Oh no! A Chesterton post!

26 05 2010

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Well, I haven’t read a lot of Chesterton. But sometimes I like to get my feet wet with his prose just to see what people are talking about. In this blog post, I found the following snippet:

He begins to realise that it is the secular world that spoils the sense of words; and he catches an exciting glimpse of the real case for the iron immortality of the Latin Mass. It is not a question between a dead language and a living language, in the sense of an everlasting language. It is a question between a dead language and a dying language; an inevitably degenerating language.

This is from a “conservative Catholic” blog, but I relish the irony of a site that defends the current liturgical practices of the Roman Catholic Church rather innocently putting up an eloquent apologia for the Latin Mass all the while seeing nothing wrong with the Mass in the vulgar tongues. Chesterton is their prophet, sure, but he wasn’t right about everything.

That is sort of the attitude that many “conservative Catholics” have towards the generation of Anglophone Catholics who converted before the Second Vatican Council. There is a selective amnesia concerning what these figures actually stood for in the concrete, and their writings and personae are emptied of all things that contradict the policies of the powers-that-be. Apparently, Chesterton warmed up to the idea of worship in a “dead tongue”. The abandonment of this worship was one of the reasons Waugh nearly died in despair. One wonders what Hilaire Belloc would think of lay Eucharistic ministers… But no matter. Like all “modern Catholics”, we only use the past insofar as it conveniently reasserts the things that we deem important. All the things that contradict our current tastes we will chalk up to the multi-purpose deus ex machina: development.

On Chesterton’s thought itself, I am not one to sound the alarm on anything, but I find it at the very least thought-provoking. With Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, and other means of modern communication, it does seem that language is in a real sense changing. Perhaps it was never really alive in the first place, so the idea that it is dying can by no means be proven. Nevertheless, I still find a void in modern communication, a void that at least for me has been somewhat filled by my study of Latin as a youth. A dead language is a great anchor of perennial thought. And a changing language can never be a sacred one.

For Proclus, language is inherently theurgical, both because all forms of discourse are an extension of the divine names and because language reiterates the hierarchical nature of reality.

-Sara Rappe, Reading Neoplatonism p.192