McInerny | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | January 29, 2010
Ralph McInerny died in South Bend this morning. Several of his children were with him. Many friends knew he was dying.
He was the best of men. He lived with a light heart and a careful eye.
McInerny introduced many of us to Aquinas. Not that we had not read him before, but McInerny gave us the greater view. I still recall the sudden realization that I had on reading something in McInerny about how philosophy and revelation are related. There were things in revelation that could also be known by reason, a fact that suggested the sources of reason and revelation knew each other
One wonders if Notre Dame can be Notre Dame without McInerny. He taught so many students there. Indeed, McInerny saw the world and the Church through the lenses of Notre Dame, but the place seemed to be drifting. He always thought the idea of a “research” institution was rather silly. Why would one want to know the little things without first having the big picture?
McInerny was behind so many good tings. Almost single-handedly he enabled Catholic intellectual things to be both intellectual and Catholic. He was behind the old Crisis, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and the Maritain Center and its many works at Notre Dame. If an institution was not doing what it should, he founded something that did.
McInerny was a happy, witty man. He had a lovely wife who preceded him to Paradise. He had children and grandchildren. He was always a pillar of sanity for us all. His autobiography, I Alone Am Left to Tell You, is most amusing, but its very title reveals turns in the society, in the university, and yes in the Church that never should have been taken.
McInerny gave the famous Gifford Lectures in Scotland several years ago. This is an honor of high rank which he deserved for his philosophical work.
If he could help it, McInerny never missed a football game. If he was at a conference in some distant city on Saturday during the Fall, he would never be there during the hours of the game. The recent years, with the losses and second-ratedness, were agonizing for the true fan he was.
We have the impression that when God called him, he was ready. He had lived a full life and knew it. What, we might wonder, is his legacy to us? It is that of intellectual courage, I think. He was not fooled by the temptation of prestige, of placing the criteria of the world over that of truth.Because of him, I think, many of us were able to rely on his voice and his courage.
McInerny was born in St. Paul, of which he had many fond memories. He tried the seminary. He gave it a good shot, but it was not for him. But once he settled into Notre Dame, he found his place. And yet, this “place” was not always identical with the place where a man of letters and insight needed to be. The pursuit of truth can be a lonely task even in the midst of glittering things.
His death assures us that a living voice and a wisdom we relied on is not there except in memory. Yet, we can read him as long as we wish. He lives on in his words and, yes, in his children and students.
McInerny was a happy man in a happy marriage. He did not need to count his blessings. They were simply there before him. McInerny pursued the truth all his life. He was a true professor who knew his priorities. They were not himself. He was a generous man who gave us all his most precious gift: a love of truth, an appreciation of wit, and a delight in our search for what is.
One of the marks of a virtuous character, according to Aristotle, is the performance of virtuous acts with ease and delight. On that basis, as well as others, Ralph McInerny was a remarkably virtuous man. One of Ralph’s most beautiful books is entitled The Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain: A Spiritual Life, the premise of which is that “we can find in the person of Jacques Maritain a model of the intellectual life in the pursuit of sanctity.” Those words certainly apply to Ralph, one of the great Catholic intellectuals of our time. What distinguished Ralph was not just his fidelity, his intelligence, and his astonishing productivity, but his gracious and ready wit. He possessed a knack for conversation with everyone—from philosophers and politicians, to the elderly and children. Unlike most gifted individuals, Ralph was never burdened by his gifts. He engaged in serious pursuits joyfully, almost playfully.
Ralph excelled in so many spheres and combined so many virtues in his person that it is difficult to know where to begin in recounting his noteworthy achievements. He was a philosopher (author of more than two dozen scholarly books, he gave the prestigious Gifford Lectures in 1999–2000), a translator (he translated the texts of Aquinas for Penguin Classics), a critically acclaimed and popular novelist (author of a number of mystery series, including the popular Father Dowling series that became a television series), a public intellectual (he appeared on William F. Buckley's Firing Line, and was a member of President George W. Bush's Committee on the Arts and Humanities), a journalist (with Michael Novak, he founded Crisis, a journal of lay Catholic opinion), and a published poet. In the midst of all this activity, Ralph was remarkably generous with his time and his help, especially for his students, in whose families he expressed an avid interest.
