March 18, 2005

Who Knew. . .

that John Dryden, one of the greatest of the crop of late 17th century writers actually composed a Life of St. Francis Xavier and, it is reputed in the intro a life of St. Ignatius. Haven't read 'em so I don't have any idea how "fair" they might be, but it came as news to me.

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Sermons of St. Anthony of Padua

Via Summa Minutiae. Find them here.

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The Moment of Definition

from Helena
Evelyn Waugh

"There are people in this city," said Sylvester quite cheerfully, "who believe that the emperor was preparing a bath of children's blood to cure himself of the measles. I cured him instead and that is why he has been so generous to me. People believe that here and now while the emperor and I are alive and going about in front of their faces. What will they believe in a thousand years' time?"

"And some of them don't seem to believe anything at all," said Helena. "It's all a game of words."

"I know," said Sylvester, "I know."

And then Helena said something that seemed to have no relevance. "Where is the cross anyway?" she asked.

"What cross, my dear."

"The only one. The real one."

"I don't know. I don't think anyone knows. I don't think anyone has ever asked before."

"It must be somewhere. Wood doesn't just melt like snow. It's not three hundred years old. The temples here are full of beams and paneling twice that age. It stands to reason God would take more care of the cross than of them."

"Nothing 'stands to reason' with God. If he had wanted us to have it, no doubt he would have given it to us. But he hasn't chosen to. He gives us eanough."

"But how do you know he doesn't want us to have it--the cross I mean? I bet he's just waiting for one of us to go and find it--just at this moment when it's most needed. Just at this moment when everyone is forgettting it and chattering about the hypostatic union there's a solid chunk of wood waiting for them to have their silly heads knocked against. I'm going off to find it," said Helena.

The empress dowager was an old woman, almost of an age with Pope Sylvester, but he regarded her fondly, as though she were a child, an impetuous young princess who went well to hounds, and he said with the gentlest irony, "You'll tell me, won't you?--if you are successful."

"I'll tell the world," said Helena.

Just one of many examples of exactly the right touch, exactly the right exposition, exactly the right weight and understanding that guides Waugh's hand throughout the novel. If my other carryings-on have not already convinced you, let the prose carry you to go and get this novel. Rather like dipping into Flannery O'Connor, you'll be very pleased that you did.

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La Belle Hélène

In reading Helena last night I stumbled across a large number of passages I would like to share. But I thought the more important thing to share was an observation. Evelyn Waugh liked this best among his books. There are a good many reasons why this might be so: it is splendidly written--both the prose and the coherence are several notches above some of his earlier, more frenetic work. It is tightly done, with just the right strokes and exactly the right selection of detail.

But I suspect the reason Waugh prized this above all the other works is that in the course of writing it, he became a different person. No other piece of his writing has such deep insight and appreciation for a single character. Yes, the old Evelyn is there nipping at the heels of nearly every person in the book other than Helena. However, his obvious admiration for and reverence of Helena effects a transformation in his prose to create a work unlike anything else He had done.

I claim no deep familiarity with the entire Opus of Evelyn Waugh; however, at this point I feel that I have read widely enough through his career to understand and appreciate the comment of the woman who said that Mr. Waugh was not a very nice man. Strongly evident in the early works, present and pronounced in Brideshead and recidivus in The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh, the novelist comes across as strongly misanthropic, perhaps even more strongly misogynist, and terribly bitter.

If Helena were your only acquaintance with Waugh's work, you would certainly smell the cologne, but would assume that the real Evelyn Waugh had left the room. There are moments of Vile Bodies reserved for some of the more repulsive characters, and yet there is never the stunning detraction, the sheer biting nearly vindictive character assassination that makes some of Waugh's work so hilarious.

And so, while there are a few chuckles, this is another uncharacteristic work in that it is not terrible humorous. There is a slyness and a cleverness to what is going on; but there isn't the savageness nor the hilarity to be found in many of his books.

As a direct result, I suspect, this among Waugh's fictional works, is one of the few to fall in and out of print. Publishing history suggests that many of the works have been available from the time they were published to the present day. But Helena apparently makes a rare appearance and then bows out. That said, the wise Amazon consumer will dutifully make a discrete purchase at the earliest possible opportunity. It would be a shame for this greatest of this religious "biographies" to vanish.

And that is another point. Waugh's nonfiction lives, St. Edmund Campion and Msgr. Ronald Knox fall woefully short of the wonder of his fictional prose. Perhaps Waugh needed to reign in his natural animosity. Whatever the reason the biographies are strangely stilted and oddly disjunct works that try the patience of the most determined reader. Incident piles on incident without any real insight into the life of the person about whom Waugh is writing.

