yoke as an anti-Catholic Tradition

Dr. Robert Hickson

8 October 2020

Saint Bridget of Sweden (d. 1373)

Epigraphs

“Exoteric, as distinct from esoteric, relates in part to external reality in contrast to a person’s own thoughts, interpretations, and feelings. It is knowledge that is public, as distinct from being provocatively secretive or cabalistic. Exoteric knowledge need not be knowledge that comes easily or, as it were, automatically. But it should be ascertainable, knowable, and communicable, not only for an elite. In the exoteric, there is no secret doctrine. However, exoteric knowledge presented quite openly can also easily be or seem to be a provocative weakness and appear even so weak that it is provocative to others, and hence even sometimes be deceitfully exploited by others. The Catholic Faith is intimately exoteric. ” (The fruit, in part, of R.D. Hickson’s searching 1974 conversations in Spain with Philosophy Professor Frederick Wilhelmsen (1923-1996)—in a close paraphrase of his vivid and formative insights.)

***

“You do not understand, Hickson. The greatest censorship is self-censorship.” Such were the words of the Russian-Soviet historian Alexander Moiseyevich Nekrich spoken to me in person in the late 1970s, after he was allowed to leave the USSR permanently in 1976. (He was Jewish, I believe, at least ethnically so, but I am not certain.)

The atrophying effects of such an extended self-censorship caused me later to open myself once again to some deeper reflections about secrecy and the occult.

For example, there is a story told to me by an academic philosopher and a native of Lebanon who later converted from his atheism and became a Catholic monk. It was a story about a close Lebanese friend of his father and about a secret that this good friend told him one night at great peril to himself.

This friend of his father wanted to give the young man a warning as well as present to him a piece of little-known, sometimes dangerous truth. This senior man had become a Mason and had gradually advanced “all the way to the top” (his words)—unlike the young man’s own father who had earlier entered, but soon left, Masonry and he did it quietly and from one of the lower ranks and the lower hierarchical orders of “White Masonry.”

The essential and consequential insight which was presented and further explained by the senior occult Mason was as follows: “Masonry is a Gentile front and instrument for Zionism.” (I copy the words exactly, and without further commentary here.) The senior Mason asked for a promise that the young man would never reveal his formidable words, nor their informed source, until he had died. (The young scholar, a future Catholic monk, faithfully kept his solemn promise to his father’s dear friend.)

Many other sources down the years—but not to be discussed here—have shown the close association of Jewry and Freemasonry. However, there usually seems to be genuine fear and a considerable self-censorship connected with any deeper discussion of such a theme and palpable set of historical facts, even if such a discussion only wants to examine these strategic and collaborative matters in the time since the 1789 French Revolution itself, and therefore the additionally consequential and public 1791 and 1806 Emancipations of the Jews—first by the Jacobins and then by Napoleon himself before he went east on military conquest. In any case, whatever one is allowed (or effectively not allowed) to examine and candidly to discuss in public is certainly a sign of real power. Important discourse is often then constricted, or at least attenuated.

Was there ever such a thing as “The Judeo-Masonic Yoke” and to what extent has it been growing and consolidating itself, in order to reform (or to weaken and then punish) its own traditional adversaries such as the traditional Catholic Church? But, our resultant and protracted self-censorship about such matters distorts and atrophies our own perception of reality. Do we agree?

However, I remember the post-Vatican II years of 1969-1971 and the then widely permitted and candid discussions and even published books about “The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition”1 and, especially then prevailing Jewish indignation about the demeaning or trivializing “hyphen” in the very concept and implications of “the Judeo-Christian Tradition”—at least as the learned Hebrews saw it to be so. The hyphenated yoke, as it were, did not at all please them, because the components placed together under the same yoke were arguably themselves moving in very different directions, and with incommensurate purposes and irreconcilable goals. The modern Jews and the modern Christians (especially traditional Catholics) were still too divided and not sufficiently compatible. This is entirely understandable. But, what happened to ongoing “dialogue” and so-called “ecumenism”? What about the more tolerant recommendations and declarations of Vatican II (1962-1965), not only Nostra Aetate (28 October 1965), among other quite progressive conciliar texts?

But it is also understandable—especially for earlier Catholics—that, under the long reign of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), both Masonry and the public conduct of modern Judaism were closely observed and critiqued, and quite separately so. They were certainly not yet to be combined and examined together as under one yoke, as in the concept and proposed reality of “Judeo-Masonry,” which is at least an improvement over the misleading notion of “Judeo-Christian.”

In 1884, moreover, Pope Leo XIII had promulgated Humanum Genus (20 April 1884), his Encyclical that was largely a stern condemnation of Masonry and its occult operations and advanced secrecy. Then, in 1890, about a hundred years after the 1789 beginning of the French Revolution, Pope Leo allowed and encouraged the authoritative Jesuit Journal, La Civiltà Cattolica to publish a three-part analysis entitled “The Jewish Question in Europe”—which was openly defending public justice and mercy, and is usefully structured in three parts: “The Causes; The Effects; The Remedies.”

Much has happened since that restive century after the French Revolution, and especially after the effects of its own revolutionary understanding of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” Yet the traditional Catholic Faith and her Irreformable Doctrine and aspirational Moral Life of Virtue still remain entirely exoteric. That is to say, there is no secret doctrine in the Catholic Faith; the Church is not in any essentially fundamental way esoteric. Moreover, we Catholics have no supplementary nor complementary Talmud or Kabbala. Nor any other secret doctrines or societies. Are we thereby finally considered to be fools, deluded fools?

Nonetheless, while we are remaining and truly being inwardly and sincerely exoteric it is often an exploitable burden, and not an advantage in the operations of a strictly human history. Our forthright doctrinal and moral openness sometimes constitutes even a grave vulnerability and disadvantage.

We must thus learn to suffer well. But this cannot be so without our first (and indispensably) embracing the Cross, and then also without our own generous receptions of the exoteric sources of sanctifying Divine Grace, unto the possibility of Vita Aeterna and its Beatitude—if we do not freely and finally defect.


–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1See, for example, Arthur A. Cohen, The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition (New York: Harper & Row, 1969, 1971).

Memoirs of a Slow Learner and a Deficient Fruit Inspector

Dr. Robert Hickson 21 September 2020

Saint Matthew (d. 65)

Epigraphs

“Who were exempt from taking the 1910 Antimodernist Oath, why, and since when? Were the Vatican II Fathers themselves and their Advisors (Periti) also exempt, or did some of them gravely and consequentially perjure themselves?”

***

“What are the actual repercussions and some further implications of 17 July 1967: Pope Paul VI’s formal rescinding and abrogation of the Antimodernist Oath?”

***

Some time ago when I spoke to a friend of mine about my recurrent “reflections on life from the vantage point of a mere fruit inspector,” I should have fittingly added also another small truth: my persistent desire someday to present mine own “memoirs of a slow learner.”

For, after graduating as a new second-lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers from West Point on 3 June 1964, I lived largely out of the country, or in secluded military training, up until January of 1971. It was then that I unexpectedly returned to a civilian Graduate School at the University of North Carolina in the same State as Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at which military post I was first formed as a young Army Special Forces Officer, and was thus to be a recipient of the cherished “three-prefix” to my MOS in 1966, after I had first attended parachute and ranger schools (where a 7-prefix and a 8-prefix were, respectively, to be added first to my main “Military Occupational Specialty” (MOS)). In 1966, however, there was not yet—not until 8 April 1987, some twenty years later—a special military branch set aside and designated for Army Special Forces overall. And so, before 1987, the “three-prefix” was the designator to be found in one’s personnel records, along with our patched green berets.

During all this very active time (1962-1971), the deep contrasts of foreign strategic and religious cultures influenced me greatly and prompted me to wonder about many fundamental things, and these things were often matters of moment to man. Although I was then still very innocent and ignorant, I had a strong and vivid sense of adventure—and an unquenched propensity to ask searching, sometimes uncomfortable, questions. I thereby gradually came to understand some things about the Church, too.

Now, for instance, I am still gradually learning many important things about the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church and its equivocal earlier preparations and its confusing aftermath. Here, too, I have been, alas, a deficient “Fruit Inspector” and am still a “Slow Learner.”

For instance, in late July of 1967, I was returning from Istanbul to New York City by way of a civilian ship, from my one-year military assignment in Turkey, with visits to Greece, Turkey’s own opponent also on the eastern flank of NATO, to include the contested divided island of Cypress.

