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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Tuesday, 19 June 2018

MYTHS, MONKS AND MONASTERIES


INTRODUCTION by  G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis & Fr Roger Peck

"This elementary wonder, however, is not a mere fancy derived from the fairy tales; on the contrary, all the fire of the fairy tales is derived from this. Just as we all like love tales because there is an instinct of sex, we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales--because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him. 
This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.''

― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy




"The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat, otherwise dull to him, by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story…by putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality : we rediscover it.”
― C.S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature



"Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e., the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call 'real things'.”   

“Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history… nor diabolical illusion… not priestly lying… but at its best, a real unfocused gleam of divine truth on human imagination” (Miracles, 138).

"Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens - at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Orsis, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle."  

"To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other."

C.S. Lewis's essay Myth Became Fact concludes:
"This is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher."

Recognising the Creator

A universe that is the result of random forces of nature is not purposed; and meaning requires a mind in which to inhere. When God called Abraham, a people were given a future; and somewhere along the way those people would inevitably look back to discover that they also had a past. Looking back they could see God's hand at work in the events of history. God places us in the cleft of the rock and covers us with his hand until his glory has passed by. Only then can we see Him (cf. Ex 33:22). The mythological character of this passage is clear. We live life forwards but understand life backwards. Day unto day takes up the story but night unto night makes known the message, (cf. Ps 19:2-3) We cannot see God face to face but we can see His back (cf. Ex 33:23). The wheel of life has beenstraightened out and become a story. Choices matter, things serve a purpose and life has meaning; and it is the logos, the mind of God, the creator of all that is and the author of history, who provides the necessary context.

But to understand (to stand under) the logos requires imagination. Instead of feeling things psychically or observing them scientifically we need to appreciate them poetically.
"CS Lewis and Tolkien on Myth and Knowledge" by Fr Roger Peck in Faith Magazine 2011


What can G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis teach us on the New Evangelisation?   What do we have to do and what do monks and monasteries have to do with it?

For C.S. Lewis and, perhaps for the Inklings in general, there is concrete experience and abstract thought with imagination that connects the two.  Both concrete experience and abstract thought must be analysed by reason in order to discover truth, but this cannot be done until they are made meaningful by being expressed in a coherent story.  Nonsense is neither true nor false and it is imagination that makes sense of things. 

Our imagination allows us to have many ways of reacting to the world around us, and with our imagination we can go beyond the commonplace into other dimensions.   Darwin went beyond the strange animals he could see and came up with his theory of evolution to account for them though, at the time, he did not know whether it was fact or fiction.

But imagination does much more than spur us on to scientific discovery.  It moves  us to surprise, fear, loneliness, excitement, suspense, wonder, admiration and the sense of the holy.  Sometimes, the reactions are suggested by the place or situation, while others are the product of our own minds or fabrication of our own designs.

As Christians, we believe that everything, everybody and every situation, the whole of created reality has a relationship to the Holy Spirit as a story is related to its author. Tolkien tells us that the "Secret Fire", otherwise known as the "Flame Imperishable", is present in all existing things:


"Therefore Ilúvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the World; and it was called Eä."― Valaquenta

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the Grey referred to both the Secret Fire and the Flame of Anor at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm:


"You cannot pass, I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass."

C.S. Lewis argued that our natural desires are evidence for the actual existence of what we naturally desire, and he points out that the desire for something beyond matter is as ancient as humankind itself.   He writes:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, 120).
  As very small children, we look upon the world with wonder; but, as time goes on and all around us becomes ordinary and humdrum, so we seek wonder in stories of magic and great deeds.  Actually, it is the beginning of our road to God. 

As all human knowledge arises from the use of the senses, knowledge of what is beyond the senses must be inferred in some way from our seeing, touching, tasting, hearing or smelling.  This means that the world around us must point beyond itself; but this can only happen if our response to it is fully human and that we can fully see what is truly there.  We must develop what has been called the "third eye", learning to see, not only sensible things (first eye), not just what the mind understands by what we see (second eye), but the wonder of it all, a wonder that leads to gratitude and even adoration (third eye of the heart).

If we are of a contemplative disposition, we may recognise that there are "thin places"  - to use a traditional Irish phrase - where it is relatively easy to pierce that veil because of its atmosphere, or a place (like a church, for instance)may be made "thin" by design, by icons, music or ritual performance); while another traditional means to help us see beyond is "myth".

It is the conviction of Chesterton, Lewis and Tolkien that creative fantasy, by placing the over-familiar in an unfamiliar setting, in an alternative world of magic, of elves and fairies, can allow us to see the true wonder of the world around us.  It helps us by presenting us with an invented world to appreciate that there is no logical reason why the world we live in should exist as it is, or even exist at all.  It is only one further step to see the world around us with wonder and gratitude: then we are only one step away from the numinous.