In recent years after the death of his beloved wife Connie, with whom he had seven children, his thoughts turned increasingly to age and death. In a wonderful and deeply autobiographical volume of poems, The Soul of Wit, he reflected at length on death. He said often that since Connie died, he felt posthumous. They were indeed a perfect match. As a graduate student, I met Connie when Ralph introduced her by saying, “Have you met my first wife?” With a wit as quick as Ralph’s, she had no trouble keeping up. Even or especially when occupied with thoughts of easeful death, Ralph’s humor emerged. He liked to tell the story about a hospital visit to see a failing Jean Oesterle, his Notre Dame colleague, a convert to the faith, and a translator of Aquinas. Hesitantly, he asked, “Jean, do you know who I am?” She retorted, “Don’t you know?”
Ralph had an indiscriminate love of puns; he seemed to enjoy bad puns more than good ones—a thesis that would seem to be confirmed by a perusal of the titles of his mystery novels (On This Rockne, Irish Gilt, Law and Ardor, Rest in Pieces, or The Book of Kills). An appreciation for the nuances and richness of ordinary language informed not only his humor but also his practice of philosophy. His most important philosophical text was Aquinas and Analogy, a study of the way Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, teased out of the complexity of ordinary language unities of meaning. He rejected the idea that Thomas Aquinas provided us with a philosophical system intended to compete with other systems. Instead, Thomas was asking in a more precise way questions every human being asks; he is interested in the human good, not the good of professional philosophers or intellectuals. In keeping with this working assumption, Ralph wrote both for elite groups of scholars and for intrigued laymen. With the latter group in mind, he penned A First Glance at Thomas Aquinas: A Handbook for Peeping Thomists. His distinctive approach to Thomas Aquinas is most evident in his supple account of natural law (see Ethica Thomistica, for example), and in his defense of natural theology in the text of his Gifford Lectures, published as Characters in Search of Their Author, the thesis of which Ralph states thus: “For us it is all but inevitable that, however momentarily, we feel ourselves to be part of a vast cosmic drama and our thoughts turn to the author, not merely of our roles, but of our existence. Natural theology is one version of that quest.” Ralph’s philosophical work flourished at the University of Notre Dame, to which he moved in 1955, after receiving his doctorate at Laval under the great Thomist Charles DeKoninck and teaching for one year at Creighton. His first office at Notre Dame was in the administration building, the Golden Dome. When he and a colleague became intrigued by the presence of an old safe, they opened it, and, amid the clutter, discovered a draft of a novel written by Knute Rockne. At Notre Dame, he held an endowed chair as the Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies; he was also director of the Maritain Center and of the Medieval Institute.
Early on at Notre Dame, he began, in addition to his teaching and philosophical work, to write fiction. The story of how he made the transition from wanting to be a writer to becoming one is illuminating. After a time in which he haphazardly polished off and sent out short stories for publication, only to receive rejection letters, he decided that he would write daily over the next year. If nothing were accepted for publication, he would take that as a sign it was not meant to be. So, every evening, after he had put his children to bed, he would repair to his unfinished basement and stand, not sit, before his typewriter pecking away from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. On the wall in front of him, he had posted these words in bold, “No One Owes You a Reading.” He eventually published some short stories and then had a breakthrough in 1969 with The Priest, a work that became a bestseller. He wrote more than eighty novels and received the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award for mystery writing.
Ralph’s life and career will always be enmeshed with the university he loved, Our Lady’s University. He was of course deeply chagrined at the direction of the University. The concerns about Notre Dame’s Catholic identity have become very public in the past few years with the administration’s decisions to elevate the tawdry Vagina Monologues to the status of great art and to award an honorary doctorate of laws to a pro-abortion president. Before all that, Ralph objected to the premature firing of Coach Tyrone Willingham, in an New York Times op-ed piece “The Firing Irish,” and to the unseemly image of a president and priest chasing down potential coaches on airport tarmacs in the dead of night. Even prior to that, Ralph objected to hiring practices that focused exclusively on “academic” criteria and rendered irrelevant knowledge of, and sympathy for, the Catholic faith and intellectual tradition. For Ralph, the accelerating abandonment of things Catholic at Notre Dame was the direct result of a craven quest for success understood in conventional, and often quite secular, terms.
It is common to say that Notre Dame’s motto is “God, Country, Notre Dame,” but Ralph was quick to remind us that the official motto is “vita, dulcedo et spes”—words meaning “life, sweetness, and hope” from the Latin Marian prayer, Salve Regina. How fitting that Ralph’s last book, published just months ago, is Dante and the Blessed Virgin. Again, what he said of Jacques Maritain is equally true of Ralph. Teacher of teachers, he was a “model of the Christian philosopher, of the Thomist, both by what he taught and what he was.”
