Monday, March 19, 2012

Our Patron, A Fortiori

As Chesterton loved to point out, Jesus had His own literary style, which "had among
other things a singular air of piling tower upon tower by the use of the a fortiori; making a pagoda of degrees like the seven heavens." [GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:332] That is, the use of the phrase "how much more" as we see in cases "if God so clothes the grass that today is and tomorrow is
cast into the oven - how much more...." [Mt 6:28-30]

I mention this with some apology, since I have not posted since the feast of St. Albert back in November - and if he, the patron of all Science, is our patron, then, a fortiori, how much more is St. Joseph, who is the terror of demons, and the guardian of Jesus, "in Whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (scientia)" [Col 2:3]

My time, alas, does seem to be constrained these days, but I will give you something to consider on this feast, something which touches a most intimate yet most important branch of science - a branch which St. Joseph knew, and guarded. It ought to remind us that our work must also be guarded... there was a reason for the old epigram about casting pearls before swine - but I cannot explore that matter today. Rather, consider this excerpt from SLJ:
Without that faith even the most splendid displays of liturgical paraphernalia have turned into a hollow show of mere nature, and a very fallen nature indeed. Such a nature finds nothing noteworthy in Luke's narrative of the Nativity, so full of tactfulness that shows him to be far more than a mere physician, however sensitive about that special right to privacy which is the particular prerogative of a woman. If anyone, then Luke, the physician, could have gone, under the cover of medical reporting, into clinical details, such as the various discharges concomitant with giving birth to a child. No trace in Luke's account of that morbid curiosity which one confronts time and again in the apocryphal accounts of Jesus' birth.

Luke is taciturn, though eloquently so. After stating in a lapidary style that following Mary's arrival with Joseph in Bethlehem, “the days of her confinement were completed” and that “she gave birth to her first-born son,” Luke makes a statement that should startle any perceptive woman (or man) even in these days of “painless births” and of almost rudely quick dismissals from maternity wards. Even fifty, let alone two thousand years ago, one would have considered it very risky on the part of a woman to give birth with no assistance from other women, or to get up immediately after birth to take care of her infant child. But this is precisely what Luke states: “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the place where the travelers lodged” (Lk 2:6-7).

Concerning this last statement Christians have for some time fastened on secondary details, like the manger and the heartless locality that had no room for a young woman ready to give birth to her first child. Even the swaddling clothes became part of a romanticism, however well-intentioned. Yet in more realistic times it was still seen that something miraculous was conveyed by Luke's notice about Mary herself doing all that, an activity hardly to be expected from a woman who had just given birth. Moreover, no one was more conscious of the absence of anything “clinical” in Luke's narrative than was Jerome, still the greatest of Christian biblical exegetes: “Should the woman giving birth be overtaken by pain, midwives pick up the crying infant and the husband will hold the exhausted wife.... But in no way should this be thought of the Savior's mother and of that just man, Joseph. Here is no midwife; no need here for women to be fussing about. His mother herself wrapped Him in the swaddling clothes, herself mother and midwife.” Such was one of Jerome's arguments against Helvidius, who went down in theological history as the only one in Patristic times who denied Mary's virginity in giving birth.
[SLJ Bible and Science 180-181]

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I do feel I have to add something, a sort of postscript, lest my point about mentioning one particular title of our patron be misunderstood. I think it is about time that we recall we have Enemies... they want to disrupt everything which is good, distract us from our duties, entice us to self-interest... they are very powerful.

But we have allies who are more than a match for our adversaries...

St. Joseph will guard us too, providing we remember to choose the paths which lead to God, even when they lead into the laboratory or the workshop, to the depths of the ocean or under the earth, or the furthest reaches of intergalactic space or subatomic structures.... it is said in the Creed, and every scientist should repeat it daily:
Per quem omnia facta sunt = Through Christ all things were made.
St. Joseph the worker, spouse of Mary, foster-father of Christ, terror of demons, pray for us!

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