Once able to respond to the world around us in a fully human way, not deadened by over-familiarity, we are ready to be encountered by what Rudolf Otto calls the numinous.  He says that this lies at the very heart of all religion.  [The central experience Otto refers to is the numinous (Latin numen, “spirit”) in which the Other (i.e., the transcendent) appears as a mysterium tremendum et fascinans—that is, a mystery before which man both trembles and is fascinated, is both repelled and attracted. Thus, God can appear both as wrathful or awe inspiring, on the one hand, and as gracious and lovable, on the other. The sense of the numinous, according to Otto, is sui generis, though it may have psychological analogies, and it gives an access to reality, which is categorized as holy. Britannica]

C.S. Lewis describes it thus:
Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told "There is a ghost in the next room," and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is "uncanny" rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply "There is a mighty spirit in the room," and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking—a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and of prostration before it—an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare's words "Under it my genius is rebuked." This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.[12]
Before his conversion, C.S.Lewis was an atheist, but also a great lover of mythology, especially that of Northern Europe.  As an atheist, he did not allow his imagination to have anything to do with questions of truth.  Truth is the product of the use of reason which can only be distracted by imagination. Myths were the product of the imagination and were, therefore, false, enjoyable but false.  It had been pointed out to him that the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ are examples of themes found in other religions and mythologies: they are myths and, therefore, are untrue.

It was Tolkien who convinced him that this was mistaken.  (In the first video above, there is a re-construction of that conversation.)   Anyway, for my purpose in writing this article, it is possible to see the pre-Christian C.S.Lewis as a personification of much that is wrong in secular society where a sharp distinction is made between public and private knowledge and where there are attempts to exclude from the public sphere any reminder of and all reference to Christian belief.  This leads to the impoverishment of both  imagination and reason. Chesterton, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have set us the  task to re-unite the two dimensions of reason and imagination which too often have become divorced.  

Of course, all sides recognise the need for rational analysis to find out whether something is true or false, but the rationalists believe that all truth is literal truth, while Chesterton and company were convinced that truth can also be conveyed by symbol and by myth.  This is not simply fancy but is due to the very structure of our minds and by the relationship that created reality has with God. 




Reason, Imagination and Vatican II

The "progressive" party in Vatican II was made up of two groups who could not have been more different or more opposed.  Both wanted to modernise the Church, one by finding answers to new questions by looking into Tradition in a fresh way and using modern tools of enquiry while accepting the validity of all Catholic Tradition down the ages, the other by adapting the Church's teaching and practice to that of the modern secular world.

Nowhere was the difference so sharp than what to do with the numinous.  We have seen that, for Rudolf Otto and Chesterton and Company, the mysterium tremendum sed fascinans is at the very heart of religious experience.  The young Henri de Lubac, around the year 1941, wrote an article in which he noted that the working class in France's industrial cities had largely lost the faith, and he put this down to the absence of any opportunity to experience the numinous.  He called for their re-evangelisation and, at the very centre of the Church's requirement was, he said,  a reform of the liturgy so that ordinary people could encounter and experience the holy in their lives.  This would be absolutely essential is any evangelisation were to be successful, and it became one of the main motives of this group like Ratzinger and others in the Council for liturgical reform.  You can imagine their disappointment and horror when the other group rejected the numinous for horizontal human relationships!!

The other group that had major influence towards the end of the liturgical revision, wishing to adapt the Church to modern life and realising that openness to the numinous is not a major characteristic of modern man, attempted to replace it by human solidarity "in Christ". Modern humanity does not need a dependence on any numinous figure, they said, because it had "come of age" and has learnt to look after itself with its knowledge of the world that science has given.  Of course, the All Powerful God had enabled human beings to stand on their own feet as His images.   Hence, away with all this grovelling and, in its place, let us put where human strangth lies, the unity among humans for whom Christ died.    

The main texts of the "new Mass" were generally very good, and the new Eucharistic prayers were based on the sound Tradition which had been gleaned from  the worldwide Church.  However, the ceremony and the changes in the setting of the Mass "in the spirit of Vatican II" often favoured the second group.  Horizontal relationships received most of the emphasis.  The importance of the sacred was underplayed or even taken out of the ceremony all together. Ratzinger had to watch what he and most of his companions saw as  the inevitable result as people voted with their feet.  Churches emptied, vocations plummeted.   

The problem was not change in itself, nor even in the texts of the New Mass which had been largely written by  the first group.  Pope Benedict, whatever he said in his pain, kept the texts as the ones in principal use and he normally celebrated the New Mass himself both publicly and privately.  The problem was the way it was too often celebrated, and the way modern churches became purely functional, eliminating all depiction of the transcendental, all sense of the liturgy being where heaven and earth are united, where the people become one with the angels and the saints.   

