Monday, August 17, 2009

For Jaki's birthday: Chesterton on SLJ

I can hear my poor readers moan: You're talking Chesterton - again?

In case you had any lingering doubt about me as your blogg-host - why, yes, I do mean to drag Chesterton into all my discussions of Jaki and Duhem and science! Why should I avoid doing so, when Jaki quotes Chesterton in most of his books, and wrote several essays and an entire monograph on Chesterton, the Seer of Science?

Yes.... I have had the distinct honour to have met both these great men through their books, and you can also have that delight. Their work ought to be a lantern for us and a light to our path - a light leading us on to Light - to Jesus Christ, the Everlasting Man, the Savior of Science, the Monogenes, the Unigenitus. After all, it is our belief in Jesus as "the only begotten Son" which guarantees us the ability to DO science.

I also had the delight in meeting Father Jaki at three Chesterton Conferences and also for lunch on several occasions. When one met him, he was not what one might expect: it was easy enough to tell he was a priest from his garb, and when he spoke one knew his English was his fourth or fifth language (or seventh or eighth!) But even more one would not expect the reality hidden by his simple, slight appearance. It was much like what Valentin noted when he first encountered Father Brown:
The little priest was so much the essence of those Eastern flats; he had a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling; he had eyes as empty as the North Sea; he had several brown paper parcels, which he was quite incapable of collecting. The Eucharistic Congress had doubtless sucked out of their local stagnation many such creatures, blind and helpless, like moles disinterred.
[GKC "The Blue Cross" in The Innocence of Father Brown]
It may seem strange to you that I compare this prolific and brilliant priest with Chesterton's fictional dumpling, I mean detective - but I think the comparison is uncanny if not prophetic, for the first words we hear Father Brown speaking is the tail of a most powerful and Jaki-like (if not Duhem-like!) sentence:
"...what they really meant in the Middle Ages by the heavens being incorruptible."
In the preface to the 2001 edition of his book on Chesterton Father Jaki expresses his doubt that GKC ever knew any of the works of Pierre Duhem. However, this very strange phrase surely hints that perhaps he did... or at least knew something about the matter - for what they "really meant in the Middle Ages by heavens being incorruptible" was expressed in a most scientific phrase in the mid 1300s by John Buridan:
Also, since the Bible does not state that appropriate intelligences move the celestial bodies, it could be said that it does not appear necessary to posit intelligences of this kind, because it would be answered that God, when He created the world, moved each of the celestial orbs as He pleased, and in moving them He impressed in them impetuses which moved them without His having to move them any more except by the method of general influence whereby He concurs as a co-agent in all things which take place; “for thus on the seventh day He rested from all work which He had executed by committing to others the actions and the passions in turn.” And these impetuses which He impressed in the celestial bodies were not decreased nor corrupted afterwards, because there was no inclination of the celestial bodies for other movements. Nor was there resistance which would be corruptive or repressive of that impetus.
[Buridan, Quaestiones super octo libros physicorum Book 8 Question 12 (his commentary on Aristotle's Physics), quoted in Clagett, The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages, quoted in many places by SLJ]
Please note: I do not wish to debate the point; if someone wishes to undertake the research on the question, I look forward to reading the report, be it favorable or otherwise - though we all know it is hard to prove the negative - that is, that Chesterton NEVER read any Duhem! No; I am merely pondering two of my dear friends, and noting some of the places where their work touches each other.

I will give you a few others - perhaps a bit wide of the mark, perhaps more uncanny junctions - you can ponder them for youself. However, let us not forget: though this is the birthday of a superlative scholar, it is not a day for scholarly quibbles, but for joy, for festival, for jokes and laughing, for eating and drinking with friends... if we cannot do this in the flesh, let us at least do it by the great gift of electronics - and let us pray for Father and for others who have gone home, and ask them to intercede for us.

Eternal rest grant unto Stanley L. Jaki, O Lord,and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Happy birthday, Father! Please remember us in your prayers.

--Dr. Thursday

* * *

Perhaps there are no things out of which we get so little of the truth as the truisms; especially when they are really true. We are all in the habit of saying certain things about Asia, which are true enough but which hardly help us because we do not understand their truth; as that Asia is old or looks to the past or is not progressive. Now it is true that Christendom is more progressive, in a sense that has very little to do with the rather provincial notion of an endless fuss of political improvement. Christendom does believe, for Christianity does believe, that man can eventually get somewhere, here or hereafter, or in various ways according to various doctrines. The world's desire can somehow be satisfied as desires are satisfied, whether by a new life or an old love or some form of positive possession and fulfilment. For the rest, we all know there is a rhythm and not a mere progress in things, that things rise and fall; only with us the rhythm is a fairly free and incalculable rhythm. For most of Asia the rhythm has hardened into a recurrence.
[GKC, The Everlasting ManCW2:262-3]