Earlier in July of 1967, on page one of The New York Times near the bottom of the page, Tad Szulc contributed a special 17 July report from Rome published on 18 July 1967 and with the following headline: “Pope Said to Cancel Antimodernist Oath; Pope Paul Said to Abrogate Antimodernist Oath.” And this is what he said in his first paragraph from Rome, which was dated 17 July 1967: “Pope Paul VI was reported today to have ordered the abrogation of the oath against modernism that Roman Catholic priests and ecclesiastical officials have been obliged to take for the last 57 years [i.e., since its promulgation by Pope Pius X on 1 September 1910].”

It was only later that I heard of, and then considered the implications of, this 17 July 1967 promulgated recension and abrogation of that solemn Oath established by Pope Pius X in 1910.

Shortly after this Roman act, the lax and rebellious Land O’ Lakes Conference in Wisconsin (20-23 July 1967) took place. Its own final Statement about academic freedom and authority was signed and promulgated on 23 July 1967, which was only a few days before Pope Paul VI went to Turkey.

Pope Paul VI came to visit Turkey from 25-26 July 1967, and he was on one of his further missions of diplomacy and so-called ecumenism, first of all with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras, and then also briefly with the government of the Turks.

Paul VI was meeting Athenagoras for the second time. He had first met Athenagoras in Lebanon, and both meetings were importantly arranged by Dr. Charles Malik, a prominent Lebanese academic and diplomatic figure, also as Lebanese ambassador to the U.S. and at the United Nations. (Dr. Malik was an Orthodox Christian and academic philosopher, but, despite his abiding Catholic sympathies, he never became a Roman Catholic after Paul VI’s words to him privately and personally—i.e., that it was sufficient for him to believe in the Council of Florence, 1431-1449; and so he did not need to convert.1)

It was in such a lax and softly tolerant way that the revolutions of 1968 were gradually fomented. I came to believe that, without the optimistic and selectively merciful Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and its immediately applied aftermath (late 1965-early 1968), there would not have been the widespread revolutions of May 1968 and thereafter. In late 1968 and 1969, I saw some of the violence in Japan after I had returned from Vietnam. The Socialists in Japan were, surprisingly, even more radical and violent than the Communists.

It was in 1969 that Paul VI’s revolutionary New Order of the Mass was promulgated and then gradually spread throughout the world. In June of 1968, Paul VI also published his partly attenuated and yet still widely criticized Encyclical Humanae Vitae.

But, it was very soon after Paul VI became pope in the middle of June 1963 that he quietly first lifted (on 5 July 1963) the ban and in 1966 introduced the spreading allowance of priestly officiating at cremations for human bodies after death. There is always both a Slow Path as well as a Fast Path in a Revolution. And we must also closely follow the Language as well as the Money.

We may look at the itch for a novel use of words—for example, “dialogue” and “ecumenism” (or syncretism? perhaps as a subtle relativism?) and “evolution” (that is, an “ongoing Revelation”?, or the “Evolution of Dogma” instead of affirming the just permanence of “irreformable doctrine”?).

So much has changed since that Summer of 1962 when I, at a callow nineteen years of age, first returned to West Point from our memorable German Exchange Program abroad, just before the October 1962 beginning of Vaticanum II amidst the threats in Berlin and risks of nuclear war, not only in Cuba.

Soon I was to hear (or read) such things as: “our result is more process”; “God needs us to complete Himself”; and “They have asked the Blessed Mother to leave the Marriage Feast of Cana”—“and they did not even give her the time to say: ‘Vinum non habent‘”—i.e., “they have no wine.”

It is as if the Blessed Virgin Maria were a multi-layered obstacle (“obex”) to a Grand Ecumenism!

It is true, I have often learned some deeper truths by carefully inspecting the fruits of new or alien ideas and actions and strategic networks and attitudes. But too often, alas, I have been a slow learner.

CODA

In the context of this brief essay, I also wanted to recommend to our readers that they revisit my 7 October 2019 reflections on the words of Cardinal Walter Brandmüller concerning the Oath against Modernism: https://ordodei.net/2019/10/08/the-oath-against-modernism-1910-1967-and-cardinal-walter-brandmullers-recent-words/

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Charles Malik told this whole “ecumenical” scandal to his intimate boyhood, Lebanese friend, Brother Francis Maluf, M.I.C.M. (Dr. Fakhri Maluf), who, in turn, told the whole story to me in person. Malik never formally converted.

Maurice Baring’s Multi-Faceted 1912 Travelogue: Round the World in Any Number of Days

Dr. Robert Hickson

9 September 2020

Saint Peter Claver, S.J. (d. 1654)

Epigraphs

“Shortly afterwards [on 21 June 1912], he started on his tour round the world [until October of 1912], the result of which was what seems to me one of the most enchanting, also one of the most unusual travel-books ever written: Round the World in Any Number of Days.” (Dame Ethel Smyth, Maurice Baring (London: William Heinemann LTD, 1938), page 42—my bold emphasis added.)

***

“In October of the same year (1912) The Times sent him to the Balkans, where war had broken out. I think this persistence of newspaper editors in using Baring as War Correspondent is impressive and creditable to both parties….One may conclude it was not only on account of his vivid narrative style, but also because of his enterprise and reliability, that he was once more sent to the seat of war by the foremost English Journal.” (Dame Ethel Smyth, Maurice Baring (1938), pages 42-43—my bold emphasis added.)

***

“And I, for one, in any case, felt that come what might, I had had my dream. I had had a glimpse of Eden, a peep into the earthly paradise.” (Maurice Baring, Round the World in Any Number of Days (London: William Heinemann LTD, 1926), page 97—my emphasis added.)

***

It should be of worth to us yet today to see some of the nourishing perceptiveness and insights of Maurice Baring in his 1912 travel writings less than two years before the outbreak of World War I. Although Baring’s vivid and varied record of his five-month trip was first published in the United States in 1914, we shall now refer to, and often to quote, only from a later publisher’s unified and final 1926 English edition, which is still entitled: Round the World in Any Number of Days.1

From June to October 1912, Maurice Baring (1874-1945) first sailed east from England to Naples, Italy, on to India and Ceylon, then on to Australia and New Zealand, and briefly (but very movingly) through Roratonga and Papeete, Tahiti (mindful also of the beautiful Marquesas Archipelago) and onward to San Francisco, and then winding up by train coming down the Hudson River Coast into New York City (and Long Island), from which he sailed back to England, in order to begin his mission to the Balkans as a trusted War Correspondent.

After this brief introduction and partial summary, let us first consider how Baring concretely presents a fresh mango as it was recommended to him in Ceylon so as to alleviate the “damp heat that saps your very being” (38):

It is when you are dressed for dinner and you come down into the large high dining-room, full of electric fans, that you realize that it is impossible to be cool. It is an absorbing, annihilating damp heat that saps your very being.

The first thing to do is to eat a mango. Will it be as good as you are told it is? Yes, it is better. At first you think it is just an ordinary apricot and then you think it is a banana; no, fresher; a peach, a strawberry, and then a delicious, sharp, fresh, aromatic after-taste comes, slightly tinged with turpentine, but not bitter. Then you get all the tastes at once, and you know that the mango is like nothing else but its own incomparable self.

It has all these different tastes at once, simultaneously. In this it resembles the beatific vision as told of by St. Thomas Aquinas. The point of the beatific vision, says St. Thomas, is its infinite variety. (38—italics in the original)

Baring then immediately elaborates upon his unusual analogy of Beatitude’s “infinite variety” with the concurrent variety of tastes accessible to one who is savouring a fresh mango:

So that those who enjoy it [i.e., the vision of beatitude] have at the same time the feeling that they are looking at a perfect landscape, hearing the sweetest of music, bathing it a cold stream on a hot day, reaching the top of a mountain, galloping on grass on a horse that isn’t running away, floating over tree-tops, reading very good verse, eating toasted cheese, drinking a really good cocktail [or wine!]—and any other nice thing you can think of, all at once. The point, therefore, of the taste of the mango is its infinite variety. It was probably mangoes which grew in Eden on the Tree of Knowledge, only I expect they had a different kind of skin then, and were without that cumbersome and obstinate kernel which makes them so difficult to eat. (38-39—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Such a perceptive and extended passage on beatitude and a mango fruit is a representative instance of Baring’s multi-faceted and unusual pre-World War I travelogue. And there is more to come.

