C. G. 41„...TIMER C. G. 41„...TIMER
Si R Henry Slesser, a recent con vert to the Church, has written what I call a " panorama 'S book or total historyl. It is an endeavour to present a single period, to examine it from every possible angle and thus to resolve its larger meaning or message for our own times. The book suffers a little from compression; the topics of which it treats are so Vast, often so controversial, that one would like the author to develop still further some of his admirable views and instructive comments. But then again, if this were done, the whole structure of the book might suffer and its total impression be weakened.
What, then, is the main thesis of
this important work? It would seem to he twofold, first it is an examination of how Western Europe came to that fine and fleeting maturity we associate with the 13th century, that homogeneous culture in which it almost seemed that St Augustine's City of God on earth had been realised; and next to consider what lessons can be drawn for our own distracted times from this great achievement of the past.
There are many pitfalls, we all know. in any comparison of Past and Present: circumstances have changed, words have found a different significance, minds are infected or preoccupied with such new and pressing riddles that the voice of the Past seems to have lost its meaning.
As a result very often false history arises and such mistakes must be corrected; or the actors in a modern drama do not see that many of their plans and ideas originated— perhaps in another form—in the very period they profess to despise or are content to dismiss. So this salving of the true meaning of the past is a hard but also an invaluable study.
The book under review falls into two parts. Part I gives the history of that Papal Europe that was fully fashioned by the 13th century. and of its almost immediate disintegration. For it was the 14th century and not the hammer-blows of I.uther and Calvin that broke the medieval system. A culture founded upon power over Nature and Man, the Renaissance, had sapped its foundations. New ideals, new philosophies. were soon to flourish.
Our 'author considers that the sacred expe. iment of the Middle Ages reached its last term and failed finally when Frederic IT repudiated papal and Catholic spiritual guidance.
The second part of the book is
concerned with " Failure and Achievement" and it discusses the Government and Lew, the Commerce. Science and Arts, the Philosophy of the Middle Ages. as also its Apologetic; its Defence of the Faith. Is it possible to restore the philosophy. morals and creed of the earlier Europe? This cannot be done unless we also embrace the credal assumptions on which they were based. We might borrow from the Middle Ages the dogma of charity. of personality and law. possibly of international sovereignty. but, it would appear, little more. unless we arc reconverted.
None the less. the whirligig of time
certainly brings its revenges. for when the old culture of Western Europe was lot. what ensued? It u.as the era of the Nation State, with armed autonomous frontiers: the rallying cry was the Divine Right of Kings, and the ruler. of a State was now able to dictate its Religion. From this came further tensions and reactions in our own country a revolt against unlimited Monarchy and in Europe at large the secularising of society. Later on, economic troubles, born of Capitalism and the uncurbed individualism of the rich and prosperous brought on COM^ munism as its antidote. Europe was weakened and dismembered by world-wars and so we reach our own era when men are once more feeling after some kind of unitary society. or planned economy; for the I cape of Nations was a failure and the new
efforts to unite the nations—upon terms that hive never been defined— are not impressive.
Where We Fail If we compare some of these shallow and futile schemes with the medieval achievement, we can see more clearly where we fail. Communism iteelf. whatever noble eletnents it once contained, seems hut a satanic parody of a unity, once based on Christinn faith and Christian morals, The trend of Socialism is towards a loss of freedom. It may prove the breeding-ground of a new dictatorship — of counsels of
despair! Yet all this is testimony, though indirect testimony. of the primal need of basic aereemente-on Christian principles.
If we turn to the History of Thought or philosophy — and the present hook is eminently clear on this subject—the prospect is no more encouraging. The Schoolmen of old insisted on the harmony of faith and the natural reason. Se Thomas Aquinas, allowing the natural reason full scope and insisting on the validity and transcendental values of our primary notions, teaches that reason is fulfilled in Faith and that Grace perfects nature.
The secular philosophers abandoned faith in the interests of reason; and in our own day we have witnessed the overthrow of reason itself! And this has not happened in the supposed interests of religion hut in that of instinct or emotion. while the founders of the new logic curtail the powers of reason to the relative. and "God " becomes for them a meaningless expression. And let not the reader imagine that such theories are merely advanced in the lecture-hall to a few initiates: they are the practical substance of a new theory of education; they are being applied daily in the teaching of our children.
Thus and in a hundred other ways one may illustrate the gulf that yawns between our own age and the Ages of Faith, though it is medieval principles more than medieval practice that our author commends for our study.