Not so Helena, because Waugh abandoned any pretense of being able to say anything truly definitive about the character, and because he allowed himself his usually jabs at other characters, Helena is not merely a compendium of events, but a view of a person through the eyes of an admirer. We see her grow and mature and become progressively more holy, and the detractions of ages past, whether reportage or Byzantine fabrications are stripped away to show the circumstances of the time and how they "built" holiness. In many ways, you read in Helena Waugh's "redemptive" work. It is a work in which one feels that the Spirit of God was active in the author.

So, that Waugh considered this his finest work is not surprising. For him, it appears to have been a work in the transformation of understanding that would define for him what his lifelong quest had been and would continue to be. Yes, the old Waugh returns, but transformed by his late encounter with Helena. The child that transforms the parent for the better is nearly always the best loved child.

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March 17, 2005

Delilghts Only for the Initiated

How's that for elitist and snooty? Nah, on second thought, the only way to really enjoy these is with a crowd--that's why I invited y'all into my secret lair of "the-things-I-really-oughtn't-to-admit-to-even-knowing-about-but-which-will-
dispell-the-odd-notion-of-me-that-some-seem-to-have." AKA Guilty Pleasures:

The Mabinogion--and yes, even the Evangeline Walton series of four novels that takes the four branches and turns them out at bombastically amazing length. Everyone should know about the four branches--not because it's essential cultural information, not because it's great literature (although it is that too), not because it will make your brain bigger--no, just because it is fun. It's like the Tain Bo Culaigne translated by Lady Guest (you can even fine some of the older versions of the Mabinogion in the magnificent Lady Guest translation). What's more, often the translations include "side-stories" like "Culhwch and Olwen," a riff on the Arthurian Legend with a giant magical stew-pot. Yep--the Mabinogion is simply a treasure.

Locked Room Mysteries--Okay, it's a very tiny genre, tried by many, but perfected and executed at least fifty times successfully by John Dickson Carr under a variety of names. As with all of the prolific Golden Age writers, read enough and you'll see the plots repeated--sometimes shifting from short story to novel, often picked up and moved from one novel to another. However, if you are to dip into this genre, you should have a roadmap. It Walks By Night while not a favorite because it stars the least robust of the detectives does have the unique feature of being the only mystery I know of dealing with a decapitation in the locked room. The Three Coffins featuring the most frequently recurring of the Chestertonian Detectives, Dr. Gideon Fell. This has the unique distinction of a lecture on locked room murders and a subtle twist--a murder that takes place in the middle of a street watched from both ends by witnesses and yet not seen by either. Among my favorite of the Fell series--The Man Who Could Not Shudder, The Mad Hatter Mystery, and The Problem of the Wire Cage--not a locked room, this last one, rather a tennis court that shows only one set of footprints going out to a dead body that experienced a definite "hands-on" end. And finally, my favorite of the Chestertonians--Lord Henry Merrivale--these under the pseudonym Carter Dickson, erratically in print, and even paperback copies of some of these are incredibly expensive. I collected them more than twenty years ago when I had access to the amazing world of genre used-book stores in and around Washington D.C. My favorite of these Death in Five Boxes The Skeleton in the Clock and one considered the finest of the locked room genre The Judas Window in which a person in a room with one entrance, locked from the inside, and no secret passageways (I should have mentioned that Carr does not cheat) is murdered by a crossbow bolt. All of these are very rarified intellectual puzzles--characters are fun, but central to the action (as with Dame Agatha) is the puzzle under consideration.

Treasure Island, mentioned below. I don't know if this is just a boy's book, but I've read it two or three dozen times and no other book about the sea remotely approaches it. It may be quirky like my greater than forty-five readings of Tom Sawyer which I like much, much better than Huckleberry Finn.

Finally, I have a thing for time travel science fiction. I've read some fairly bad recent stuff which has gotten acclaim--Swanwick's Bones of the Earth moves from bad paleontology through bad morality into simple dullness, Cryptozoic, now much less well known, is Brian Aldiss's infinitely more sucessful version of the same. Julian May's highly literate "Pleistocene Saga" starting, if I recall with The Golden Torc, Robert Silverberg's uncharacteristically funny Up the Line, to the poignant, frightening, and tremendously well written The Domesday Book. One mustn't forget certain classics of this genre, Bradbury's "The Sound of Thunder" and C.L. Moore's (I think) "Vintage Season." (It was written under the pseudonym shared by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, but I think it is now attributed almost entirely to C.L. Moore.)

