Two minds

26 03 2020

Although in general I have thought Chesterton overrated, I appreciated and have recommended to friends his book, St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox. As I read it years and years ago, I remember only a few passages. This one, however, is the first one I think of when mentioning that book:

Siger of Brabant said this: the Church must be right theologically, but she can be wrong scientifically. There are two truths; the truth of the supernatural world, and the truth of the natural world, which contradicts the supernatural world. While we are being naturalists, we can suppose that Christianity is all nonsense; but then, when we remember that we are Christians, we must admit that Christianity is true even if it is nonsense. In other words, Siger of Brabant split the human head in two, like the blow in an old legend of battle; and declared that a man has two minds, with one of which he must entirely believe and with the other may utterly disbelieve. To many this would at least seem like a parody of Thomism. As a fact, it was the assassination of Thomism. It was not two ways of finding the same truth; it was an untruthful way of pretending that there are two truths. And it is extraordinarily interesting to note that this is the one occasion sentences, which is a thing like the tone of a man’s voice, is suddenly altered. He had never been angry with any of the enemies who disagreed with him. But these enemies had attempted the worst treachery: they had made him agree with them when the Dumb Ox really came out like a wild bull. When he stood up to answer Siger of Brabant, he was altogether transfigured, and the very style of his sentences, which is a thing like the tone of a man’s voice, is suddenly altered. He had never been angry with any of the enemies who disagreed with him. But these enemies had attempted the worst treachery:they had made him agree with them. Read the rest of this entry »

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