It has been nearly three weeks since I wrote anything. The smoggy air seems to have cleared a little as has my anxiety over the political situation in England. I probably understand things a lot better as I see the general tendency in Europe and the entire western world. It is tempting to make comparisons with historical examples, but they all fall, because our time is unique. Whatever happens now, we have to become self-reliant in our thought and our readiness to react. My guess is that the war of attrition will wear down the opposing factions, and that the can will be kicked down the road until it disappears.
A part of my Lenten reading has been Alan Jacobs, The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis, Oxford 2018. A gentleman in the eighteenth century who found himself on the wrong side of the law mused that the prospect of being hanged in a fortnight focused the mind. Certainly for many people, living during the second world war did a lot for the instinct of survival, ingenuity, resourcefulness and a desire for more than peace: a forward-looking view to prepare mankind for peace via philosophy and education as well as Christian faith. Ironically, some of our right-wing “gammons” in England are nostalgic for that era, perhaps in some cases for the same reasons of being tired of man’s “foolish ways” and seeking a more elevated vision. I am still reading this fine book, and it has brought me to understand many things about people like Simone Weil, Jacques Maritain, C.S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden. Maritain had a lot of influence on Pope Paul VI, and so reading this French philosopher will answer many questions I have about the “changes” in the Church in the 1960’s. I have Maritain’s Humanisme Intégral in the bookshelf in front of me, waiting to be read.
I have used some of my time of Lenten silence to begin writing a book with the simple and unpretentious title Romantic Christianity, organised into two main chapters respectively dealing with the Christian mystery, the esoteric tradition and the continuing historical role of the Romantic movement. Work is always slowed by translating orders as they arrive, including an entire prospectus on projects of remodelling rapids on rivers in French Guiana so that the entire length of the rivers can be navigable by pirogue boats with powerful outboard engines. These boats are almost the only means of transport into the Amazonian jungle both for passengers and freight. It was quite an education, since the job encouraged me to learn about those countries along the north-east of the South American continent via YouTube videos and articles. The old French penal colony of Saint Laurent du Maroni and the Iles du Salut (including Devil’s Island of Papillon and Dreyfus fame) is still present down there even though the establishment closed in 1953. I have just received another one from Peugeot-Citroën, but a little shorter than in previous months. I don’t find it easy to go from one task to another, but it is necessary. It’s my job.
We now arrive at Holy Week, the centre of the Mystery of the Transitus Domini in all its biblical archetypes. There are many esoteric themes too from the Renaissance revival and the rediscovery of the Gnostic scriptures from Nag Hammadi. It is all challenging, but we do well to approach this mystery with simplicity and childlike humility. Each day brings its drama and turn of the tragedy as Christ faced human wickedness and the establishment religion of those days – post-Exile Judaism. As we live the emptiness of Good Friday evening, the first strains of the Alleluia begin to penetrate the stygian gloom.
It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth.
Elgar asked his orchestra to play the Pomp and Circumstance March in D as if the musicians had never heard it. It is a difficult thing to ask of those who have become cynical and jaded. Let us approach this Mystery as if it were for the first time!
You move me to do something it somehow never occurred to me to do – see how many works by Maritain have been scanned in the Internet Archive. The answer is, quite a number, and not a few which are both simply available and in English translation! (I don’t know how the ‘ borrowing’ ones work, and am sadly (lazily?) no Francophone.) Three that caught my eye are France My Country Through the Disaster (1941), The Peasant Of The Garonne: An Old Catholic Layman Questions Himself about the Present Time (1965), and Essays in Order (1931), a joint work by Maritain, Peter Wust, and Christopher Dawson. (Now, to try reading – or, at least, sampling – them, amongst all the other books I long to get to…)
Best wishes for your work, your book, and Holy Week, at this moment of sadness for how much is lost, and joy at how much is spared, at Notre Dame.