And let us not forget the highly Christian, highly symbolic, very eerily misshapen world of Cordwainer Smith--"Scanners Live in Vain," "The Game of Rat and Dragon," "The Ballad of Lost C'mell" and a great many others. These are so odd and of such startling originality that there is simply nothing else to compare them to. People have borrowed from them and ripped them off, but they have never succeeded in recreating the astonishing sense of Otherness that Smith attains. Very highly recommended.

Okay, enough for the short walk through the field of the less-than-highly-erudite that constitutes a good 70% of my collection of books. I think one of the reasons I read so many classics now is to make up for the years of wasted youth reading "mind-numbing rot." Well, so it has been called by others who have failed to acquire the taste.

(It should come as no surprise that among my favorites are Jack Vance and C.A. Smith, whose highly ornate prose is ever a pleasure. Nor should any be astonished when I say that I don't share their enthusiasm for Gene Wolfe. Some of the Short Stories have been very fine, but I'm afraid that most of the full length works have yet to find a warm space in may heart. I've read many of them and can appreciate the finer qualities, but they simply don't speak to me the way many of these works do.)

To come, perhaps later--the amazing world of the lesser-known Golden Age--Hake Talbot's Rim of the Pit and Anthony Boucher, Frederic Brown, and if that hasn't bored you completely to tears, you can listen to me wax enthusiastic about the wonders of the prose of Lord Dunsany, David Lindsay, and E.R.R. Eddison--an author with a book having the unlikely title A Fish Dinner in Memmison. And this doesn't even mention Joy Chant and Hope Mirless.

And if there's too much hissing and spitting, you may be subjected to my disquistion on Mary Roberts Rinehart, the queen of the "Had I but known then what I know now" school of mystery--who nevertheless created some of the fanciest tricks in the mystery book. And finally, you might be subjected to my life-long affection for Dame Agatha and everything she wrote, from autobiography through romance. Could create a character any thicker than tissue paper, but boy could she plot! Unlike the much better stylist Ngaio Marsh, whose writing and characters are quite fine, but whose mysteries are somewhat thin and unsatisfying. But I do go on when I had intended to stop.

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Some Questions

A gift from Gregg and MamaT

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?
Oh, this is really tough--either Bleak House Charles Dickens, Pseudolus Plautus, or Dandelion Wine Ray Bradbury.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Yes, three--the eponymous Emma, Kate (from Taming of the Shrew--probably like TSO's Dulcinea because of the fieriness of Elizabeth Taylor's version), and Margo Channing (All About Eve--class and irascibility mixed in the marvelous package of Bette Davis's drawl.)

The last book you bought was . . .
Helena and The DK Shakespeare Guide, the title of which eludes me.

The last book you read was . . .
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling Ross King

What are you currently reading?
Helena Evelyn Waugh, The Collected Short Stories of Evelyn Waugh, Ascent to Love Ruth Burrows, Great Expectations Charles Dickens, Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy, Carmelite Prayer, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Life of Johnson, oh, and my guilty pleasure The Punch and Judy Murders Carter Dickson (to be followed up with some Craig Rice I was able to get from Blackmask as e-books!)

Five books you would take to a desert island: (The First Three are for sure. The last two would be a last minute decision. I'd select one from each group depending on the mood I was in and why exactly I was going to a desert island.)

1. Bible - Authorized Version (KJV with original inclusion of the Deuterocanonical Books).
2. Collected works of Shakespeare
3. Complete Works of St. John of the Cross
4. One of: Ulysses, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, Bleak House, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, or Treasure Island (Depends on the pleasantness of the Isle and my feeling about possible length of stay and purpose)
5. Neal Stephenson either Snow Crash or The Diamond Age; The Difference Engine is a distant and unlikely third possibility.

What three people are you passing this stick on to and why?

Tom of Disputations - sheer curiousity as to whether he would stoop to this level.
Brandon of "Siris"--sheer unadulterated curiousity.
Mr. White-- ditto

I'm just a nosy parker.


Two points: How could I possibly have forgotten Emma Peel--the constant companion of my just-pre and adolescent years. My first girlfriend was a tristate champion in three martial arts.

And secondly, I'd also like to pass this own to Eutychus Fell because so much of what he writes strikes a familiar chord.

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Hope For Better Pickings Tomorrow

I had lined up in my head a post detailing all of my opinions about matters such as school prayer, gay marriage, and other items of the day. Then I realized several things.