For example, Maurice Baring—the Russian scholar and linguist—then freshly mentions the reliable reports or realities of “ghosts at sea” and he modestly says:

But I have spoiled that story. I have merely told the bare facts; what you want is the whole thing: the dialogue, the details; the technical terms. Ghosts at sea are more frightening than ghosts on shore, but I think the worst of all ghosts are river ghosts or, for instance, the ghosts that haunt the rivers of Russia. They have green, watery eyes, hair made of weeds, and they laugh at you when they see you and then you go mad. This naiad ghost is called Russalka. I have never seen one or any other ghost either, but I have once in the company of a friend [Hilaire Belloc] heard a ghost sing. (47—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Baring at once adds a footnote to this passage in the 1926 edition, where he now more revealingly says: “Now that the age of reticence has gone his name [my friend] can be mentioned. It was H. Belloc.” (47—my emphasis added)

Throughout his Round the World, Maurice Baring mentions and quotes his friend Hilaire Belloc, as well as G.K. Chesterton, and even Dr. Samuel Johnson, the noted, often witty, Lexicographer. For example, Baring says:

So that one wonders [at times] how it happens that any one goes to sea [and thereby also then has “the possibility of drowning”!]; and one is inclined almost to agree with Dr. Johnson’s opinions on the subject.

“A ship,” he said, “is worse than a gaol [jail]. There is in a gaol better air, better company, better conveniences of every kind, and a ship has the additional disadvantage of being in danger [as in drowning!]. When men come to like a sea-life they are not fit to live on land.”

“Then,” said [James] Boswell, “it would be cruel in a father to breed his son to the see.”

It would be cruel,” said Johnson, “in a father who thinks as I do. Men go to sea before they know the unhappiness of that way of life; and when they come to know it, they cannot escape from it, because it is then too late to choose another profession, as, indeed, is generally the case with men when they have once engaged in any particular way of life.” (52—my emphasis added)

In view of these wholehearted and differentiated words, Baring soon again quotes Dr. Johnson who also sincerely said: “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier or not having been at sea.” (58)

Maurice Baring also shows his sincere admiration of the poet and scholar, Andrew Lang (59-61).

We thus propose to give only a selection of Baring’s thoughts. First of all, Baring gives us the context for his subsequent personal words about the Scottish poet, scholar, and translator, Andrew Lang himself, who had just died in July of 1912 (having been born in Scotland in 1844):

And yet it happens that many writers [like Belloc and Baring themselves!] write books on different subjects. Andrew Lang, for instance; at Fremantle [a port-city on the west coast of Australia] we heard the sad news of his death. Personally I knew him slightly and he had shown me much kindness. Also we had corresponded about a ghost story. I have literally fed on his books since I was fifteen. When a boy awakens to a love of literature and his enthusiasm for a number of authors is kindled to a white-hot pitch, he wishes to see that enthusiasm confirmed and justified in the writings of older men, and he turns to the critics. The critics pull his favourite poets to pieces, and sniff, and cavil, and patronize, and analyze, and damn with faint praise, and dissect, and blame, and make reservations, and deal out niggard approval. Nothing is so trying to the young as the jaded palate of elder critics. But in Andrew Lang’s criticism (so lightly and beautifully put, so unpedantic and so easy) the boy will find the enthusiasm he expects. (59—my emphasis added)

Baring then remembers other examples of Lang’s admirable qualities:

In a letter to me Andrew Lang once said he appreciated all the poets from Homer to Robert Bridges, with the exception of Byron. I’m sorry he didn’t like Byron. But I didn’t like Byron as a boy, and it was as a boy that Andrew Lang what I most needed, praise of my favourites—Shelley, Keats, William Morris, Dumas; of all the poets I had just discovered and the romantics in whom I was revelling, and of French verse into the bargain.

As a boy, when I began to read the critics, I found that they despised French verse, and I wondered. But Andrew Lang was my solace. He understood. He knew the language….You must be used to the sound of French to appreciate French verse….

Andrew Lang is an author who spent the large capital of his wit, his learning, his wide sympathies, royally and generously without stint; he was a master of English prose, and some of the best pages he ever wrote were flung into leaders in the Daily News….He had a fine and rare appreciation of the world’s good verse; he could write ghost stories, fairy tales, doggerel; he was a supreme dialectician, an amusing parodist, a prince of letter-writers, as well as a poet;—perhaps he was of all things a poet. The following translation [by Andrew Lang] of Rufinus’ lines to Rhodocleia, sending her a wreath, is a good example of his verse. He has turned an exquisite Greek poem into an exquisite English poem: [then the full poetic translation is actually provided on page 61]….

Practically I saw nothing of Australia, but I suppose there is no harm in writing these notes—the mere rough impressions of a fugitive traveller. (59-61—my bold emphasis added)

Such is Maurice Baring’s sincere forthrightness and his modesty.

In September of 1912, Baring was in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, and we hear about someone he memorably met:

One of the most interesting people I have met here is a French lady of the highest culture and education, Soeur Marie Joseph, who is at the head of a Home of Compassion for derelict children. She went out to the Crimean War [1853-1856] under Florence Nightingale and looked after the wounded on the battlefield that knew nothings of anaesthetics. She told me that sometimes the doctors, after a day of surgical operations, would be drunk with the fumes of the blood. The wounded had to be tied down to be operated on, and sometimes, where this was not practicable, people had to sit on them.

Soeur Marie Joseph is very fond of New Zealand. She came out, attracted by what she heard of the [native] Maoris, and she knew the Maoris with an intimate thoroughness. She has a great admiration for them; and she gave me many instances of their chivalry and nobility of character….This morning at one of the Catholic churches here the priest preached a most interesting sermon….I have had a glimpse of New Zealand, such as no books and no pictures could give me, and I have consequently enriched my store of experience and extended the frontiers of my outlook. (85-86—my emphasis added)

In mid-September 1912, Baring arrived first in Roratonga en route to Tahiti, and noticed, among other distinctive qualities, that the Tonga natives spoke with special tones:

Their voices are in harmony with the liquid musical quality of their language, which consists of soft open vowels. It is, I suppose, the most melodious of all human languages….

I bathed in the sea, and then…I went on board once more. From Roratonga it only takes two days to get to the island of Tahiti [in French Polynesia], and the steamer anchored at Papeete [the capitol of French Polynesia] on Friday, September 20 [1912].

Roratonga gives you a kind of foretaste of the whole charm and beauty of the South Seas. It is the appetizer, …not the whole meal. Tahiti is the whole thing; the real thing, the thing that one has dreamt about all one’s life; the thing which made Stevenson [Robert Louis Stevenson] leave Europe for ever. All tellers of fairy tales, and all poets from Homer downwards, have always imagined the existence of certain Fortunate islands [“the Happy Isles”] which were so full of magic and charm that they turned man from his duty and from his tasks, labour, or occupation in which he was engaged, and held him a willing captive, who would not sell his captivity for all the prizes of the busy world. (90-91—my emphasis added)

After Baring’s further presentations of Tahiti’s allurements (or perilous temptations?), he says:

I cannot imagine anything more ideal than to possess a schooner fitted with a small motor in case of calm, and to cruise [under sail] about the waters between Tahiti and the Marquesas [the archipelago], which, one is told, are the most beautiful of all….They are things to be seen; they are places to be seen and lived in; not to be written about. The pen can give no idea of their charm….Loath as I was to go, at the end of twenty-four hours I felt it was a good thing that I was going, otherwise I should have been tempted to remain there for the rest of my life….

We left Tahiti in the afternoon, when the greater part of the population came down to the wharf to see us off. We left feeling like Ulysses [Odysseus] when he was driven by force (or by Penelope’s letters) from the island of Calypso. And I, for one, in any case, felt that come what might, I had had my dream. I had had a glimpse of Eden, a peep into the earthly paradise. (95-97—my emphasis added)

Before leaving these varied and inviting samples of Maurice Baring’s 1912 travelogue, I propose to present one scene from his brief time in San Francisco:

The next night I left San Francisco for Chicago. Before leaving San Francisco, I had a dinner at a restaurant called the “New Franks” [run by “a Dalmatian” with “a French cook or cooks”]. It is a small restaurant, and it provides the best food I have ever eaten anywhere….I was not hungry the night I went to the New Franks. I was not inclined to eat, but the sheer excellence of the cooking there excited my greed, and bade my appetite rise from the dead….And I had never tasted anything so good in my life [not even a mango!]….

The trouble about small restaurants, when they are excellent, is, that they become well known, and are then so largely patronized that they become large and ultimately bad.

Once I was walking in Normandy with a friend [perhaps Hilaire Belloc?], and we stopped in a very small town to have luncheon at an hotel. We asked if there was any wine. Yes, there was some wine, some Burgundy, some Beaune. We tried a bottle, and it surprised us. Surprise is, in fact, a mild word to describe the sharpness of our ecstasy.

“Is not this wine very good?” we asked of the host.

“Yes, sirs,” he answered, “it is very good. It is very old, but there is not much of it left.”

Now, my friend was a journalist, who writes about French towns and French wines in the English Press.

Whatever happens,” I said to him, “if you write about this town and about this wine, which I know you will do, you must not divulge the name of the town.”