Thomas S. Hibbs is Distinguished Professor of Ethics and dean of the honors college at Baylor University.
Jane you say it's all over for you and me Theres a time for love and a time for letting it be baby Jane youre playing a game Called hard to get by its real name Making believe that you still don't feel the same
Jane youre playing a game you never can win girl You're stayin away just so I'll ask you where you've been baby Like a cat and a mouse (cat and a mouse) From door to door and house to house Don't you pretend you don't know what I'm talking about
Were all those nights we spent together (hey hey) Only because you didn't know better Oh Jane you're playing a game, you're playing a game, playing a game
Jane you're playing a game of hide and go seek Jane you're playing for fun but I play for keeps (yes I do) Oh jane that's a game on me Oh jane that's so plain to see Jane jane jane (jane jane jane)..
Real View Books has recently published a new booklet written by Fr. Jaki before his passing, on a most wonderful and beautiful topic - the Holy Eucharist. It is available from RVB for $3 and I hope that readers of the Duhem Society blog will benefit spiritually from it.
~ Jakian Thomist
What is the Mass? - by Fr. Stanley L. Jaki .
The authorization by Pope Benedict XVI of the Latin Mass as codified by Pope Saint Pius V should be enough of an indication of the perplexity of many of the faithful. They had many reasons to complain about the fact that the celebration of the Mass in the vernacular has failed to promote a vivid grasp of the awesome mystery of the Mass. This booklet was written at the request of a friend deeply beset by that perplexity. In answer, this booklet points out that the agonies felt over the improper celebration of the Mass and over the often odd participation of the faithful in it, should be seen in the light of the essence of the Mass. Enduring those agonies with faith in God is a sharing in the essence of the Mass, which is the rendering present, in a sacramental way, on the altar of Christ's self-sacrifice on the cross. Since he chose to be crucified for our sake, it behooves us to share in his crucifixion by enduring those agonies. The Mass is a breaking of the bread but only inasmuch as on Calvary Christ's body was tortured, and therefore our participation should be a modest sharing in that painful process. This participation in the Mass was brought into focus in our days by the little-known account of Cecil Raymond Humphery-Smith, a convert, about his privilege of sharing daily in the excruciating agonies that marked Padre Pio's Eucharistic celebration day after day.
Il segreto di Chesterton secondo Ubaldo Casotto Come la meraviglia vanificò l'agguato del nulla
Qual è il segreto di una persona? Per scoprirlo bisogna innanzitutto credere che esista un segreto nascosto in ogni persona. Superato questo scoglio - e non è così semplice - la cosa migliore è incontrare questa persona, anzi lasciarsi incontrare da essa, il che equivale, sempre, a lasciarsi sorprendere. Può sembrare paradossale, ma se non si è pronti a lasciarsi sorprendere accade che la vita scorra senza colore né sapore, senza quel tocco di magia che permette agli uomini di gustare appieno l'esistenza, pregustando cioè quella gioia che sta 'al di là' ma è anche già segretamente riposta nel mistero dell'esistenza quotidiana. Ha quindi ragione Chesterton quando afferma che 'incontrare un uomo è un'esperienza unica, anche se lo si incontra solo per un'ora o due'. Per quasi due ore - che sono volate - Ubaldo Casotto domenica scorsa al teatro Manzoni di Roma ha permesso al pubblico di fare quell'esperienza unica, cioè di incontrare nel senso più pieno del termine un uomo, lo scrittore inglese Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), uno dei giganti della letteratura e del pensiero del xx secolo, spesso trascurato dalla cosiddetta critica ufficiale italiana. Il giornalista Casotto, attualmente vicedirettore de 'Il Riformista', è un 'amico' di vecchia data di Chesterton avendo dedicato, tra l'altro, la sua tesi di laurea al romanziere londinese. Il pubblico ha così potuto apprezzare il modo sicuro e il tono familiare con cui il relatore si è mosso all'interno dell'opera di Chesterton per illustrarne i punti cardine, i nodi