(1) Who cares?

(2) Who am I trying to convince?

(3) While I enjoy discussion and controversy, I am not a controversialist. I don't really kick up a fuss, largely because my opinions on matters are not really hard and fast for the most part. I'm willing to be persuaded and my mind changes as quickly as the Florida weather--so I'm not really a candidate for posting these sorts of things.

(4) In many ways I'm really too ignorant of the salient facts to make pronouncements on policies of any sort. I have a muddle of opinions gathered together that spew forth with little rhyme or reason only to be changed by the first commenter who makes a reasonable point. The only matters on which I am thoroughly convinced and intractable (or at least can hold my own) are matters of literature and the arts. I'm less confident in the arts, but still can hold my own in theory, philosophy, and practice.

(5) No one really wants to read yet another set of opinions on the same issues. Or if they do, they would get far better bang for their buck reading the comments on the major channels of St. Blogs.

So, what happens is that I'm left without much to say this morning. I aplogize for that and will try to do better around lunchtime or later this evening. Certainly by tomorrow morning. Perhaps I'll post some of the delights from the truly insightful and wonderful novel Helena.

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March 16, 2005

William Law

Sorry, now I'm started and I can't resist introducing one of my other favorite protestant mystics.

from Of Justification by Faith and Works
William Law

A DIALOGUE BETWEEN A Methodist and a Churchman.

[Just-1] Methodist. Say what you will, sir, I must still stand to it, that almost all the sermons of your bishops and curates, for these last hundred years, have been full of soul-destroying doctrine. {Mr. Berridge's Letters, page 20.}

[Just-2] Churchman. Pray, what is that doctrine?

[Just-3] Methodist. It is the doctrine of salvation, "partly by faith, and partly by works; or justification by faith and works." {Ibid. page 13.}

[Just-4] Churchman. Salvation by faith and works, is a plain, and very intelligible scripture-truth. But salvation partly by faith and partly by works, is a false and groundless explication of the matter, proceeding either from art, or ignorance. What sounder gospel-truth, than to say, that we are saved by Jesus Christ, God and man? But, what falser account could be given of it, than to say, that if so, then we are saved, partly by Jesus, and partly by Christ; that Jesus does something, and Christ adds the rest. For is not Jesus Christ, as such, the one undivided savior, with one undivided operation? And who can more endeavor to lose the meaning, and pervert the sense of this gospel- truth, than he, who considers Jesus, as separately, and Christ as separately, doing their parts one after the other, the one making up what was wanting in the other, towards the work of our salvation?

[Just-5] Now to separate faith from works, in this manner, the one partly doing this, and the other partly doing that, is in as full contrariety to scripture, to all truth, and the nature of the thing, as to separate Jesus from Christ. For as the one savior is manifested in and by Jesus Christ, one undivided person; so the one salvation is manifested, when faith is in works, and works are in faith, as Jesus is in Christ, and Christ is in Jesus.

See also the extraordinary and beautiful The Spirit of Love,
The Spirit of Prayer, and his masterwork A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

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Jonathan Edwards

I love innocent comments that give me a reason to ride one of my hobby horses. ~M2~ innocently asked if Jonathan Edwards ever wrote about love.

It is my belief that Jonathan Edwards, along with William Law, George Whitefield, George Fox, William Penn, Jeremy Taylor, and a smattering of others, is one of a very elite group of protestant mystics whom God granted the grace to see far and see hard.

As a result Edwards did produce some remarkable works centered on love, affection, and compassion.

His treatise Religious Affections is one example, from which, the following excerpt:

from Religious Affections
Jonathan Edwards

The evidence of this in the Scripture is very abundant. If we judge of the Nature of Christianity, and the proper spirit of the gospel, by the word of God, this spirit is what may, by way of eminency, be called the Christian spirit; and may be looked upon as the true, and distinguishing disposition of the hearts of Christians as Christians. When some of the disciples of Christ said something, through inconsideration and infirmity, that was not agreeable to such a spirit, Christ told them, that they knew not what manner of spirit they were of, Luke 9:55, implying that this spirit that I am speaking of, is the proper spirit of his religion and kingdom. All that are truly godly, and real disciples of Christ, have this spirit in them; and not only so, but they are of this spirit; it is the spirit by which they are so possessed and governed, that it is their true and proper character. This is evident by what the wise man says, Prov. 17:27 (having respect plainly to such a spirit as this): "A man of understanding is of an excellent spirit." And by the particular description Christ gives of the qualities and temper of such as are truly blessed, that shall obtain mercy, and are God's children and heirs: Matt. 5:5, 7, 9, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." And that this spirit is the special character of the elect of God, is manifested by Col. 3:12, 13: "Put on therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another." And the apostle, speaking of that temper and disposition, which he speaks of as the most excellent and essential thing in Christianity, and that without which none are true Christians, and the most glorious profession and gifts are nothing (calling this spirit by the name of charity), he describes it thus, 1 Cor. 13:4, 5: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil."