He agreed. He wrote an article about the town, he grew lyric over the wine, and looted all the poets of the world from Homer downwards for epithets and comparisons fit for it. He did not mention the name of the place.

The year after he returned to the same place and ordered a bottle of the Burgundy. There was no more left. Some English gentlemen, the host told him, had come on purpose from England to finish it.

Now, I am sure some very intelligent man, and a man who was passionately fond of good wine, read the article and guessed, from the description, the whereabouts of the little French town and the precious liquid.

The moral of this is: “Don’t tell secrets in the newspapers; don’t even tell half a secret.”

The evening I left San Francisco I had a small adventure. I asked a man the way to some street. He told me the way, and then, catching hold of my arm, he said, “You will stand me a drink.”….Then he said, “I’m a bum….I’m a booze-fighter.” He added with engaging frankness that he was half drunk: an under-statement. (114-118—my emphasis added)

Such is the richness and variety of Maurice Baring’s writing, even his travel writing on the eve of the coming and soon spreading War.

God’s good foison” – “God’s good abundance”—is what the Catholic poet, John Dryden (d. 1700), once generously said of the earlier Catholic poet, Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400).

Such an abundance also characterizes the writing and the heart of Maurice Baring, who, three years before his 1912 voyage, became a Roman Catholic. It was on 1 February 1909 that he was received into the Church, on the Vigil of Candlemas.

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1 See, first of all, Maurice Baring, Round the World in Any Number of Days (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company—The Riverside Press Cambridge, October 1914), 248 pages. The final 1926 edition, with longer dedications added, is published, as follows: Maurice Baring, Round the World in Any Number of Days (London: William Heinemann LTD, 1926 ), pages v-xv, and 1-140. Illustrations are by Basil Blackwood; and Dedications are now to his close friend, Dame Ether Smyth, Doctor (and Composer) of Music; and to his valorous Companion in World War I, Major Bowman, D.S.O., M.C. Henceforth, all references to and quotations of Baring’s text will be to the 1926 edition, and placed above in parentheses in the main body of this brief essay. We shall now accent a representative selection of Baring’s insights.

Maurice Baring, One of God’s Gentlemen, Presents Xantippe: The Wife of Socrates

(Author’s Note: This 2017 essay on Maurice Baring is intended to be a fitting sequel to the recently posted essay on Max Beerbohm’s Parody of some of Maurice Baring’s subtle writings. This essay shows the deep character of Maurice Baring himself, as well as presents an instance of his gifted writing on certain personalities from the Classical Ancient World of Greece.)

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                      9 June 2017

Feast of Mary Mother of Fair Grace

Saint Columba (Saint Columbkille) (d. 597)

Maurice Baring, One of God’s Gentlemen, Presents Xantippe:

The Wife of Socrates

Epigraphs

“On the eve of Candlemas 1909, I was received into the Catholic Church by Father Sebastian Bowden at the Brompton Oratory [in London and on 1 February]: the only action in my life which I am quite certain I have never regretted. Father Sebastian began life as an officer in the Scots Guards. He had served as A.D.C. [Aide-de-Camp] under the same chief and at the same time as my uncle, Lord Cromer. He lived all the rest of his life at the Oratory and died in 1920. He was fond even in old age of riding about London on a cob [his small horse of sturdy build]. His face was stamped with the victory of character over all other elements. He was a sensible Conservative, a patriot, a prime example of an English gentleman in mind and appearance; a prince of courtesy, and a saint; and I regard my acquaintance with him and the friendship and sympathy he gave me as the greatest privilege bestowed on me by Providence.” (Maurice Baring, The Puppet Show of Memory, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1922), pp. 395-396—my emphasis added)

***

“That night [17 May 1915]…there was a rumour that B.K. [Major Basil Barrington-Kennett] had been killed. The next day the rumour was confirmed.

If ever a man deserved a soldier’s death, to die leading his men and the men of his own regiment into battle, it was B.K. But of all the bitter losses one had to bear throughout the war, it was, with one exception [i.e., his cherished long-time friend, Auberon “Bron” Herbert, Captain Lord Lucas, d. 3 November 1916 at age 40; and to whom, in 1909, Baring had dedicated his parodic Dead Letters (1911)], this particular loss I felt most, minded most, resented most, and found most difficult to accept.

He [“B.K.”] was not an old friend of mine. I had never seen him before the war. But he was bound up with every moment of my life during the first months of the war, and I had got to know him intimately and to admire him more than others and to delight in his company more than in that of others….But when this particular piece of news [about his death] came I felt the taste of the war turn bitter indeed, and apart from any personal feelings, one rebelled against the waste which had deprived, first the Flying Corps and then the Army, of the services of so noble a character. He was the most completely unselfish man I have ever met: a compound of loyalty and generosity and a gay and keen interest in everything life has to offer.

Not long ago I heard a little boy of eight years old asked if he knew what the word gentleman meant. He said, ‘Yes, of course.’ On being pressed for a definition he said: ‘A gentleman is a man who loves God very much and has beautiful manners.’ This definition exactly fitted B.K.” (Maurice Baring, R.F.C., HQ.–1914-1918 (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1920), pp. 92-93—my emphasis added)

***

“He [General Éduard de Castelnau, 1851-1944] seemed to belong to a nobler epoch than ours [circa 1914-1918], to be [himself] a native of the age of chivalry, of that time [in the 13th Century] when Louis IX, who is known as Saint Louis, dispensed justice under a spreading oak-tree. He had the easy familiarity, the slight play of kindly irony, the little ripple of humour, the keen glance, the foresight and forethought, that politesse du cœur [that deep and sincere politeness of heart], that complete remoteness from what is common, mean, base, self-seeking, which are the foundation and substance of God’s gentlemen.” (Maurice Baring, R.F.C., HQ.—1914-1918, p. 273—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

***

This short essay proposes to consider, not only the above-mentioned Major B.K. and General de Castelnau, but also Maurice Baring himself, as “one of God’s gentlemen,” as one whose own generous and chivalrous character is marked by a sincere, deep, and guileless politesse de cœur, even as he presents to us now the volubly scolding (sometimes shrewish) wife of Socrates, Xantippe. Under her eloquent reproaches Socrates himself is shown to be a man of a few words, maybe for a good reason, inasmuch as he expectantly approaches the end of his earthly life, which is already forebodingly endangered—though seemingly unnoticed by his discouraged and hot-tempered wife. (In 399 B.C., five years after the humiliating defeat and capitulation of Athens in the devastating Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) in which he had earlier been a combatant, Socrates himself, after his trial, was to die.)

Baring first published this charming character portrayal of Xantippe and her husband in 1911, three years before the Great War of 1914-1918 was to break out, and only some two years after he had become a Catholic. The Xantippe portrayal was then again later published in his book’s set of 23 short literary presentations, entitled Diminutive Dramas,1 where Baring’s characteristic magnanimity recurrently showed itself. And he expressed it often with “a play of kindly irony” and a warmly sustained, flowing “ripple of humour”—as we may soon come to see, especially if we were–with only two reciters– to read with a fittingly swift pace the entire short play aloud. (Recently, and in the presence of our two young children at home, my German wife herself expressively read the lines and convincingly played Xantippe —with me as the taciturn, somewhat intimidated Socrates in the background as a foil—and she thereby heartily evoked the joy and smiles of the astounded children!)

Now we should present Baring’s own description of the Scene at the opening of the Play:

“A room in SOCRATES’ house. XANTIPPE is seated at a table [in Athens], on which an unappetizing meal, consisting of figs, parsley, and some hashed goat’s meat, is spread.” (177)

We should remember the goat’s meat is, purportedly, one of Socrates’ favorite dishes, at least in Xantippe’s estimation. As Socrates (S) enters his home, Xantippe (X) has the first comment (177):

X: “You’re twenty [sic] minutes late.”

S: “I’m sorry, I was kept—”

X: “Wasting your time as usual, I suppose, and bothering people with questions who have something better to do than to listen to you. You can’t think what a mistake it is by going on like that. You can’t think how much people dislike it. If people enjoyed it, or admired it, I could understand the waste of time—but they don’t. It only makes them angry. Everybody’s saying so.”

S: “Who’s everybody?

X: “There you are with your questions again. Please don’t try to catch me out with those kind of tricks. I’m not a philosopher. I’m not a sophist. I know I’m not clever—I’m only a woman. But I do know the difference between right and wrong and black and white, and I don’t think it’s very kind of you, or very generous either, to be always pointing out my ignorance, and perpetually making me the butt of your sarcasm.”

S: “But I never said a word.”

X: “Oh, please, don’t try to wriggle out of it. We all know you’re very good at that. I do hate that shuffling so. It’s so cowardly. I do like a man you can trust—and depend on—who when he says Yes means Yes, and when he says No means No.”