salienti, le spigolature più significative. Alcune parole-chiave consentono di offrire l'accesso al segreto dell'inventore di padre Brown: realismo, tradizione, paradosso, ragione, libertà, visione, meraviglia, mistero, avventura. Ascoltando le tante citazioni dalle opere principali di Chesterton ci si rende conto che pur non avendo avuto figli naturali, lo scrittore inglese ha avuto però diversi figli spirituali; solo per fare qualche nome: Clive S. Lewis, John R.R. Tolkien, Michael Ende. In un discorso pubblico del 1986 proprio Ende, lo scrittore tedesco autore del best-seller fantasy La storia infinita, ha affermato che l'essenza della bellezza risiede nel mistero e nella meraviglia. Niente di più vicino alla sensibilità di Chesterton per il quale la vera avventura nella vita non è sposarsi, ma nascere. Nel momento in cui si nasce, trovandosi accolto in una famiglia, l'uomo entra in un'avventura, in qualcosa che egli non può mai controllare del tutto - per questo la vita non è mai noiosa, neanche quando appare ripetitiva e monotona - s'incammina in un sentiero pieno di indizi e di segni che indicano tutti una stessa direzione, la cui unica spiegazione è l'esistenza di un punto, che non vediamo, verso cui tutte quelle frecce convergono. La realtà dunque implica l'esistenza del mistero perché la indica continuamente. È qui il problema dell'uomo contemporaneo: non è che non sa risolvere l'enigma del mondo, è che non vede l'enigma. Il punto sta allora nella visione: se non si è pronti a lasciarsi sorprendere dal reale, l'alternativa, dice Casotto, è il nulla, il nichilismo, l'indifferenza al tutto nella quale sprofondano le nostre giornate, la nausea e la noia che il mondo e gli altri ci trasmettono - e che noi trasmettiamo - quando manca quello sguardo pieno di stupore e gratitudine. Di fronte al mondo noi dobbiamo essere riconoscenti di ogni cosa perché ogni cosa è stata strappata al nulla. La nostra scoperta del mondo è un elenco da aggiornare quotidianamente, come quella pagina del Robinson Crusoe: 'Un uomo sopra un piccolo scoglio con poca roba strappata al mare: la parte più bella del libro è la lista degli oggetti salvati dal naufragio. La più grande poesia è un inventario (...) tutte le cose sono sfuggite per un capello alla perdizione: tutto è stato salvato da un naufragio'. Ed è forte l'eco biblica in questa riflessione di Chesterton che cammina nel mondo come dentro una foresta di simboli, un universo di segni; e, come il bambino, si getta golosamente alla scoperta del reale: 'La vita è un'avventura ma solo l'avventuriero lo scopre'. Eppure Chesterton non nasce cattolico, ma arriva alla fede solo nel 1922, dopo un viaggio lungo e non facile. Sottolinea Casotto che Chesterton abbracciò e capì il cattolicesimo perché fece un uso sempre spregiudicato, cioè largo, della ragione, poiché, per lui, il farsi cattolico 'dilata la mente'. Si comprende allora facilmente il gusto del giovane Joseph Ratzinger nel leggere Chesterton - come all'epoca facevano tra gli altri anche Montini, Luciani, Wojtyla - e dove nasce l'insistenza dell'attuale Pontefice di sottolineare l'esigenza di 'allargare la ragione'. Chesterton ha avuto molti 'figli' ma anche diversi 'padri', a conferma che non si può dare senso e gusto alla vita se non nel solco di una tradizione. Casotto si è soffermato forse sui due principali: Francesco d'Assisi e Tommaso d'Aquino anche per il fatto che a entrambi i santi cattolici lo scrittore ha dedicato due splendidi racconti biografici. Francesco e Tommaso, come a dire: la follia per Cristo e la ragione; lo stupore e il senso profondo della libertà; la spiritualità creaturale e la dimensione sanamente materiale della fede. Chesterton - questo il suo segreto - è riuscito a coniugare tutte queste diverse dimensioni nella sua vita e nella sua vasta opera letteraria.
Un gruppo di difesa dei diritti civili, National Council for Civil Liberties, si fa carico di difendere l'impiegata della British Airways licenziata per avere portato al collo una piccola croce. Molto interessante il fatto che si difenda il diritto a portare una croce finalmente inquadrandolo come un diritto fondamentale. Le battaglie per la libertà religiosa sono battaglie di tutti - con buona pace del capogruppo PD in consiglio comunale a Bologna....