Portions of this Thanksgiving Sermon are lovely:

from "Thanksgiving Sermon"
Jonathan Edwards

1. Proposition. The saints in heaven are employed; they are not idle; they have there much to do: they have a work before them that will fill up eternity.

We are not to suppose, when the saints have finished their course and done the works appointed them here in this world, and are got to their journey’s end, to their Father’s house, that they will have nothing to do. It is true, the saints when they get to heaven, rest from their labours and their works follow them. Heaven is not a place of labour and travail, but a place of rest. Heb. iv. 9. There remaineth a rest for the people of God. And it is a place of the reward of labour. But yet the rest of heaven does not consist in idleness, and a cessation of all action, but only a cessation from all the trouble and toil and tediousness of action. The most perfect rest is consistent with being continually employed. So it is in heaven. Though the saints are exceedingly full of action, yet their activity is perfectly free from all labour, or weariness, or unpleasantness. They shall rest from their work, that is, from all work of labour and self-denial, and grief, care, and watchfulness, but they will not cease from action. The saints in glory are represented as employed in serving God, as well as the saints on earth, though it be without any difficulty or opposition. Rev. xxii. 3. “

To judge by all of his works and his life, he was, like John Wesley, a man after God's own heart and God spoke to him of intimate matters; however, he was woefully misguided in some of his opinions by misunderstandings that accrued as a result of common errors of his time and some Calvinist influences.


Admittedly, the majority of his corpus was dedicated to being "a fisher of man" and reeling in the lost souls of the time--so Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is a note struck forcefully and often. Nevertheless, not all of his work is so militant, even though all is strident and forceful. Were I to give a single word to describe Edwards's work, I would say that it is vigorous. There is a tautness to it that sings of Divine Things. Take, for example, "The Church's Marriage to Her Sons and to Her God"--a remarkable sermon that wayward Priests would do well to read again and again. So too with True Saints, When Absent from the Body, Are Present with the Lord:

from "True Saints, When Absent from the Body, Are Present with the Lord"
Jonathan Edwards

And therefore there is a certain place, a particular part of the external creation, to which Christ is gone, and where he remains. And this place is that which we call the highest heaven, or the heaven of heavens; a place beyond all the visible heavens. Eph. iv. 9, 10. “Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended, is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens.” This is the same which the apostle calls the third heaven, 2 Cor. xii. 2. reckoning the aerial heaven as the first, the starry heaven as the second, and the highest heaven as the third. This is the abode of the holy angels; they are called “the angels of heaven,” Matt. xxiv. 36. “The angels which are in heaven,” Mark xiii. 32. “The angels of God in heaven,” Matt. xxii. 30. and Mark xii. 25. They are said “always to behold the face of the Father which is in heaven,” Matt. xviii. 10. And they are elsewhere often represented as before the throne of God, or surrounding his throne in heaven, and sent from thence, and descending from thence on messages to this world. And thither it is that the souls of departed saints are conducted, when they die. They are not reserved in some abode distinct from the highest heaven; a place of rest, which they are kept in, until the day of judgment; such as some imagine, which they call the hades of the happy: but they go directly to heaven itself. This is the saints’ home, being their Father’s house: they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth, and this is the other and better country that they are travelling to, Heb. xi. 13-26. This is the city they belong to: Phil. iii. 20. “Our conversation or (as the word properly signifies, citizenship) is in heaven.” Therefore this undoubtedly is the place the apostle has respect to in my text, when he says, “We are willing to forsake our former house, the body, and to dwell in the same house, city or country, wherein Christ dwells,” which is the proper import of the words of the original. What can this house, or city, or country be, but that house, which is elsewhere spoken of, as their proper home, and their Father’s house, and the city and country to which they properly belong, and whither they are travelling all the while they continue in this world, and the house, city, and country where we know the human nature of Christ is? This is the saints’ rest; here their hearts are while they live; and here their treasure is.

The geography of the afterlife may be truncated, but the image herein is glorious.

