Archive for November, 2008

Chesterton on Divorce

Oh, now this is good stuff…

G.K. Chesterton from The Well and the Shallows (Ignatius, 2006)

As in that one matter of modesty, or the mere externals of sex, so in all the deeper matters of sex, the modern will has been amazingly weak and wavering. And I suppose it is because the Church has known from the first the weakness which we have all discovered at last, that about certain sexual matters She has been very decisive and dogmatic; as many good people have quite honestly thought, too decisive and dogmatic. Now a Catholic is a person who has plucked up courage to face the incredible and inconceivable idea that somebody else may be wiser than he is. And the most striking and outstanding illustration is to be found in the Catholic view of marriage as compared to the modern theory of divorce; not it must be noted, the very modern theory of divorce, which is the mere negation of marriage; but even more the slightly less modern and more moderate theory of divorce, which was generally accepted even when I was a boy. This is a very vital point or test of the question; for it explains the Church’s rejection of the moderate as well as the immoderate theory. It illustrates the very fact I am pointing out, that Divorce has already turned into something totally different from what it was intended, even by those who first proposed it. Already we must think ourselves back into a different world of thought, to understand how anybody ever thought it was compatible with Victorian virtue; and many very virtuous Victorians did. But they only tolerated this social solution as an exception; and many other modern social solutions they would not have tolerated at all. My own parents were not even orthodox Puritans or High Church people; they were Universalists more akin to Unitarians. But they would have regarded Birth-Prevention exactly as they would have regarded Infanticide. Yet about Divorce such liberal Protestants did hold an intermediate view, which was substantially this. They thought the normal necessity and duty of all married people was to remain faithful to their marriage; that this could be demanded of them, like common honesty or any other virtue. But they thought that in some very extreme and extraordinary cases a divorce was allowable. Now, putting aside our own mystical and sacramental doctrine, this was not, on the face of it, an unreasonable position. It certainly was not meant to be an anarchical position. But the Catholic Church, standing almost alone, declared that it would in fact lead to an anarchical position; and the Catholic Church was right.

The above discourse on divorce began with Chesterton lamenting the cowardly non-decision of the 1930 Lambeth Conference that lead to the moral justification of using birth-control; hence the reference above to “Birth-Prevention.” Chesterton preferred this term to the more common term “Birth Control”, because as he says “it [birth control] is in fact, of course, a scheme for preventing birth in order to escape control.” Yep.

But I digress. Continuing the theme of divorce, Chesterton writes:

Any man with eyes in his head, whatever the ideas in his head, who looks at the world as it is to-day, must know that the whole social substance of marriage has changed… Some divorced persons, who can be married quite legally by a registrar, go on complaining bitterly that they cannot be married by a priest. They regard a church as a peculiarly suitable place in which to make and break the same vow at the same moment… Numbers of normal people are getting married, thinking already that they may be divorced. The instant that idea enters, the whole conception of the old Protestant compromise vanishes. The sincere and innocent Victorian would never have married a woman reflecting that he could divorce her. He would as soon have married a woman reflecting that he could murder her. These things were not supposd to be among the daydreams of the honeymoon. The psychological substance of the whole thing has altered; the marble has turned to ice; and the ice has melted with most amazing rapidity. The Church was right to refuse even the exception. The world has admitted the exception; and the exception has become the rule.


Chesterton the Catholic

The ever quotable G.K. Chesterton from The Well and the Shallows (1935):

At least six times during the last few years, I have found myself in a situation in which I should certainly have become a Catholic, if I had not been restrained from that rash step by the fortunate accident that I was one already. The point is not merely personal but has some representative interest, because our critics constantly expect the convert to suffer some sort of reaction, ending in disappointment and perhaps desertion. As a rule, the most that they will concede to us is that we have found peace by the surrender of reason; which generally means in practice that we pass the rest of our lives in interminable controversies with a perpetual appeal to logic. But, as a fact, it is in a rather peculiar sense, the other way about. The strongest sort of confirmation often comes to the convert after he has received enough to establish conviction.

Chesterton had already converted to the Catholic Church in 1922. Although, if you are familiar with Chesterton’s writing you know that it may be more aptly said that Chesterton officially recognized that he was a Catholic in 1922. There is nary a differnce between Chesterton’s writings pre-1922 (Heretics, Orthodoxy, What’s Wrong With the World, etc.) and post-1922 (Saint Francis of Assisi, The Everlasting Man, The Outline of Sanity, etc.). Chesterton wrote like a Catholic from beginning to end.

Chesterton Hath A School!

It’s been a while since I ventured over to the American Chesterton Society website, so I was caught a bit off guard this morning when I saw this logo in the lower left hand corner of the home page:


That’s right. There is a new high school starting up in Minnesota that will have a distinct Chestertonian flavor. Now, you can’t go wrong there. As I always say, we can’t get enough of Chesterton in this world. Some disagree, but those who do clearly belong to the number of the reprobate and are blinded by their own sin. May God have mercy on their souls.