I hope to discuss more of father's writings on Cardinal Newman in the next few months and their relevance to the philosophy of science. Following from my previous excerpts on Gilson's writings on epistemology, here today are two quotations on Newman's realism from Jaki's The Church of England as Viewed by Newman and Newman to Converts.
~ Jakian Thomist
Newman's work in philosophy was mainly about the illative sense, which is not about the basics of epistemology, where everything is decided in any philosophy worthy of the name. No philosophy can begin with a discussion of the problems of induction, which is the problem implied in the use of the mind's illative powers. Newman's occasional but emphatic statements even in the Grammar of Assent about the primacy of registering external objects would alone belie efforts that put him in the company of Kant as this was done already by W. Ward, Newman's first major biographer. As one with full access to all of Newman's manuscripts, Ward cannot be excused for not reporting Newman's remark in what eventually became published as his Philosophical Notebook, namely, that philosophers like Kant, who 'have come to no conclusion', are not worth reading. Newman in fact left uncut the second half of his copy of Meiklejohn's translation of the Critique of Pure Reason. Things would have turned out much better in the post-Conciliar Church if Fr. Marechal had done the same with his own copy of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft.
Champions of the 'new thinking' in theology, including its biblical branch, would not even pay heed to a telling admission of Fr. Raymond Brown that even biblical hermeneutics cannot do without epistemology. The Tractarians were innocent to all such problems, while some of them, and certainly Newman, toed the line of common sense realism in philosophy.
[S.L. Jaki, The Church of England as Viewed by Newman, p. 332-333]
Loss and Gain, the first book Newman wrote and published as a Catholic, is even much more than the fictional story of a conversion where Charles Reding, the hero of the story, often evokes Newman himself. This evocation derives in part from descriptions of Reding such as that he 'was naturally timid and retiring, over-sensitive, and, though lively and cheerful, yet not without a tinge of melancholy, which sometimes degenerated into mawkishness.' Nor did the evocation mainly rest on some graphic scenes - some amusing, some gripping, some plainly sarcastic - as from the fact that the story contains a chain of vivid argumentations between Reding and various types of Oxonians, ranging from agnostics to High Church devotees.
The chief strength of evocation lay in distinctly intellectual reflections, all markedly Newmanian also in their order. The first of them was about 'the connection of fact with fact, truth with truth, the bearing of fact upon truth, and truth upon fact, what leads to what, what points are primary and what secondary'. All this the young Oxonians still had to learn. Newman might have added that many Oxonians were not to learn all that even in old age. Surely, what follows in the next page in Loss and Gain foreshadows that Oxford which fell for the mirage of logical positivism which took distinction for facts and ignored almost almost all facts. The proof of this is Ayer's famous answer, 'Almost all', to the question: 'What was wrong with logical positivism?' Here is a part of that page from Loss and Gain:
'They hear of men, and things, and projects, and struggles, and principles; but everything comes and goes like the wind, nothing makes an impression, nothing penetrates, nothing has its place in their minds. They hear and forget; or they recollect that what they have once heard, they can't tell where. Thus they have no consistency in their arguments; that is, they argue one way to-day, and not exactly the other way, at random. Their lines of argument diverge, nothing comes to a point; there is no one centre in which their mind sits, on which their judgment of men and things proceeds.'
[ S.L. Jaki, Newman to Converts: An Existential Ecclesiology, p. 50]
California’s Proposition 71 Failure: "Five years after a budget-busting $3 billion was allocated to embryonic stem cell research, there have been no cures, no therapies and little progress. So supporters are embracing research they once opposed. (Investors)"
Blessed Niels Steensen (1638-1686): "We often hear about the Catholic fathers of astronomy, but yet the Danish Catholic father of geology, Blessed Niels Steensen (or Nicholas Steno), is rarely mentioned outside of the academic arena. Described by Fr. Jaki as 'the trailblazing geologist, a convert (former Lutheran), and eventually a Bishop', he was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 23, 1988. However, today January 11, is his birthday! A celebration is in order and perhaps the best present of all would be to learn more about Blessed Niels and remember him in our prayers.
Some sources to start with are his Wikipedia page and the popular science book about him by Alan Cutler, ''The Seashell and the Mountaintop' available from Amazon. Fr. Jaki has also written on Blessed Niels and Dr. Thursday provides some long excerpts about him here.