It will appear only a jest to say that all religious history has really been a pattern of noughts and crosses. But I do not by noughts mean nothings, but only things that are negative compared with the positive shape or pattern of the other. And though the symbol is of course only a coincidence, it is a coincidence that really does coincide. The mind of Asia can really be represented by a round O, if not in the sense of a cypher at least of a circle. The great Asiatic symbol of a serpent with its tail in its mouth is really a very perfect image of a certain idea of unity and recurrence that does indeed belong to the Eastern philosophies and religions. It really is a curve that in one sense includes everything, and in another sense comes to nothing. In that sense it does confess, or rather boast, that all argument is an argument in a circle. And though the figure is but a symbol, we can see how sound is the symbolic sense that produces it, the parallel symbol of the Wheel of Buddha generally called the Swastika. The cross is a thing at right angles pointing boldly in opposite directions; but the Swastika is the same thing in the very act of returning to the recurrent curve. That crooked cross is in fact a cross turning into a wheel. Before we dismiss even these symbols as if they were arbitrary symbols, we must remember how intense was the imaginative instinct that produced them or selected them both in the East and the West. The cross has become something more than a historical memory; it does convey, almost as by a mathematical diagram, the truth about the real point at issue; the idea of a conflict stretching outwards into eternity. It is true, and even tautological, to say that the cross is the crux of the whole matter.
{GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:265-6]

Very little is left free in the modern world; but private buying and selling are still supposed to be free; and indeed still are free; if anyone has a will free enough to use his freedom. Children may be driven by force to a particular school. Men may be driven by force away from a public-house. All sorts of people, for all sorts of new and nonsensical reasons, may be driven by force to a prison. But nobody is yet driven by force to a particular shop.
[GKC The Outline of Sanity CW5:89-90, emphasis added]

If you wonder why I quote that one, here is the correlative passage from SLJ, with his famous "spark plugs of science"...

If we proceed as at present in a proper orderly fashion, the very idea of property will vanish. It is not revolutionary violence that will destroy it. It is rather the desperate and reckless habit of not having a revolution. The world will be occupied, or rather is already occupied, by two powers which are now one power. I speak, of course, of that part of the world that is covered by our system, and that part of the history of the world which will last very much longer than our time. Sooner or later, no doubt, men would rediscover so natural a pleasure as property. But it might be discovered after ages, like those ages filled with pagan slavery. It might be discovered after a long decline of our whole civilization. Barbarians might rediscover it and imagine it was a new thing.
Their resolve to reshape society by a so-called "scientific sociology" prompted him to speak of the "great scissors of science." The immediate context of that priceless phrase was Chesterton's letting his wrath descend on the "sociological doctors" who in the name of public hygiene proposed that schoolgirls coming from poor homes with no bathrooms have their long braids, their sole pride, cut short. Were Chesterton alive today, he would perhaps speak of the great "spark plugs of science" which drag small schoolchildren on three-to-four hour round-trip bus-rides daily in the name of cultural hygiene.
[SLJ Chesterton a Seer of Science 48-9]

Anyhow, the prospect is a progress towards the complete combination of two combinations. They are both powers that believe only in combination; and have never understood or even heard that there is any dignity in division. They have never had the imagination to understand the idea in Genesis and the great myths: that Creation itself was division. The beginning of the world was the division of heaven and earth; the beginning of humanity was the division of man and woman. But these flat and platitudinous minds can never see the difference between the creative cleavage of Adam and Eve and the destructive cleavage of Cain and Abel. Anyhow, these powers or minds are now both in the same mood; and it is a mood of disliking all division, and therefore all distribution. They believe in unity, in unanimity, in harmony. One of these powers is State Socialism and the other is Big Business. They are already one spirit; they will soon be one body. For, disbelieving in division, they cannot remain divided; believing only in combination, they will themselves combine.
[GKC The Outline of Sanity CW5:198-9, emphasis added]

This answer was like the slash of a sword; it sundered; it did not in any sense sentimentally unite. Briefly, it divided God from the cosmos. That transcendence and distinctness of the deity which some Christians now want to remove from Christianity, was really the only reason why any one wanted to be a Christian. It was the whole point of the Christian answer to the unhappy pessimist and the still more unhappy optimist. As I am here only concerned with their particular problem, I shall indicate only briefly this great metaphysical suggestion. All descriptions of the creating or sustaining principle in things must be metaphorical, because they must be verbal. Thus the pantheist is forced to speak of God in all things as if he were in a box. Thus the evolutionist has, in his very name, the idea of being unrolled like a carpet. All terms, religious and irreligious, are open to this charge. The only question is whether all terms are useless, or whether one can, with such a phrase, cover a distinct idea about the origin of things. I think one can, and so evidently does the evolutionist, or he would not talk about evolution. And the root phrase for all Christian theism was this, that God was a creator, as an artist is a creator. A poet is so separate from his poem that he himself speaks of it as a little thing he has "thrown off." Even in giving it forth he has flung it away. This principle that all creation and procreation is a breaking off is at least as consistent through the cosmos as the evolutionary principle that all growth is a branching out. A woman loses a child even in having a child. All creation is separation. Birth is as solemn a parting as death.
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:281]

[note: The Hebrew word bara, which is used in Genesis for God's act of creation, means to slash or hack. See SLJ's Genesis 1 Through the Ages.]

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