The Academy is beginning with 9th and 10th grade this year, and will be adding 11th grade the following year, and 12th the year after. The school will obviously be a private school, but will also be independent of the diocese (sometimes a good thing). To begin with, the Chesterton Academy will be funded primarily by American Chesterton Society fund raising efforts, but the hope is to, at some point, spin the school off to be its own, self supporting entity.

Not surprisingly, the curriculum will be classical and Catholic. The website also notes that the Chesterton Academy will have an “Emphasis on General Knowledge – not  Specialization”; in other words, a liberal education – which is a good thing in high school (and undergrad too, for that matter). The website also states there will be a “Mixture of Socratic Method and Lecture format”. This seems to be a popular model for “classical” schools. From what I understand, this is the model adopted by Thomas Aquinas College in  Santa Paula, California. Although, TAC seems to take this model a step or two further, which is great for college, but may not be advisable in a high school environment.

The Academy’s current board of advisors include Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. of EWTN fame , Charles Rice – Professor Emeritus of Law at Notre Dame, and Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J – founder and Editor of Ignatius Press.

To learn more, visit the Chesterton Academy website.

Sweet Surrender

Continuing the tradition of posting my favorite poems from the latest issue of Dappled Things, here is one I particularly enjoyed from Amanda Griswold:


He did not get my soul without a fight,
But foaming, seething, reeling in my brain,
I bowed to darkness and emerged in light.

My mind was scorched by shadows grown too bright.
The demon smoldered and I roared in pain.
He did not get my soul without a fight.

I caught his throat and squeezed with all my might,
Then found it was my own. He wrenched my chain.
I bowed to darkness and emerged in light.

For years the fever blazed all day and night.
My melted mind picked up the false refrain:
He did not get my soul without a fight.

I wandered without memory or sight,
Through bloodshot moons and scalding desert rain,
I bowed to darkness and emerged in light.

Why should the God-son abdicate his height?
I shied from love too perfect to contain.
He did not get my soul without a fight.
I bowed to darkness and emerged in light.

From Dappled Things – Amanda Griswold is a college student at Grove City College and plans to graduate in 2009.

Abstracting God

I’ve been lagging much too much in my reading of the latest issue of Communio. Catching up a bit, I’m reading the first essay (embarrassing, I’m still on the first essay) dealing with the mystery of the Transfiguration by Jose’ Granados, assistant professor of theology and philosophy at The Catholic University of America. In section 3.1 of the lengthy essay, he makes an interesting point about the Old Testament prohibition against portraying God’s face:

In fact, the prohibition against making images can be read not only as a caution against materializing God, but also against excessively spiritualizing him. Let us recall what we said above about the human capacity to form images: it is based precisely on the separation between form and matter. If this capacity is absolutized, according to what we have called the pride of vision, the painting creates a split that isolates its object from the concrete world.

From this point of view the images of God are criticized in Scripture because they mistake the divine face for the abstraction of a painting. To paint a figure of the divinity means to make him alien to our reality and thus to transform him into a abstraction, a God of ideas who can neither hear nor see. God cannot be depicted because the image, when it is separated from the body, loses its truth and becomes a static abstraction: the idol of the concept. An image is not valid for representing the God of Israel, not because it connects him too much with the world, but precisely because it connects him too little.

Of course, Granados is not arguing for iconoclasm. He is pointing out the central reason for the Old Testament theology. Put too simply, in the Old Testament, the peole of Israel were not allowed to make an image of God, because God had not yet revealed his face. In the New Testament, God’s fufilling revelation to man, we have seen the face of God in the “Incarnation of the Logos.”


The first Psalm from today’s Evening Prayer is taken from one of my favorite Psalms:

Psalm 139:1-18 (ICEL)

Antiphon: Lord, how wonderful is your wisdom, so far beyond my understanding.

O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you.

Before ever a word is on my tongue
you know it, O Lord, through and through.
Behind and before you besiege me,
your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach.

O where can I go from your spirit,
or where can I flee from your face?
If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn
and dwell at the sea’s furthest end,
even there your hand would lead me,
your right hand would hold me fast.

If I say: “Let the darkness hide me
and the light around me be night,”
even darkness is not dark for you
and the night is as clear as day.

Antiphon: Lord, how wonderful is your wisdom, so far beyond my understanding.

Our Shepherds Vow To Fight

Catching up on the news a bit, I saw this very intriguing headline from Fox News: Catholic Bishops Vow to Confront Obama Administration Over Abortion. Now that’ll get your attention. This is a great to see, and I was very impressed with the dozen or so Bishops that spoke out against Speaker Pelosi and Senator Biden this past summer. Let’s hope this vow to fight is carried out and is not all words in the end. I’m sure the Bishops will be respectful, as they always are (sometimes to a fault), but this is a batlle that our bishops, as our shepherds, must wage. Either we believe abortion is homocide or we don’t. If we believe it is, then we must forcibly speak out against it, with our bishops leading the way.

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