Here are Fr. Jaki's concluding comments:
[Steno's] caution stood him in good stead. It earned him three centuries later the praise of another great Danish man of science, Niels Bohr, who commended his forebear's openmindedness in recognizing the great inadequacies in man's knowledge of his brain. Happily for science, Steno's openmindedness is still alive in many leaders of science and causes them to reach conclusions hardly different from his. [S.L. Jaki, Brain, Mind and Computers, pp. 120-121]
Continuing from where we left off in Part One, Etienne Gilson describes the bedrock of Thomist realism in his Le Réalisme Methodique, as reproduced by E.L. Mascall in his The Openness of Being. Included are comments by Mascall in italics.
Knowledge presupposes the presence of the thing itself to the intellect, and we do not have to postulate, behind the thing that is in the thought, a mysterious and unknowable duplicate, which would be the thing of the thing as it is in thought but, in thought, apprehending the thing as it is.
Taine performed a great service for good sense when he defined a sensation as a true hallucination, for he showed where logic necessarily lands idealism. Sensation is what a hallucination becomes when this hallucination isn't one. We must not let ourselves be impressed by the famous 'errors of the senses' or be surprised by the enormous hoo-ha that the idealists make of them; idealists are people for whom the normal can only be a particular case of the pathological.
E.M: Gilson refuses to admit the accusation that realists are committed by their doctrine to posing as infallible; quite to the contrary:
We are simply philosophers for whom truth is normal and error is abnormal; this does not mean that truth is any earier for us to achieve that is, for example, perfect health. The realist does not differ from the idealist in being unable to make mistakes, but primarily in the fact that, when he does make mistakes, it is not because thought has erred through being unfaithful to itself but because knowledge has erred through being unfaithful to its object. But, above all, the realist makes mistakes only when he is unfaithful to his principles, while the idealist avoids them only in the degree in which he is unfaithful to his.
E.M: And finally, it is the idealist, not the realist, who takes the mystery out of existence and claims to know everything that there is to know:
To say that all knowledge consists in grasping the thing as it is does not in any way mean that knowledge exhausts the content of its object in one single act. What knowledge grasps of an object is real, but the real is inexhaustible, and even if the intellect had discerned all its details it would still be up against the mystery of its very existence. It was the idealist Descartes who believed that he could grasp the reality infallibly and at one fell swoop; Pascal, the realist, knew how naive this pretence of the philosopher was... The virtue proper of the realist is modesty concerning his knowledge, and even if he does not always practise it, he is committed to it by his profession.
[E.Gilson, Le Réalisme Methodique, pp. 87ff cited in E.L. Mascall, The Openness of Being, pp. 94-95]
L'Osservatore Romano di oggi pubblica un articolo del direttore Gian Maria Vian tratto da un volume collettaneo. L'articolo riporta una lauta citazione di Chesterton e del suo La Resurrezione di Roma. Bene, benissimo!
L'altare nei ricordi di Gilbert K. Chesterton Bastoncini di liquirizia o alberi tropicali?
Da un articolo del nostro direttore sugli anni santi di Pio XI (in Storia dei giubilei, iv, a cura di F. Margiotta Broglio e G. Fossi, Firenze, Giunti, 2000, pp. 118-133) pubblichiamo stralci con una lunga citazione, relativa al giubileo straordinario del 1929, tratta da The Resurrection of Rome di G. K. Chesterton nella traduzione (1950) di Iride Ballini.