In Religion itself, the confusion is worst of all. The proof of this may be seen in any 'public discussion of a religious topic. say in the columns of a daily newspaper.2 In the Middle Ages the dental or perversion of the Faith was the one inexcusable crime. Treason was a local and municipal affair. Today we have reversed the
order of demerit. To betray the nation is unpardonable; but the secularist and atheist may conduct their propaganda with impunity; blasphemy as a crime is almost as obsolete as witchcraft.
The Kingdom of God
Is there a brighter side to the pic ture? Yes, undoubtedly. It may remain a mystery why the splendid achievement of the Middle Ages, that moment when Europe was indeed a unity, when "Europe was the Faith and the Faith was Europe," in lielloc's phrase was destined to pass so soon, but is this after all a
fair statement of the ease? Maritain has shown us that three different errors have been made about the meaning of the Kingdom of God. as presented in the Gospels. The first was when certain extremists of the first Christian epoch regarded the world as solely the dominion of the devil; the second error is to think that this world. in so far as the work of Redemption is accomplished in it, is already the Kingdom of God —not only in hope but in actuality; and the third is to imagine that the earthly city is purely and simply the domain of man and of nature and has no connection with any sacred or supernatural destiny. with either God or devil. The truth lies in the fact that world' can be used in two different senses. Christ said that His Kingdom was not of this world— it is not another " Stale " or "Kingdom " added to the congeries of earthly stales; yet at the same time " Clod so loved the world . . ." and
( hrist came to save the world "
o bile yet tin the othei elist) thiA world cannot receive the spirit of truth."
If these truths are pondered, they will help us, I think, to bear with greater hope and equanimity even the tragic story of the sudden eclipse of medieval Christendom, that the author of this book narrates so vividly. All was not lost for the simple reason that we must not hope too much in any one manifestation, now and here. of an unfolding Mystery—of an age-long process of conversion and Redemption.
It was to the Church itself and its constitution that Christ gave its charter, its magisterium. This cannot and has not failed. The state of
tension and warfare, lie " tlitzying
centuries" themselves are a necessary condition of the growth of history. the essential condition whereby the history of time prepares its final consummation in the Kingdom of God.
The theologians tell us that the unfolding life and experience of the Church itself is a theologirus locus, that is, a source from which new spiritual knowledge and conifort may he drawn.. We know how the Church survived both Renaissance and Reformation. how under these trials and shocks her own life was renewed and her dogma crystallised. Today men are looking for some new and abiding foundation—some point of agreement. some planned and logical scheme to arise like solid land out of a tempesttions sea. May this not be. after all. the Church's hour?
I The Middle Ages in the Weal. by the Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Slesser. P.C.. late Lord Justice of Appeal. (Hutchinson, 21s. net.).
2 For instance The Times (Oct. 31. 19491 refers to the Catholic Church as a sect; the largest of the sects.
wE often have spells of " Indian
summer " throughout December. and ought to use these to get the herbaceous and shrubbery borders tidied up. It is so easy to leave the few annual weeds which appear, only to find too late that we had a good crop of weed seed which we overlooked until they germinated. Besides, many of these plots have bulbs in. and the soil around bulbs should not be disturbed unduly when growth is proceeding quickly—as it certainly will between now and February.
Herbaceous plants can usually he divided and replanted midi perfect safety at this season, although there are some which should hardly ever be moved (e.g. peonies and Jarianese anetnones). and others which are better left till spring (like delphiniums). All new plantings should he pressed in with great firmness, and at the same time wallflowers and other biennials already set out should be pressed in again.
Fruit-tree pruning should go y. 11 have several ahead speedily.
-times weed: but some flowering trees and shrubs should also he oruned. Some are best left alone, like brooms. Others obviously flower on spurs. like apples. and a little judicious spur-encouragement is recommended. Others still resemble blackcurrants in flowering on new wood, and would be all the better for hard pruning of old wood to give the new stuff a chance. In this class I rnav specially mention mock orange (often, hut incorrectly. called " syrinea '') and weigela. But all dead and spent wood should always be cut out of all shrubs and trees.
E. I. Kral°.
Days Beyond Recall. by Roger B. Dooley (Bruce. $3.50) is a long, solid story of Irish Catholic life in America in the early part of the century. Against an interlacing background of family feuds and friendshi ps. forte] nes an d iii is fortunes, the problems of the young heroine and the two men that she loves are worked out with sympathetic insight.