Reading The Types of the Messiah is an intricate and satisfying Bible Study all on its own. Truly remarkable is the thought that this is a small fraction of the work on one man. Reading this treatise sends you through a high-speed survey of the entire Old Testament looking for the signs of the Messiah throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. I won't cite it here; however, were one to read it slowly with reference to each of the Scriptures quoted, there is no doubt but that one we be far better acquainted with the person of Jesus than before one started.

And let me conclude this whirlwind tour with another beautiful fragment of a sermon. Stop and think what it would be like today to be able to here sermons so well constructed, so carefully considered, so well thought-out. It would be this remarkable quality that would serve to draw people toward Christ--the truth presented in all of its beauty.

from "The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers"

“My peace I give unto you.” Christ by calling it his peace signifies two things,

1. That it was his own, that which he had to give. It was the peculiar benefit that he had to bestow on his children, now he was about to leave the world as to his human presence. Silver and gold he had none; for, while in his estate of humiliation, he was poor. The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests; but the Son of man had not where to lay his head: Luke ix. 58. He had no earthly estate to leave to his disciples who were as it were his family: but he had peace to give them.

2. It was his peace that he gave them; as it was the same kind of peace which he himself enjoyed. The same excellent and divine peace which he ever had in God, and which he was about to receive in his exalted state in a vastly greater perfection and fulness: for the happiness Christ gives to his people, is a participation of his own happiness: agreeable to chapter xv. 11. “These things have I said unto you, that my joy might remain in you.” And in his prayer with his disciples at the conclusion of this discourse, chapter xvii. 13. “And now come I to thee, and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” And verse 22. “And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them.”. . .


The use that I would make of this doctrine, is to improve it as an inducement unto all to forsake the world, no longer seeking peace and rest in its vanities, and to cleave to Christ and follow him. Happiness and rest are what all men pursue. But the things of the world, wherein most men seek it, can never afford it; they are labouring and spending themselves in vain. But Christ invites you to come to him, and offers you this peace, which he gives his true followers, and that so much excels all that the world can afford, Isa. lv. 2, 3.

You that have hitherto spent your time in the pursuit of satisfaction in the profit or glory of the world, or in the pleasures and vanities of youth, have this day an offer of that excellent and everlasting peace and blessedness, which Christ has purchased with the price of his own blood. As long as you continue to reject those offers and invitations of Christ, and continue in a Christless condition, you never will enjoy any true peace or comfort; but will be like the prodigal, that in vain endeavoured to be satisfied with the husks that the swine did eat.

What is particularly nice about Edwards is that each sermon has this "application" section in which the abstracts of the commentary, the ideals that are pointed out, are given focus and purpose. This might well be called the "exhortation to holiness." It is rarely without reference to God's Wrath (a favorite subject) but also His infinited mercy in welcoming sinners home. Edwards is a nice specific to a time in which sin is seen as "not so bad." We tend to have lost a sense of the enormity of the crime we commit, the immensity of the ingratitude we express when we follow our own lead.

I love the work of Jonathan Edwards. The theology may have its problems, but the prose is sinewy and peppered with startling images and wonderful, powerful language, all crafted with an eye to making the Glory of God known to sinners. A Catholic must tiptoe through the TULIP and other things Calvinist, but there is remarkable fruit to be harvested here.

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March 15, 2005

A Logical Exposition of an Established Church Doctrine

As I said, if you want sin and hell, (among other things much more pleasant to reflect upon) you cannot do better than the great Puritan preachers. This passage from Jonathan Edwards clearly spells out the logic of the Eternity of Hell.

from Remarks on Important Theological Controversies--Chapter II Jonathan Edwards

§ 11. If the wicked in hell are in a state of trial, under severe chastisement, as means in order to their repentance and obtaining the benefit of God’s favour in eternal rewards, then they are in a state of such freedom as makes them moral agents, and the proper subjects of judgment and retribution. Then those terrible chastisements are made use of as the most powerful means of all, more efficacious than all the means used in this life which prove ineffectual, and which proving insufficient to overcome sinners’ obstinacy, and prevail with ‘their hard hearts, God is compelled to relinquish them all, and have recourse to those torments as the last means, the most effectual and powerful. If the torments of hell are to last ages of ages, then it must be because sinners in hell all this while are obstinate; and though they are free agents as to this matter, yet they wilfully and perversely refuse, even under such great means, to repent, forsake their sins, and turn to God. It must be further supposed, that all tins while they have the offers of immediate mercy and deliverance made to them, if they will comply. Now, if this be the case, and they shall go on in such wickedness, and continue in such extreme obstinacy and pertinaciousness, for so many ages, (as is supposed, by its being thought their torments shall be so long continued,) how desperately will their guilt be increased! How many thousand times more guilty at the end of the term, than at the beginning! And therefore they will be much the more proper objects of divine severity, deserving God’s wrath, and still a thousand times more severe or longer continued chastisements than the past; and therefore it is not reasonable to suppose, that all the damned should be delivered from misery, and received to God’s favour, and made the subjects of eternal salvation and glory at that time, when they are many thousand times more unworthy of it, more deserving of continuance in misery, than when they were first cast into hell. It is not likely that the infinitely wise God should so order the matter. And if their misery should be augmented, and still lengthened out much longer, to atone for their new contracted guilt; they must be supposed to continue impenitent, till that second additional time of torment is ended; at the end of which their guilt will still be risen higher, and vastly increased beyond what it was before. And, at this rate, where can there be any place for an end of their misery?

