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


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7 responses

3 06 2010
Jared B.

Or maybe Ignatius Insight contributors might permit a diversity of views among themselves, and doesn’t hold everyone lock-step to the same views on everything. Why the false dichotomy? Why must ALL “conservative Catholics” (nice scare quotes btw) at Ignatius either favor the Pauline Mass, or ALL find it unacceptable? You’re a contributor at the equally “conservative Catholic” InsideCatholic.com which you know perfectly well isn’t so homogeneous as you’re depicting IgnatiusInsight!

28 05 2010
Lucian

Your position is as absurd as that of the Old Calendarists. 🙂 Was VULGAR Latin a dead unspoken tongue 2,000 years ago? Was KOINE Greek as such? Were ANY of the languages the Holy Spirit used at Pentecost like that? (The “Old Calendar” was the “new” Calendar at Niceea: Niceea changed the then-old Calendar)

27 05 2010
Louis

If you really wan to venture into Chesterton, read either some of the Fr Brown stories, or better, read Manalive.

27 05 2010
brian m

Arturo, I imagine that Mr. Olson is alluding to Fr. Fessio’s oft-stated claim that the true Mass of Vatican II was something approaching the Pauline Missal in Latin and ad orientem, and that if conservative priests celebrated in this matter we would no longer need to fight for restoration of the EF, or better English translations, or a recovery of older rites and rubrics, and so on. He writes about this in his foreword to the English edition of Mosebach’s HERESY OF FORMLESSNESS, oddly enough, given that Mosebach does not share this sentiment at all.

27 05 2010
Arturo Vasquez

If people at Ignatius Press have become hardened traditionalists who think the Pauline Missal is unacceptable, that is news indeed.

27 05 2010
Carl E. Olson

a site that defends the current liturgical practices of the Roman Catholic Church

Obviously written by someone who has not spent much time at the site in question…

26 05 2010
Tancred

I once asked Dale Alquist, who is the President of the American Chesterton Society, if he thought that GK Chesterton would have attended and approved of the New Mass. I don’t recall what he said, but some of the men who were there and took issue with me then (this was about four years ago) are going to the Immemorial Mass of All Ages now.

I like what you say about Chesterton being “their” prophet.

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