La lettura dei decreti per la beatificazione dei martiri inglesi, avvenuta il 14 dicembre, e la successiva cerimonia in San Pietro ebbero un testimone d'eccezione, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, da sette anni divenuto cattolico, che trasse dall'avvenimento uno dei quadri più suggestivi della sua apologia di Roma pubblicata nel 1930 con il titolo trasparente The Resurrection of Rome. La lunga e affascinante descrizione prende le mosse da alcune battute sullo smarrimento di un ombrello dopo un'udienza durante la quale lo scrittore inglese incontrò il Papa: 'Poi qualcuno molto addentro nell'ambiente annunciò con serietà che il papa l'avrebbe certo regalato ai negri. 'In questo momento, disse con enfasi l'informatore, un piccolo negro passeggia al sole con il vostro ombrello'. E sotto questa scherzosa iperbole scopersi per la prima volta con chiarezza una qualità che si deve aggiungere a quelle di maggiore evidenza in Pio xi; la si definisce 'il suo entusiasmo per le missioni', ma è fatta in realtà di un fortissimo antagonismo nei riguardi del disprezzo in cui vengono tenute le razze indigene, e di una immensa fede nella fratellanza di tutte le tribù alla luce della fede. (...) La seconda volta vidi il papa meno da vicino ma lo ascoltai più a lungo e fu quando vennero letti e sottoposti alla sua approvazione definitiva i documenti relativi alle beatificazioni. Ascoltai l'ordinata lettura della lunga lista degli eroi inglesi che resistettero alla dispotica distruzione della religione nazionale, e ascoltai un gran numero di nomi inglesi (pronunciati con accento perfettamente italiano) che assomigliavano a quelli di Smith e di Higgins. Poi parlò il papa, e più che un discorso fu una conversazione non senza movimenti di vivacità prettamente italiana se si fa il paragone con l'andamento abituale di una conversazione inglese. Ciò che più profondamente mi commosse nella mia qualità di inglese lontano dalla patria fu che egli parlasse in lode dell'Inghilterra con particolare calore e vivacità di immagine (...) Pure molta importanza diede al fatto che gli ultimi a dare la suprema testimonianza in Inghilterra furono uomini di ogni classe e condizione sociale, ricchi e poveri, i più grandi nobili e gli ultimi lavoratori dei campi (...) E finalmente lo vidi per l'ultima volta (...) quando venne a proclamare le beatificazioni innanzi a una gigantesca assemblea chiudendo poi la cerimonia con la benedizione dall'altare maggiore. (...) La chiesa storica che abbraccia tutta l'esistenza contiene una parte che non è soltanto storica, ma anche preistorica, contiene quelle cose terribili che sono la prima rivelazione, la caduta e il diluvio. Io vidi tutto questo nelle più barbariche volute del barocco e in San Pietro nel baldacchino che avevo un tempo odiato come opera di pasticceria negra fatta con bastoncini di liquirizia intrecciati. Ma quando, come dirò in seguito, una voce attraversò come un gran vento il tempio che sta al centro del mondo, sentii all'improvviso che quelle spirali oscure erano vertiginose come alberi tropicali presi nel ribollire d'un ciclone, quando qualcosa di indicibile scuote il cuore tenebroso dell'Africa (...) Come portato dal vento mi giunse qualcosa che era come un mormorio e che pure dal tono riconoscevo per delle grida. Era il saluto al papa della gente all'altra estremità della chiesa (...) Con questo suono tutta la costruzione parve ancora espandersi e spalancarsi verso l'eternità sino a che compresi che queste caverne dorate e dipinte sono vaste quanto le profondità dei cieli. (...) Qualunque sia il significato di questo spettacolo esso passò come una visione e se non vi fosse altro da dire su quel significato ci si potrebbe trovar d'accordo nel dire che passò come un sogno. Voglio ancora, con il maggior rispetto, ripetere che nessuno all'infuori di uno sciocco presenterebbe a prova della sua fede queste figure e queste ombre; ma una volta che la fede abbia soddisfatto la ragione sarebbe davvero strano che queste cose non venissero al suo seguito sulle ali di tutte le fantasie. Vediamo che il mondo esteriore non disdegna affatto di venire ispirato dal cerimoniale, esso non si limita che a creare altre cerimonie che non sono ispiratrici quanto queste. Si parla di antiritualisti, ma gli antiritualisti non esistono. Agli uomini viene soltanto concesso di degradare il rito trasformandolo in etichetta. E quando da quel luogo uscimmo nel mondo esteriore pieno di avvisi pubblicitari, di giornali, di livree e di vesti alla moda non ci si potrà troppo biasimare se pensiamo che là dentro il mondo era tanto più vasto del mondo esterno'.
From the Shelves of the James Joyce Library... (1): " When I started this blog, my plan was to have a post up every few days at least. That's still my intention. I've been finding it more difficult than I expected, though, not through any lack of topics (since Chesterton is a bottomless well) but for the simpler reason that reading GKC all the time would be too much for even the most ardent fan, and when I'm reading other books, I'm obviously much less likely to be struck by thoughts on Chesterton.
For this reason-- and also because I don't actually labour under the delusion that the world is agog to hear my own personal views, on Chesterton or anything else-- I've hit on an idea to keep the stream flowing at dry periods, and perhaps also to perform a service to Chestertonians. The library I work in has over a million books on its shelves, including a vast English literature section. There may be thousands of 'unharvested' reflections on Chesterton lurking in them, especially in the older and more obscure volumes. This might especially be a fruitful activity as University College Dublin used to be very much Catholic in orientation, being descended from the Catholic University of Ireland that Newman inspired. (I often wonder what Newman would make of some of the books on its shelves now, especially in the trendier and more subversive branches of the humanities.)
