nature

Blessed Cave

Blessed Cave posted in Eleison Comments on October 16, 2010

How absurd it is to separate grace from nature! The two are made for one another! How much more absurd to conceive of grace as though it makes war on nature! It makes war on the fallen-ness of our fallen nature, but not on the nature, coming from God, which underlies that fallen-ness. On the contrary, grace exists to heal that underlying nature from its fallen-ness and falls, and to elevate it to divine heights, to a partaking in the very nature of God (II Pet. I, 4).

Now nature without grace may lead to Revolution, but grace scorning nature leads to a false “spirituality,” for instance Jansenism, which also leads to Revolution. Of the gravity of this Protestantising error, which sets grace against nature instead of against sin, I was reminded on a seven-day visit to Italy which took in a visit to four mountainous sites, to which four great medieval Saints, all in the Breviary and the Missal, fled, to get close to God – in Nature. They were, in chronological order, St. Benedict (March 22, Subiaco), St. Romuald, (Feb.7, Camaldoli), St. John Gualbert (July 12, Vallombrosa), and St. Francis of Assisi (Oct.4, la Verna).

From Camaldoli and Vallumbrosa, high in the hills around Florence, two monastic Orders took their name and origin in the 11th century. In la Verna, high in the Tuscan Apennines, St Francis received the stigmata in 1224. All three locations are now reached with relative ease in bus or car, but they are still surrounded by forestland, and they are high enough above sea-level that they must be bitterly cold in winter. That is where these Saints went to commune with God, far from the comfort of cities with their “madding crowd,” still madding enough even in the rather smaller cities of those days.

Perhaps the site which struck me most was Subiaco, an hour’s car journey east of Rome, where St Benedict as a young man spent three years in a cave perched on a mountainside. Born in 580 A.D., as a young student he fled from the corruption in Rome, and took to the hills at the age of 20 or, some say, 14! – if so, what a teenager! From about 1200 A.D. a full-scale monastery began to be nested in the mountainside around the spot made sacred by this young man, but one can still guess what he found there in his search for God: clouds and sky above, the torrent rustling in the valley far below, nothing but wild woodland on the mountain-face opposite, and for company nothing but the birds wheeling to and fro off the steep cliff-face . . . alone with Nature . . . God’s Nature . . . alone with God!

Three years, alone with God . . . those three years so enabled one young Catholic to possess his soul, with Christ, in Nature, that his famous Benedictine Rule enabled the collapsed Roman empire to mutate into soaring Christendom, now in turn collapsing as “Western civilization.” Where are the young Catholics today, who will save Christendom by re-possessing their own souls by re-possessing, with Christ, their nature?

Mother of God, inspire our young men!

Kyrie eleison.

Juvenal Again

Juvenal Again posted in Eleison Comments on November 29, 2008

Last week “Eleison Comments” drew attention to the remarkable (in a pagan) natural wisdom in matters spiritual of the Roman satirist Juvenal, who was in his prime about 100 years after Our Lord was born, but who is not known (as far as I can discover) for any contact with the Catholic religion then rising in Rome.

A first lesson drawn from the passage concluding the Tenth Satire was that grace is in line with that God-given nature of ours from which Juvenal was working. Grace is only out of line with our fallen nature, which fell with Adam and has ever since been flawed with original sin in all of us, making all too easy the succession of our personal sins. On this sinful nature, as sinful, grace does make war, but only to heal and elevate that God-given nature which necessarily underlies the sinful nature, as some apple necessarily underlies the rot of any rotten apple. That Juvenal with no apparent help from grace could write so well not only of human rot but also of the underlying nature refutes the dreadful heresy that there is nothing in human nature which is not rotten.

A second lesson for our own times was that the ancient pagan satirist who promoted natural sanity even without any notion of supernatural grace, was a better man than the mass of apostate post-Christian pagans who are today rotting and rooting out both nature and grace. Similarly, to one who visited a week ago the Washington DC Museum of Modern Art, the current exhibition of ancient artistic pieces from pagan Pompeii offered much more for the human heart and mind than did all the modern exhibits put together.

A third lesson, accentuated by modern times, might be the value of reading the classical Latin authors, such as Juvenal. When it comes to the learning of Latin, some pious souls argue that Catholic youth should be immersed rather in the abundant Latin texts of the grace-filled Church Fathers than in pagans like Juvenal. True, the Church Fathers are stainless where pagan authors are always more or less stained, but precisely because the Fathers are filled with grace, surely they cannot in the same way testify to that God-given nature in us which is prior in being, not in value, to God-given grace. Does not this nature need today all the help it can get?

Kyrie eleison.

Intelligent Paganism

Intelligent Paganism posted in Eleison Comments on November 22, 2008

Of the famous Roman satirist, Juvenal (67–130 A.D?), there are two especially known quotes: “Bread and circuses,” and “A healthy mind in a healthy body.” The context of this second quote is truly interesting. Here is the whole passage from the Tenth Satire, in a free translation:

“Should men then pray for nothing? Take my advice,

And let the gods themselves judge what is nice

For us and our affairs, since they will heed

Not what we like, but what we truly need.

Dearer to them than to himself is man

Who driven by vain desire, blind worry, can

Beg for this kind of child, that kind of wife

When the gods alone can shape a happy life.

“But beg if you must for something at each shrine

Where you feel bound to offer guts of swine,

Pray to the gods for this – a healthy mind

In a healthy body. Pray that death may find

Your spirit unperturbed, not wishing to live

Any more than Mother Nature wants to give,

A spirit ready to bear all kinds of pain,

Forsaking anger, free from desire of gain,

Preferring heavy and noble work to all

The pleasures available at the local mall.

All this lies in your power – your own virtue

Is the only path to a happy life for you.

Whoever has good sense will never be stuck –

‘Tis we who place in Heaven a god of luck.”

What is remarkable here is how the pagan Juvenal says so many things that the Christian writers say. For instance, how we men are loved from above more than we love ourselves, how the powers above know better than we do what we need, and will only give us what we really need. Also how virtue is the only path to happiness, and how it depends upon ourselves to live wisely, and not upon our stars, or whatever.

There are at least two lessons to be drawn by Christians from the Roman satirist’s wisdom. Firstly, grace is in line with the nature that God gave us, and does not come down, like on a parachute with a machine-gun, to get nature into line. When the pagan writer without grace can see so many spiritual truths from nature alone, it proves that nature and grace are aligned, even if grace is infinitely far above nature, and nature has no claim at all upon it. Too many Catholics see the grace of our religion as a kind of policeman with a truncheon to beat us into shape. Similarly law (good law) is a friend and not an enemy of nature!

A second lesson might be that the pre-Christian pagans, like Juvenal, have rather more grip on reality than the post-Christian pagans of our own time. Apostates of today are washing out both grace and nature, in such a way that they would never utter the good sense that Juvenal here utters.

Kyrie eleison.