This addresses the conception of Hell as a purgatorial waystation on the path to salvation. It says nothing whatsoever of other matters formerly discussed, but it is an excellent exercise in logical consequences.

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Seek and Ye Shall Find

However, I don't believe I shall knock. . .

A Compendium of Resources Related to the Question of Hell

Count on the Puritans: They have the best sermons and the most extensive landscape displays around. But I did get at least one, and probably several equally satisfying answers to my quesitons.

A very protestant site there are articles on antinomianism and legalism, but the chief sources sited, Spurgeon, Owen, Taylor, Calvin, et al. are Anglican or Calvinist; so, beware for some "thar be monsters." (For example the article "Are Roman Catholics Christians" abounds in multiple misunderstandings of Catholic Doctrine, implying that we believe we are somehow saved by works and not by grace--but this is the usual froth of those who examine the surface and practice and don't understanding the underlying principles. It is clear to me that some protestants do--it is not clear to me that they had much to do with this site. Nevertheless some really good and interesting reference materials if taken in proper context.

For those of weaker constitutions, or those prone to wrath or detraction, this site which gives one of Edwards's sermons on the matter might prove sufficient if you had cared about the answer at all. And Edwards is nothing if not wonderful reading. I can scarcely imagine being present at the delivery of one of these magnificently crafted sermons. It was his day's equivalent of the Superbowl, I'm certain.

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March 14, 2005

A Question About Hell

For those who understand better what the Church means by her various pronouncements.

In a comment to Alicia:

Now, someday, I will request that the learned focus their attention on the "eternity" of hell and give that some attention. Because that "eternity" seems quite a bit different than the eternity of the reign of God. But I'm very ignorant in these matters. (My chief problem is that if Hell were eternal, then it would have to be coterminous with God Himself who is the only thing that is Eternal. Angels, Demons, people, and places all have a beginning. They are not thus "eternal" in "always" existent.) If we switch to the other definition of eternal--endless in time, aren't we told that there is a point at which time itself ends?

Anathema was pronounced on those who say that the torments of Hell have an end or that Hell is not eternal. Now, perhaps it really is a technical difference in the meaning of eternity and eternal, but if so can someone explain it. I was under the impression that at the end those who are rejected will ultimately succumb to death--in a sense they would be annihilated. If so, then Hell must have an End. If not, then scripture must mean something else by the passages that state this.

Looking for any input that might clarify the question of what Eternal means here. Do we really mean to say that Hell and God existed if that's the right term outside of creation--because that is Eternity or Eternal, or does the Church mean to say that Hell came into being with the fall of the Angels and exists forevermore from that time forward?

I don't suppose it much matters, but it has been a matter of some considerable confusion to me.

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Why Do I Fail to Be Surprised at This?

The Monk
You scored 5% Cardinal, 84% Monk, 47% Lady, and 35% Knight!

You live a peaceful, quiet life. Very little danger comes you way and
you live a long time. You are wise and modest, but also stagnant. You
have little comfort, little food and have taken a vow of silence. But
who needs chatter when just sitting in the cloister of your abbey with
The Good Book makes you perfectly content.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
You scored higher than 1% on Cardinal
You scored higher than 99% on Monk
You scored higher than 92% on Lady
You scored higher than 25% on Knight
Link: The Who Would You Be in 1400 AD Test written by KnightlyKnave on Ok Cupid

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The Grudge

Horror films from Japan are wonderful because they tend not to head straight for the gross-out splatter effect but for the atmosphere. The Grudge is an American-sponsored remake of a Japanese film. This remake was directed by the director of the original and keeps its original Japanese location. I suppose the effort was directed at making the film accessible to wider audiences by avoiding the double whammy of "Read-the-film" and bad dubbing.