I hope the snippets I'll be quoting fall into the category of fair use. But not enough to actually go read up on copyright law.
Starting at a random spot, the first Chesterton allusion I found was an essay entitled G.K. Chesterton in the Collected Essays of Graham Greene (the Bodley Head, 1969).
The six page essay reviews two Chesterton biographies; Gilbert Keith Chesterton by Maisie Ward and The Chestertons by Mrs Cecil Chesterton. The second book is an unsavoury subject, dealt with adequately in most subsequent biographies. Suffice it here to say that Greene's review of the book was highly critical and sceptical.
He writes much more favourably of Maisie Ward's book, but describes it as 'too long, too cumbered with affectionate trivialities'. That's a fair point, although Chesterton enthusiasts will gobble up every little anecdote.
More interesting are Greene's observations on Chesterton himself. He makes the very good point that 'a generation that appreciates Joyce finds for some reason Chesterton's equally fanatical play on words exhausting'. Perhaps Chesterton's sin in this respect is to make puns and allusions that the man on the Clapham omnibus could understand, without resorting to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
On the subject of Chesterton's politics, he says 'To be a politican a man needs to be a psychologist, and Chesterton was no psychologist, as his novels prove. He saw things in absolute terms of good and evil, and his immense charity prevented him from admitting the amount of deception in ordinary life'.
Many readers of Chesterton might agree that he was politically naive-- his political articles have a tendency to veer off from current affairs into other topics-- but why should we accept that it was the fact that he 'saw things in absolute terms of good and evil' that obscured his vision? 'He was too good a man for politics', Greene tells us.
Behind this theory there seems to lie the assumption that goodness and innocence are at a loss to comprehend (or even recognise) evil. The Father Brown stories will tell us what Chesterton thought about that. It is in fact good that understands evil, and evil that cannot understand good. 'The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not'.
I haven't read much Graham Greene-- a couple of novellas-- but my impression is that he, like so many modern writers, has a certain fascination with the psychology of sin and evil. Aside from possibly having an unhealthy influence on society, I think this fascination has produced a great many dull books and films. Evil isn't interesting; evil is just a dead end, and the deeper you explore, the less there is to see. Good and evil are absolute. Living a moral life is anything but simple, but morality itself is straightforward, for all the problem plays and novels that try to make it seem problematic.
Green goes on to give this assessment of Chesterton's legacy: 'Orthodoxy, The Thing and The Everlasting Man are among the great books of the age. Much else, of course, it will be disappointing if time does not preserve out of that weight of work; The Ballad of the White Horse, the satirical poems, such prose fantasies as The Man Who Was Thursday and The Napoleon of Notting Hill, the early critical books on Browning and Dickens; but in these three religious books, inspired by a cosmic optimism, the passionately held belief that 'it is good to be here', he contributed what another great religious writer closely akin to him in political ideas, and even in style, saw was most lacking in our age.'
I "figli della tigre" se ne stanno andando. I giovani irlandesi, cresciuti al sole del boom economico, abituati alla luce calda del benessere, sono i più sconcertati dall'ombra scura che la crisi ha fatto scendere sull'isola. Il gelo della recessione ha colpito loro più di tutti: la disoccupazione è raddoppiata al 12,5%, ma il 90% dei posti di lavoro perduti si è concentrato nella fascia di età sotto i 30 anni. Per questo l'Irlanda, per quindici anni calamita d'Europa, autoproclamata Tigre celtica che ha accolto stranieri da paesi vicini e lontani offrendo la certezza di un lavoro, oggi è tornata a essere un paese di emigranti in cerca di impiego.
Quest'anno per la prima volta il numero di irlandesi che hanno deciso di emigrare ha superato il numero degli immigrati. Le pagine più tristi della dolorosa storia d'Irlanda sembrano riscriversi da sole. Nell'arco di 12 mesi, 40mila irlandesi sono partiti alla ricerca di una nuova vita. L'anno prima erano stati solo 7.800. Le mete tradizionali, Gran Bretagna e Stati Uniti, sono ora trascurate perché colpite dalla crisi. Il boom delle partenze è verso Canada e Australia, paesi altrettanto anglofoni ma ora più stabili e quindi più invitanti.