S: “I’m sorry I spoke.”

X: “I suppose that’s what you call irony. I’ve no doubt it’s very clever, but I’m afraid it’s wasted on me. I should keep those remarks for the market-place and the gymnasia and the workshops. I’ve no doubt they’d be highly appreciated there by that clique of young men who do nothing but admire each other. I’m afraid I’m old-fashioned. I was brought up to think that a man should treat his wife with decent civility, and try, even if he did think her stupid, not to be always showing it.” (177-178—my emphasis added)

Baring’s tonal words show Xantippe to be a more sympathetic figure than we might have originally thought to be so.

In reply to Xantippe’s last set of words, Socrates can only say: “Have I by a word or hint ever suggested that you were stupid?” The pathos now grows.

X: “Oh, of course not—never. However, we won’t discuss that. We will change the subject, if you don’t mind.”

S: “But really—”

X: (ignoring the interruption). Please give me your plate. I will help you to the goat.”

S: “None for me, thank you, to-day”

X: “Why not? I suppose it’s not good enough. I’m afraid I can’t provide the food you get at your grand friends’ houses, but I do think it’s rather cruel of you to sneer at my poor humble efforts.” (178—my emphasis added)

Socrates goes on to reveal only the fact that he is not very hungry: “I’ve really got no appetite for meat to-day. I’ll have some figs, if you don’t mind.” (179) And Xantippe immediately responds:

X: “I suppose that’s the new fad, not to eat meat. I assure you people talk quite enough about you as it is without your making yourself more peculiar. Only yesterday Chrysilla was talking about your clothes. She asked if you made them dirty on purpose. She said the spots on the back couldn’t have got there by accident. Every one notices it—every one says the same thing. Of course they think it’s my fault. No doubt it’s very amusing for people who don’t mind attracting attention and who like being notorious: but it is rather hard on me. And when I hear people saying ‘Poor Socrates! it is a shame that his wife looks after him so badly and doesn’t even mend his sandals‘–I admit I do feel rather hurt. However, that would never enter into your head. A philosopher hasn’t time to think of other people. I suppose unselfishness doesn’t form part of a sophist’s training, does it?

[SOCRATES says nothing, but eats first one fig and then another.]

X: “I think you might at least answer when spoken to. I am far from expecting you to treat me with consideration or respect; but I do expect ordinary civility.”

[SOCRATES goes on eating figs in silence.]

X: “Oh, I see, you’re going to sulk. First you browbeat, then you’re satirical. Then you sneer at the food, and then you sulk.” (179—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

Baring’s presentation now moves on to the specific discussion of food, but only after Socrates shows no larger response to his wife’s more capacious comments. The only reply Socrates chooses to make to her is somewhat impersonal, as well as brief: “I never said a word against the food.” (180—my emphasis added) Nor does Socrates ever thank her for being a good cook who tries to please him!

We may now imagine the different emphases and tones of voice that might be fittingly expressed by the actors in this continuing and somewhat one-sidedly animated dialogue, if this deftly written little domestic drama were also to be performed on stage. Xantippe now resumes (with a touch of irony) her own more loquacious and more differentiated response to her terse husband:

X: “You never said a word against the food. You only kept me waiting nearly half an hour for dinner—not that that was anything new—I’m sure I ought to be used to that by now—and you only refused to look at the dish which I had taken pains to cook with my own hands for you.”

S: “All I said was I wasn’t hungry—that I had no appetite for meat.”

X: “You’ve eaten all the figs. You’ve got quite an appetite for those.”

S: “That’s different.”

X: “Oh, that’s different, is it? One can be hungry enough to eat all the fruit there is in the house, which I was especially keeping for this evening, but not hungry enough to touch a piece of meat. I suppose that’s algebra.”

S: “You know I very rarely eat meat.”

X: “Really? I hadn’t noticed it. I always hear of your eating meat in other people’s houses; but my poor cooking is not good enough for you. I’m sorry, but I can’t afford those spicy messy dishes. If I had a husband who had a real profession, and worked, and did something useful to earn his living and support his house and home, it would be different; only I think the least you could do is not to sneer at one when one is only trying to do one’s best.” (180—my emphasis added)

To this cascade of words and spousal reproaches Socrates only says: “I very rarely eat meat anywhere now.” Perceiving this rarity of meat to be a nutritional deficiency in her husband, Xantippe finds new grounds for her sharp solicitousness:

X: “That’s why you’re looking so ill. All the doctors say it’s a mistake. Some people can do without meat. They don’t need it—but a man who works with his brain like you ought to eat nourishing food. You ought to force yourself to eat meat, even if you don’t feel inclined to.”

S: “I thought you said just now that I did nothing.”

X: “There you are, cross-examining me like a lawyer, and tripping me up. I’ve no doubt it’s very amusing for a professional philosopher to catch out a poor ignorant woman like me. It’s a pity your audience isn’t here. They would enjoy it. However, I’m afraid I’m not impressed. You can twist my words into anything you like. You can prove I meant black when I said white, but you know perfectly well what I mean. You know as well as I do that your eccentricity has made you thoroughly unpopular. And what I say is, it’s just these little things that matter. Now put all that nonsense away and have some goat.”

S: “No, thank you. I really can’t.”

X: “It’s excellent goat, and there’s some garlic in the sauce. I hate garlic, and it’s there on purpose for you—

S: “Oh!”….

X: “I suppose you had dinner before you came here [i.e. came home], or you’re going to have dinner somewhere else presently.”

S: “I haven’t touched food since I left the house.”

X: “Then it’s quite ridiculous your not eating [even if it were, perhaps, on the threshold of death?]. Let me give you some goat at once.”

S: “I couldn’t, really. Besides, I must go in a minute.” (180-182—my emphasis added)

As we approach the end of Maurice Baring’s diminutive dramatic depiction, we must also consider now the implicit presence of dramatic irony and pathos. For, without Xantippe’s adequate knowledge, Socrates may actually be preparing to leave home in order to face his stern Athenian accusers and, perhaps, never to come home again. Let us therefore consider some of Baring’s sudden hints, or subtle clues.

S: “…Besides, I must go in a minute.”

X: “There! I knew it! You’re going out to dinner.”

S: “You’re mistaken, Xantippe.”

X: “You’d far better tell me the truth at once. I’m quite certain to find it out sooner or later. You can’t think how foolish it is to tell lies and then to be found out afterwards. You can’t think how much a woman despises a man for that—you couldn’t do anything more foolish.”

S: “I promise you by all the gods that I’m not going to dine elsewhere. [A true fact; but what of import are you not telling your wife?!]

X: “I suppose you don’t expect me to fall into that trap! Swearing by all the gods, when every one in Athens knows you are a professed atheist—when you do nothing but mock the gods from morning to nightand, what’s far worse, make other people mock them too; when I scarcely like to have a slave [a possible informant or spy!] in the house because of your impiety—and your blasphemy.” (182—my emphasis added)

Maurice Baring, in this last passage, deftly has Xantippe herself make many of the same charges that are later made by Socrates’ own three accusers, who then successfully condemn him to death.

Moreover, immediately after Xantippe’s grave and bulging charges against her husband, Socrates, in an understated way, merely says to her: “I really think you are rather unfair, Xantippe. You will be sorry for this some day.” (182—my emphasis added)

X: “Then may I ask where you are going?”

S: “I’ve got an important engagement.”

X: “And with whom?”

S: “I would rather not say, for your sake.”

X: “That’s very clever and ingenious to put it on me. But I’m tired of being bullied. Even a worm will turn, and I demand to be treated just for once like a human being, and with the minimum of courtesy and frankness. I don’t ask for your confidence [trust], I know that would be useless. But I do ask to be treated with a grain of straightforwardness and honesty. I insist upon it. I have borne your sneers, your sarcasm, and your sulkiness, your irritability, your withering silence, quite long enough. I will not put up with it any longer.” (182-183—my emphasis added)

After this scorching and humiliating indictment of Socrates’ character and the very conduct of his domestic life with her (without even mentioning their three sons), Socrates decides to open up to her a little:

S: “Very well. Since you will have it, I have been impeached by Lycon, Meletus, and Anytus [Socrates’ three primary Athenian accusers] on some ridiculous [sic] charge, the result of which, however, may be extremely serious—in fact it may be a matter of life and death—and I am obliged to appear before them at once.”

X: “Oh dear, oh dear! I always said so. I knew it would come to this! This is what comes of not eating meat like a decent citizen!” [Xantippe bursts into tears.] —Curtain.—The End (183—my emphasis added)

Socrates was then to face his stern accusers at the public trial in 399 B.C., and he defended himself at some length, but in a not very conciliatory way. He was thus finally condemned to death, and, after thirty days, he drank the hemlock.