An atheist's world is purely functional, and anything else is the product of the artist's own feelings and attitudes and tells us nothing about the world we live in. On the other hand, a believer's world symbolises, indicates and sometimes manifests the divine presence, and it is sacramental by its very essence as created being, and we celebrate the Mass in the company of the angels and saints.  

I do not know why so many post-Vatican II churches, as well as "modernised" interiors of old churches do the atheists' work for them by emphasising the functions of priest and people but failing to put adequate emphasis on the transcendent dimensions, those that cannot be seen but are present and active in the liturgy of priest and people and are the very reason for the celebration.

This was in no way  universal.   There are wonderful celebrations of the Missa Normativa  and they are becoming more and more common.   Moreover, churches are being renovated in ways that are in keeping with the Catholic view of the world, especially in America.

What can C.S. Lewis and company teach us about evangelisation?

I believe the first thing is that we must base everything on prayer because we cannot give what we haven't got.  Secondly, our campaign must embrace the whole person, his imaginative life as well as his intellectual life because they cannot be separated.  Our liturgy must address all the senses and we must be clear what we are telling people in the liturgy which will be so celebrated that we become aware that we are celebrating in the presence of God, that we are encountering Christ and that we find our unity in Christ.   Also we are only instruments of Christ, servants of "the Secret Fire", content to do as much or as little in this mission according to his will.  We are only successfully evangelising if we are concentrating on allowing him to evangelise  through us, in his way, not ours. The strongest actor in The Lord of the Rings is, without doubt, Divine Providence that chooses unlikely people to do improbable things.  We will only succeed if we permit this to happen and remain alert when it happens.  I am conscious that God chose an anti-Catholic, small town, Assembly of God preacher, David Wilkerson, to inspire the beginnings of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal which successive popes have recognised as a major work of the Holy Spirit.

The Origins of Monastic Life

It is clear from Scripture and Tradition that there is only one Christian life that makes absolute demands on all Christians.  We must meet Christ and find in him the means to love God with our whole being, with everything we've got and are, and we must love one another as Christ loves us.
Belmont Abbey

 We are all, without exception made in his image, and he is united to all human beings without exception by his Incarnation, so that he died for all and rose for all.  Moreover, whatever God's will is for each of us, we must do it from sacramental moment to sacramental moment as his Providence demands.  In this way we become more and more like him because we share in his love for the Father and the Father's love for him in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Valaam (Orthodox)

In the early Church, in the time of persecution, all knew that they could be asked to give all and die for Christ.  They knew that, becoming one with him in the Eucharist, they could be called to be one host with him in martyrdom, to drink the same cup of martyrdom as he drank. Possible martyrdom was implied by the Eucharist.

Hence there was a crisis when Constantine was converted and martyrdom stopped.  Monasticism was adopted by some as a substitute for martyrdom and was adopted by others because they found it too difficult to live an authentic Christian life and a comfortable worldly life at the same time.  Nevertheless, Abbot Antony, after much suffering from the devil and years of solitary prayer, was told by God that a married man in Alexandria had reached a higher sanctity than Antony.   This married man's openness to God was greater than Antony's, and it is God who makes saints.


Why do I believe that monastic communities are so important in the New Evangelisation?
The Taize Community

A monastic community would be of no direct use in evangelisation if a monastic vocation were of a different kind from the people who come in contact with them.   Missionary orders are probably more geared to helping missionaries, teaching orders help teachers, medical orders have a special affinity with doctors and nurses etc, but a monastic community specialises in what all other vocations have in common, in what makes them Christian.   Whether you are celibate or married, priest, religious or lay person, you will find at the very core of your particular vocation what you have in common with monks and nuns.  

Moreover, you will find the whole environment of a monastery is an expression of reality as it is seen  and understood by those with a Christian vision: it is a Christian world in miniature.   The most common reaction of visitors is, "How peaceful it is here!"  Jesus said that where two or more are gathered together in his name, he is present among them; and he prayed that we should be one as he is with the Father and the Father with him, "that the world might know" that he had been sent by the Father. In a monastery, the visible world speaks of God, concrete fact and imagination combine to give us a sense of God's presence; and all this happens before any explanation has been given.  Monastic life presents people with a question which, when  they ask it, the answer is the Gospel.

The modern world has made itself largely opaque to God.   Concrete reality has been turned into a brick wall between God and us.  A monastery serves as a window through which you can come to see what everything is about, a window to God.

Monasteries, like myths,takes what all Christians have in common and "and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’"   It does this by placing them in what for most people is an unfamiliar setting.  Being a guest in a monastery is like enjoying a really good myth  in that he comes to see with new eyes what is common and humdrum.  The Gospel message has tended to lose its punch. its power to astonish, under the 'veil of familiarity', and monasteries are just what are needed in the mission to re-evangelise the lapsed, which is what the New Evangelisation is all about.
Carmelite Convent
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