What I like best about Japanese Horror films, which include the film Ringu from which The Ring was derived, is that they are surreal, atmospheric, and never quite complete. While The Grudge makes better sense than The Ring at the end, you still get the sense of things not quite wrapped up. You don't really know the full back-story, nor do you find out what really happened to precipitate the curse that seems to march on so relentlessly. There is so much that is still vague and mysterious, while not seeming incomplete, and that is what makes this film so satisfying. Unlike The Ring that seemed to end with an end to the curse that some revives itself a la Freddy or Jason, this film makes no pretense of an end and you are given a reasonable explanation of why.

The Japanese sensibility, when relatively untrampled by western influences, will seem rather naturally surreal to a western audience. The Japanese way of thinking and even perhaps perceiving is such that while we can appreciate it, we can have no deep understanding of what all of the currents. Thus, it comes off as disjointed and surreal. Add to that the very complex time-scheme of this movie with its in medias res beginning and multiple cuts forward and back to gradually peel back layers of the story and reveal all of the nuances. There must be seven or eight chronological jumps and juxtapositions through the film creating even a greater sense of disorientation (no pun intended).

Well worthwhile for adults and older teens, much too intense for younger members of the audience. If you want to spend an evening with creeping unease, this is the movie for you.


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If you can handle the underlying message (which is not laid on too thick) Robots is an utterly delightful and super-fast-paced film that children will enjoy and adults will appreciate. The gags come a mile a minute and include everything from slapstick to verbal and visual humor. It moves much too fast to take in everything the first time you see it.

The plot is slight, but amusing. A young robot grows up to be an inventor. He goes to the big city to meet Big Weld, the benevolent patriarch of the largest inventing firm in the world, his motto You can shine whatever you are made of, representative of his entire approach to business. Of course something has happened and Big Weld has vanished, and nasty, greedy corporate types have take over and instituted a new motto Why be you when you can be new? The film centers around the conflict.

The animation is superior. Done by the team that gave us Ice Age, this is a vastly superior work; however, the trailer and lead-in from a new ice-age film is extremely amusing and functioned as a introductory cartoon as well as a trailer.

If you have kids, go and see it, they will love it. If you do not, go and see it, you will enjoy it. A wonderful, light entertainment.

Highly recommended.

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More Historical Goodies from Helena

One of the great delights of any work of historical fiction is to find out things that were previously unknown; to see how a writer works historical fact into a fictional work. I've already shared with you one interesting fact that, had I known it before, slipped my mind entirely. Waugh peppers his work with them and deals with them slyly. Today's example is particularly fine.

St. Helena's father, according to some sources, was King Coel, or King Cole. Yes, indeed, he of the rhyme:

Old King Cole was a merry old soul
and a merry old soul was he.
He called for his pipe
and he called for his bowl
and he called for his fiddlers three.

Well indeed, in the course of the beginning of this novel we are treated to a scene in which King Coel entertains the visiting Constantius with a long and wearisome musical evening celebrating his lineage. Latter, Coel is considering whether or not to allow Constantius to woe his daughter.

from Helena
Evelyn Waugh

"Mead," roared Coel, "and music. No, not your"--as all the bards came bundling in--"only the three strings and the pipe. I have to think."

What a wonderful and sly working in of the material of a nursery rhyme.

Overall in the novel, Waugh has not lost his edge and edginess--there are still sharp jabs at human nature and foibles; however, the overall tone of the book is much less sarcastic and misanthropic than the majority of his fiction. There is about the work a surprising gentleness and cleverness that shows Waugh at his very best.

My only question and lament is, why couldn't his biographies be nearly so interesting? Waugh is obviously as master of narrative prose. Was he unable to get close enough to those he would chronicle to turn their stories into the stuff of readable, entertaining, and entrancing art? Whatever the reason for the failure, such a lack is not part of Helena. A masterful storyteller and novelist at his very best. The novel is perhaps not so good (as a novel) as say, A Handful of Dust or even Vile Bodies, but that may be due, in part, to the limitations of the particular genre. The prose is rich and beautifully crafted--the novel is a breeze to read. I haven't finished yet, so stay tuned, but if the work continues in the same high quality it has presently, I anticipate a very strong recommendation.

One important note: of all of Waugh's fiction, this is the only book that is not consistently in print. There is a paperback version available now from Loyola Press and I would recommend that if you plan to read it, you get a copy now. There is no telling how long it will remain in print.

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