After now knowing of, and even having read large portions of, this charming diminutive drama by Maurice Baring, we might also come especially to appreciate and savor a magnificent student “blooper” on an academic test concerning Socrates: “Socrates died of an overdose of wedlock.”

Maurice Baring would have cherished this “blooper,” and I like to think that he might even have composed it himself when he was an antic young student. For, even then, he was known for his magnanimous parodies. He also had a keen sense of pathos (as in the case of Xantippe), and it is to be especially seen in his ennobling elegiac verses and in most of his later heart-searching novels.

CODA

Since Maurice Baring especially admired (and desired to imitate) the moral character and chivalrous standards of the French General Éduard de Castelnau (1851-1944), I propose to end this essay with Baring’s own slightly expanded presentation of that great and deeply admired man, part of which has already been revealed in our Epigraphs above, at the beginning of this essay; but it is worthy of our now repeating Baring’s memorable articulation of those inspiring interwoven qualities:

May 26, 1918….Headquarters, 8th Brigade [in France]….

We [General Trenchard and I] saw General de Castlenau [sic–Castelnau] too, who is charming….Our unique and undefined position [in France] depended, as far as practical results were concerned, entirely on the goodwill of the French. Luckily this goodwill was given to us in an overflowing measure by General de Castelnau, the commander of the Group of Armies of the East. He and the General [Trenchard, for whom Major Baring was the beloved and trusted Aide-de-Camp] understood each other at once after their first conversation.

General de Castelnau’s name and exploits need no comment [at least not in 1918 Europe]. They will be written, and are already written in gold, in the history of France, and in the Gesta Dei per Francos [the Epic High Deeds of God as Enacted by and through the Franks], as the victor of the Grand Couronné and the restorer of the situation at Verdun. But it is perhaps permissible to say a word or two about his personality.

He seemed to belong to a nobler epoch than ours, to be a native of the age of chivalry, of that time when Louis IX [of France], who is known as Saint Louis, dispensed justice under a spreading oak-tree. He has the easy familiarity, the slight play of kindly irony [like Baring with his depiction of Xantippe and Socrates!], the little ripple of humour, the keen glance, the foresight and forethought, that politesse du cœur, that complete remoteness from what is common, mean, base, self-seeking, which are the foundation and substance of God’s gentlemen. His white hair, his keen eyes, his features, which looked as if they had been cut by a master-hand out of a fine block of granite, radiated goodness and courage and cheerfulness, a salt-like sense, and a twinkling humour. And his smile went straight to your heart, and made you feel at home, comfortable, easy and happy. When one had luncheon with him and the orderly said luncheon was ready he used to say:

“A cheval, Messieurs [To Horse, Gentlemen!],

and throughout his conversation there was always a rippling current of good-humoured, delicate and keen chaff [reminding one of Maurice Baring’s “Xantippe and Socrates”]. To hear him talk was like reading, was to breathe the atmosphere in which classic French was born, racy, natural, idiomatic, and utterly free from anything shoddy, artificial or pretentious. He was the salt of the earth, and one felt that if [Edmund] Burke had met him he would have torn up his dirge of the death of the Age of Chivalry [to be found in Burke’s classic 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France], for there [in May of 1918] it [the chivalry] was alive and enjoying life and making others enjoy it. (Maurice Baring, R.F.C., H.Q.—1914-1918 (1920), pages 272-274—my emphasis added)

Is it not desirable that we too try to hold ourselves to the chivalrous standards of General de Castelnau?

May we too–like the generous and magnanimous Maurice Baring himself in his own discerningly compassionate (and comic) depiction of Xantippe (and her laconic husband)—show ourselves to be “one of God’s gentlemen.” Fittingly, we should thus recall how “a little boy of eight years old” himself memorably defined a gentleman: “A gentleman is a man who loves God very much and has beautiful manners.”

Recognizing that courtesy itself is a form of charity, Baring’s beloved friend Hilaire Belloc even wrote in one of his short poems entitled “Courtesy” that “the Grace of God is in Courtesy.”

Maurice Baring’s own deep politesse du cœur was so admirably able to encounter and depict with chivalrous compassion—and with “a ripple of good humour”—the challenges of those increasingly isolated and poignantly elegiac characters: voluble Xantippe and her tersely Philosophizing Husband.

–FINIS–

© 2017 Robert D. Hickson

1Maurice Baring, Diminutive Dramas (London: William Heinemann LTD., 1925), 183 pages. The last of the twenty-three dramatic sketches is entitled “Xantippe and Socrates” (Chapter XXIII, pp. 177-183). Although the book was originally published in late December 1910-early January 1911, it was published again in 1919, and then once again in 1925, by W. Heinemann, as part of “The Works of MAURICE BARING: Collected Uniform Edition.” All further references will be to that 1925 edition of Diminutive Dramas, and the pages quoted will be placed in parentheses above in the main text. In this context, Baring’s Dead Letters—a charming 1910 set of parodies—should also be savored, especially two of them: “From the Mycenae Papers” and “Lady Macbeth’s Trouble.” Maurice Baring, Dead Letters (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company 1925), pp.1-7 and 95-99. See too Paul Horgan, Maurice Baring Restored: Selections from His Work (1970).

Josef Pieper on the Sophist Phenomenon and Its Recurring Temptations

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                2 August 2020

Our Lady of the Angels

Saint Alphonsus Liguori (d. 1787)

Saint Peter Julian Eymard (d. 1868)

Epigraphs

“What indeed did Plato have against the sophists? His objection could tentatively be summed up in these brief terms: corruption of the word—you are corrupting the language! Still the core of the matter is not yet identified with this. The specific threat, for Plato, comes from the sophists’ way of cultivating the word with exceptional awareness of linguistic nuances and utmost formal intelligence, from their way of pushing and perfecting the employment of verbal constructions to crafty limits, thereby—and precisely in this—corrupting the meaning and the dignity of the very same words.” (Josef Pieper, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, pages 14-15.)

***

“This timeless character of the sophistic phenomenon, transcending any particular age, prompted certain important, indeed disturbing, comments by Hegel….He called the sophists of Socrates’ time ‘extremely refined and learned people’; but such praise…sounds somewhat ambiguous. It is precisely such learned refinement and unmoored questioning that plucks apart any object and dialectically discredits everything; it is such ‘refined reasoning’…—an expression repeatedly used by Hegel [“gebildetes Raisonnement”]–that poses the true danger. It almost inevitably leads us, says Hegel, to the conviction that everything can be justified if we look hard enough for reasons. To quote Hegel: ‘You need not have advanced very far in your learning in order to find good reasons even for the most evil of things. All the evil deeds in this world since Adam and Eve have been justified with good reasons.’ Hegel, therefore, sees here a danger clearly intrinsic to the human mind, being part of its nature, a danger that can perhaps be overcome but never entirely avoided.” (Josef Pieper, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, pages 8-9—my bold emphasis added)

***

“It is one of my favorite questions in tests…: Can a lie be taken as communication? I tend to deny it. A lie is the opposite of communication. It means specifically to withhold the others’ share and portion of reality, to prevent his participation in reality. And so: corruption of the relationship to reality, and corruption of communication—these evidently are the two possible forms in which the corruption of the word manifests itself.” (Josef Pieper, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, page 16—my emphasis added)

***

Josef Pieper published a short book in English in 1992 that is subtly entitled Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power.1 Because of its timelines, as well as its timelessness, I propose to consider the first section of that profoundly insightful book, which was first published in German in 1974 and which will now be found on pages seven to thirty-nine of the 1992 English translation, almost twenty years later.

The first page of Dr. Pieper’s 32-page enquiry clearly discloses his thesis and its motivation:

The topic of this essay can also be stated as “the abuse of language in its relation to the abuse of power.” I intend to approach this subject from two different directions: though they are two distinct considerations, I shall nonetheless try to show their intrinsic connection.

One of these considerations is a phenomenon of classical antiquity [Socrates, Plato, Gorgias, Protagoas, Aristotle and such]….To be sure, historicity…is not my concern in this. It is rather Plato’s position—and this indeed is the other [second] consideration—which shall be taken as a paradigm showing, I believe, something directly relevant for us and our own situation today [also in 2020 A.D.]. The case can be made that Plato recognized, identified, and battled in the sophistry of his time a danger and a threat besetting the pursuits of the human mind and the life of society in any era….

Anything that may at first sound like a mere critique of the present, aimed at our own situation, should also be taken as pointing to a timeless temptation that since the beginning of history has always required mankind’s resistance and will require it forever. This [is the] timeless character of the sophistic phenomenon, transcending any particular age…. (7-8—my emphasis added)

In their own respective meditations, both Plato and Josef Pieper are persistently attentive to “the art of twisting words” (7) and “the sophistry of [our own] day” (7) and the concealed disguises of some “such learned refinement” (8) and “such a deceptive illusion” (19) as is characteristically hidden as part of “the sophist mentality” (10).

Pieper’s meditation of thirty-two pages deserves to be slowly and carefully read so as to savor his multiple interrelations and enduring substance. For example: “the incommensurability” (11) of money and spirit (or of money and mind); “the sophists’ way of cultivating the word” (14); “to know reality with the aim of communication” (16); “the sophists’ rhetoric, that artistry with words” (16-17); “verbal artistry and linguistic form” (18) which are “nevertheless sham and foul” (19)—that is to say, “unless the linguistic artist [is also] a speaker of truth” (19). Pieper raises good questions such as the recurrent “by what standard?” (12) and comes even to ask: “To what purpose are you in this world?” (48—my emphasis added). Therefore, in this context: “What is it that makes the sophists so dangerous?” (34—my emphasis added).

And we wonder: “what is a well-ordered language?” (36) Dare we say in response that: “a language is well ordered when its words express reality with as little distortion and as little omission as possible”? (36—my emphasis added)

Continuing his fresh perceptions and keen discernments, Pieper says such additionally challenging things as: he who “explicitly disregards reality ceases to have communication” (20-21) and thus one must fittingly be “explicitly committed to the truth” (20-21); by way of contrast,“flattery intends not to communicate, but to manipulate” (22-23) while often “having an ulterior motive” (23) such as “domination” and especially by deftly flattering our pride. Moreover, as Pieper then properly counter-argues and contends: “Academic must mean anti-sophistic” (38) and we must be found “taking an anti-sophistic stance” (35). Moreover, as others also say: “The lingo of the revolution is a form of modern sophistry.” (32—my emphasis added) And Pieper even later refers to “the jargon of the revolution” (39) as a form of “bondage,” as well. That is to say, the jargon-lingo of the revolution itself appears to be the cramped and stifling product of self-deluded, fevered opinions and “mind-forged manacles.”

After such a selective summary of Josef Pieper’s variety and compactness—and of his multiple challenges to us—it is fitting that we now return to an examination of some of Dr. Pieper’s longer passages. For example:

Word and language, in essence, do not constitute a specific or specialized area; they are not a particular discipline or field. No, word and language form a medium that sustains the common existence of the human spirit as such….And so, if the word becomes corrupted, human existence itself will not remain unaffected and untainted.

What, however, does “corrupting the word” mean?….Human words and language accomplish a twofold purpose….Since this accomplishment is twofold, we may already here suspect that the word’s degeneration and corruption can also be twofold. First, words convey reality. We speak in order to name and identify something that is real, to identify it [something] for someone, of course—and this points to the second aspect in question, the interpersonal character of human speech. (15—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

After some further observations about Socrates and Gorgias the Sophist, Dr. Pieper says:

And with this we have identified the other [the second] aspect of the corruption of the word: the destruction of its nature as communication….The very moment, as I have stated, that someone in full awareness employs words yet explicitly disregards reality, he in fact ceases to communicate anything to the other. This the reader may more or less have accepted. But an instrument of power? Is this not too strong and too overbearing an expression? It really implies that from one moment to the next the human relationship between the speaker and the listener changes….From that moment on, to be precise, all conversation ceases; all dialogue and all communication comes to an end. But what, then, is taking place? The very question is answered by Socrates with an old-fashioned term: flattery….

What, then, is flattery?….The decisive element is this: having an ulterior motive [not the truth]….What I say to him is designed to get something from him!….He [the seeming conversational partner] has become for me an object to be manipulated, possibly to be dominated, to be handled and controlled….I concentrate on his weaknesses and on those areas that may appeal to him—all in order to manipulate him, to use him for my purposes….The word is perverted and debased [i.e., such “sophisticated language, disconnected from the roots of truth” (20)] to become a catalyst, a drug, as it were, and is as such administered. Instrument of power may still seem a somewhat strong term; still, it does not seem so farfetched any longer. (20-23—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Moving forth some seven illuminating pages, Pieper resumes some of his earlier thoughts:

Be that as it may—this much remains true: wherever the main purpose of speech is flattery, there the word becomes corrupted, and necessarily so. And instead of genuine communication, there will exist something for which domination is too benign a term; more appropriately we should speak of tyranny, of despotism. On the one side there will be sham authority, unsupported by any intellectual superiority, and on the other a state of dependency, which again is too benign a term. Bondage would be more correct….[That is,] a pseudoauthority [in combination with]…a state of mental bondage.

Plato evidently knew what he was talking about when he declared the sophists’ accomplished art of flattery to be the deceptive mirage of the political process, that is, the counterfeit usurpation of power. (29-30—italics; my bold emphasis added)

Moreover, a few pages later, Pieper chooses to make a clarifying interim summary once again;

The common element in all of this is the degeneration of language into an instrument of rape. It does contain violence, albeit in latent form….This lesson, in a nutshell, says: the abuse of political power is fundamentally connected with the sophistic abuse of the word, indeed, finds in it the fertile soil in which to hide and grow and get ready, so much so that the latent potential of the totalitarian poison can be ascertained, as it were, by observing the symptom of the public abuse of language….The relationship based on mere power, and thus the most miserable decay of human interaction, stands in direct proportion to the most devastating breakdown in orientation toward reality.

I spoke [earlier] of public discourse becoming “detached from the notions of truth and reality.” This brief characterization may still be too mild; it does not yet express the full measure of devastation breeding within the sophistic corruption of the word. (32-33—my bold emphasis added)

With a glance to contemporary societies in the twentieth century, Josef Pieper adds a note or so:

It is entirely possible that the true and authentic reality is being drowned out by the countless superficial information bits noisily and breathlessly presented in propaganda fashion. Consequently, one may be entirely knowledgeable about a thousand details and nevertheless, because of ignorance regarding the core of the matter, remain without basic insight. This is a phenomenon in itself already quite astonishing and disturbing….“a fundamental ignorance [said Arnold Gehlen], created by technology and nourished by information.” But, I wanted to say, something more discouraging is readily conceivable as well: the place of authentic reality is taken over by a fictitious reality;…a pseudoreality, deceptively appearing as being real, so much so that it becomes almost impossible any more to discern the truth.

Plato’s literary activity extended over fifty years, and time and again he asked himself anew: What is it that makes the sophists so dangerous? Toward the end he wrote one more dialogue, the Sophist, in which he added a new element to his answer: “The sophists,” he says, “fabricate a fictitious reality.”….This Platonic nightmare, I hold, possesses an alarming contemporary relevance. For the general public is being reduced to a state where people not only are unable to find out about the truth but also become unable even to search for the truth because they are satisfied with deception and trickery that have determined their convictions, satisfied with the fictitious reality created by design through the abuse of language. This, says Plato, is the worst that the sophists are capable of wreaking upon mankind by their corruption of the word.

There is now the ancient saying, corruptio optimi pessima, “the best, corrupted, becomes the worst”….Plato is not simply taking an anti-sophist stance….his unwavering strong opposition…[is] in view of this own position regarding the overriding importance of the good that is endangered and threatened by the sophists. With this, indeed, we touch on those most basic convictions relative to the value and meaning of human existence as such. (33-34—italics; my bold emphasis added)

With his characteristic politeness, Josef Pieper inserts his further good words near the end of his essay: “the well-ordered human existence…is essentially based on the well-ordered language….when its words express reality with as little distortion and as little omission as possible.” (36—my emphasis added)

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Josef Pieper, Abuse of Language, Abusive of Power (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992). The German text was first published in 1974, and then again in 1988; and the original German title was: Mißbrauch der Sprache, Mißbrauch der Macht. The second portion of Josef Pieper’s longer 47-page book in its entirety is entitled “Knowledge and Freedom” and is to be found on pages 41-54, although it will not be discussed in this essay. With one exception (48), all future references will be to the pages 7-39, and placed above in parentheses in the main body of this brief essay.

G.K. Chesterton’s 1920 Insights on “The Story of the Vow”

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                   11 July 2020

Saint Pius I (d. 167)

Saint Benedict of Nursia (d. 543)

The Hicksons’ Sacramental Anniversary

Epigraphs

The civilisation of vows was broken up when Henry the Eighth broke his own vow of marriage. Or rather, it was broken up by a new cynicism in the ruling powers of Europe, of which that was the almost accidental expression in England. The monasteries, that had been built by vows, were destroyed. The guilds [of the pledged craftsmen and tradesmen], that had been regiments of volunteers, were dispersed. The sacramental nature of marriage was denied; and many of the greatest intellects of the new movement, like Milton [the poet John Milton], already indulged in a very modern idealisation of divorce.” (G.K. Chesterton, The Superstition of Divorce (London: Chatto & Windus, 1920), page 96—my emphasis added.)

***

“Such, in very vague outline, has been the historical nature of vows; and the unique part they played in that medieval civilisation out of which modern civilisation rose—or fell.” (G. K. Chesterton, The Superstition of Divorce (1920), page 93—my emphasis added.)

***

“But when this saner view of history is realised, there does remain something more mystical and difficult to define. Even heathen things are Christian when they have been preserved by Christianity. Chivalry is something recognisably different even from the virtus of Virgil. Charity is something exceedingly different from the plain pity of Homer.” (G.K. Chesterton, The Superstition of Divorce (1920), page 86—my emphasis added.)

***

In 1920, two years before he was received into the Catholic Church at forty-eight years of age, G.K. Chesterton published a book entitled The Superstition of Divorce,1 in which there is to be refreshingly found a variegated and unexpected twenty-page chapter entitled “The Story of the Vow.”

It is our intention in this brief essay to concentrate on some parts of that one chapter so that we may better understand and circulate Chesterton’s reviving insights on the meaning of a vow, and on some of the consequences of a vow, as distinct from a mere contract or an unfair “leonine contract.” For, it is so that a vow is not always a solemn act and grave promise made also as an irreversible promise to God. But sometimes it is: for example, as is the case in a sacramental marriage or in a sacred calling to the religious life, as in the pledges of a monk, or those of a knight.

Moreover, says Chesterton:

The whole of what we call chivalry was one great vow. Vows of chivalry varied infinitely from the most solid to the most fantastic; from a vow to give all the spoils of conquest to the poor to a vow to refrain from shaving until the first glimpse of Jerusalem. As I have remarked, this rule of loyalty, even in unruly exceptions which proved the rule, ran through all the romances [as with beloved Don Quixote!] and songs of the troubadours; and there were always vows even when they were very far from being marriage vows….

I mean here to emphasise the presence, and not even to settle the proportion, of this new notion [of vows] in the middle ages….When we come to workmen and small tradesmen, we find the same vague yet vivid presence of the spirit that can only be called the vow. In this sense there was a chivalry of trades as well as chivalry of orders of knighthood. (89-91—my emphasis added)

Returning to another portion of his earlier analogies with the classical pagan world, Chesterton says:

Even our patriotism [now] is something more subtle than the undivided love of the city [like Athens]; and the change is felt in the most permanent things, such as the love of landscape [in Belloc’s Sussex and the Sea!] or the love of woman.

To define the differentiation in all these things will always be hopelessly difficult. But I would here suggest one element in the change [from the Ancient World] which is perhaps too much neglected: the nature of a vow.

I might express it by saying that pagan antiquity was the age of status; that Christian mediævalism was the age of vows; and that sceptical modernity has been the age of contracts; or rather has tried to be, and has failed.

The outstanding example of status is slavery. (86-87—my emphasis added)

Later alerting us to the consequential breakup of families (and hence to the wounding of the vulnerable little children), Chesterton had also earlier warned us of something else: “The point is that every philosophy of sex must fail which does not account for its ambition of fixity, as well as for its experience of failure.” (83—my emphasis added) For, as he later also politely and quite fairly adds:

The point here, however, is that the trade and craft [guilds] had not only something like the crest [of aristocratic heraldry], but something like the vow of knighthood. There was in the guildsman the same basic notion that belonged to knights and even to the monks. It was the notion of the free choice of a fixed estate. [That is to say, with reference to the free choice of the knight or the monk: “He is not bound to be bound” (83)!] We can realise the moral atmosphere if we compare the system of Christian guilds, not only with the [unfree] status of the Greek and Roman slaves, but with such a scheme as that of the Indian castes. The oriental caste has some of the qualities of the occidental guild; especially the valuable quality of tradition and the accumulation of culture. (91-92—my emphasis added)

As Chesterton said about the slow transition from pagan antiquity to a wider Christian civilisation: “It marks at least a special stage of transition that the form of freedom was essential to the fact of service, or even of servitude. In this way it is not a coincidence that the word homage actually means manhood.” (89—my emphasis added)

Looking back at all of this evidence, Chesterton said:

But we can never judge it [the idea of the vow] fairly till we face, as I have tried to suggest, this main fact of history: that the personal pledge, feudal or civic or monastic, was the way in which the world did escape from the system of slavery in the past. For the modern break-down of mere contract leaves it still doubtful [as of 1920] if there be any other way of escaping it [i.e., an effective, even subtle, form of slavery] in the future.

The idea, or at any rate the ideal, of the thing called the vow is fairly obvious. It is to combine the fixity that goes with finality with self-respect that only goes with freedom. (94—my emphasis added)

In light of Henry the Eighth’s and John Milton’s sense of marital license, Chesterton said:

The progress of this sort of emancipation advanced step by step with the progress of that aristocratic ascendancy which has made the history of modern England [along with an inordinate dominance by the money power with “the sign of golden usury” (91)]; with all its sympathy with personal liberty, and all its utter lack of sympathy with popular life. Marriage not only became less of a sacrament but less of a sanctity. It threatened to become not only a contract, but a contract that could not be kept [as with “no-fault divorce” today]….It began with divorce of a king; and it is now ending in divorces for a whole kingdom.

The modern era that followed can be called the era of contract; but it can still be called the era of leonine contract. The nobles of the new time first robbed the people, and then offered to bargain with them. It would not be an exaggeration to say that they first robbed the people, and then offered to cheat them….The object of the whole process was to isolate the individual poor man in his dealings with the individual rich man; and then offer to buy and sell with him, though it must be himself that was bought and sold. (96-98—my emphasis added)

Moreover, says Chesterton, and in an increasingly earnest way:

Unless the tendency [as seen from the vantage point of 1920] be reversed, he [the vulnerable and isolated poorer man] will probably become admittedly a slave [also in debt-bondage and facing usurious compound interest]. That is to say, the word slave will never be used, for it is always easy to find an inoffensive word; but he will be admittedly a man legally bound to certain social service, in return for economic security. In other words, the modern experiment of mere contract has broken down….The substitute for it may be the old one of status; but is must be something having some of the stability of status. So far history has found only one way of combining that sort of stability with any sort of liberty. (98—my emphasis added)

Now Chesterton comes to his main concern in his entire book on the family and divorce:

There is only one form of freedom that they [the “captains of industry” (99) and theirs managerial elites] tolerate; and that is the sort of sexual freedom that is covered by the legal fiction of divorce.

If we ask why this liberty is alone left, when so many liberties are lost, we shall find the answer in the summary of this chapter. They are trying to break the vow of the knight as they broke the vow of the monk. They recognise the vow as the vital antithesis to servile status; the alternative and therefore the antagonist. (99-100—my emphasis added)

Now returning to the sanctity of marriage, Chesterton becomes even more specific and robustly affirmative, ending his Chapter 3 with a deft and realistic literary allusion about one of those gravely ill effects of one conspicuous historical form of slavery:

Marriage makes a small state within the state, which resists all such [inordinate and intrusive] regimentation. That [marital] bond breaks all other [lesser positive-law] bonds; that [marital] law is found stronger than all later and lesser laws.

They [the modern state] desire the democracy to be sexually fluid, because the making of small nuclei is like the making of small nations. Like small nations, they are a nuisance to the mind of imperial scope….

It is so difficult to see the world in which we live [in 1920], that I know that many will see all I have said here of [often camouflaged] slavery as a nonsensical nightmare. But if my association of divorce with slavery seems only a far-fetched and theoretical paradox, I should have no difficulty in replacing it by a concrete and familiar picture. Let them merely remember the time when they read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and ask themselves whether the oldest and simplest of the charges against slavery has not always been the breaking up of families. (100-101—my emphasis added)

In this context it was also significant for a just and magnanimous man like G.K. Chesterton to discover that the printed subtitle of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1851-1852 widely influential pre-war novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is Life Among the Lowly.

The novel’s subtitle also recalls G.K. Chesterton’s keenly discerning and paradoxical wit in his Orthodoxy: “Without humility you can’t enjoy anything, even pride.”

We may better now also appreciate what Chesterton’s dear friend Hilaire Belloc had published eight years earlier in his 1912 book, which was also subtly entitled The Servile State.

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1 G.K. Chesterton, The Superstition of Divorce (London: Chatto & Windus, 1920), containing 151 pages in length overall, with five chapters and a brief conclusion. All future references to this book, especially to Chapter 3 (“The Story of the Vow”) will be placed in parentheses above in the main body of this essay and commentary.