Wisdom from Livy – the study of history

Titus Livius – Livy

” The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind, for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see, and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings: fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.”

~ Titus Livius, better known as Livy: Roman historian, 59 BC-17 AD

Chesterton on Christianity and barbarism

Cathedral interior - Gothic arches

Wise words from the great G.K. Chesterton:

“If our faith had been a mere fad of the fading empire, fad would have followed fad in the twilight, and if the civilization ever re-emerged (and many such have never re-emerged) it would have been under some new barbaric flag. But the Christian Church was the last life of the old society and was also the first life of the new. She took the people who were forgetting how to make an arch and she taught them to invent the Gothic arch.

“In a word, the most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we have all heard said of it. How can we say that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.”

— G.K. Chesterton: “Orthodoxy,” Chap. IX – Authority and the Adventurer | http://bit.ly/2s1FelS

The confidence of Baroque and the decline of the modern West

Video: Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks, Overture.

I have been listening to more classical music, of late, than I had for a while, and aside from the sheer beauty of it, there is one thing that strikes me quite dramatically: classical music, especially but not exclusively the great Baroque classics by composers like Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel, was above all supremely confident music! Like Baroque art and architecture, in their spheres, it was the music of a people who honored their past, rejoiced in their present, and had great hope and expectations for the future.

How different from much of what is written now (the “industrial” music popular a while back was called by one commentator “the sound that civilization makes as it’s coming apart,” and that could describe much of the contemporary oeuvre). I am not saying that there is not some great music being written today, or even that I do not like some contemporary music in the more “popular” genre (although if I have to listen to contemporary music, I’ll take country, thank you). But it is almost without exception nowhere close to the great classics in either musicality or the confidence in the future it expresses.

And that leads me to my sad observation: that we in the West, who value the civilization of the West, need to somehow recapture that confidence, or the decline of the West will continue until we are irrelevant, if not extinct. A culture which does not believe in itself, and its prospects for the future, has no future; if we continue down our present path, we are doomed to replacement, either by invading alien cultures such as Islam, or by something new and inferior springing from within, but lacking a sense of connection with, or respect for, our cultural heritage and inheritance: what Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert Bork called “the vertical invasion of the barbarians.”

The problem is that downward spirals, whether in an aircraft or a culture, are fiendishly hard to pull out of, and the further down you get, the harder it is. We need to revamp our educational system away from “political correctness” and neophilia (*) and back to respect, appreciation, even love for our customs, traditions, history, and heritage; we need to return, not to Taliban-like rigid enforcement of moral purity, but certainly away from the absurdities of obsessive sexuality and rampant gender confusion characterizing the present age; and we need to regain our ability to draw borders and boundaries to protect our cultural integrity and distinctiveness: gardens need fences, and those who attempt to be all things to all people end up being nothing to anyone.

How that is going to come about, though, I confess I do not know. Will it require complete bottoming-out, and (hopefully, painfully and over time) rebuilding from a “faithful remnant”? Or is it possible that some new idea, some new and powerful personality, might serve to inspire us to recapture our sense of our own possibility? I hope so, although I don’t see any such on the horizon. The alternative is almost too painful to consider.

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* Neophilia: the love of the new simply for its own sake, combined with the belief that what is newer is automatically and necessarily better than what is older / more traditional.

Joan of Arc – Maid of Heaven – Joan of Arc & Robert E. Lee

Joan of Arc – you have heard her name, do you really know her story? The famous sword of Robert E. Lee contains one of St. Joan of Arc’s famous quotes: “Aide toi, Dieu t’aidera” – which means “aid yourself and God will aid you.”

Source: Joan of Arc – Maid of Heaven – Joan of Arc & Robert E. Lee

At last! Provenance for this. Sometimes rendered – and often quoted to me by my mother – as “the Lord [or God] helps those who help themselves,” it does not appear in the Scriptures, but is (or used to be) a fairly common axiom. I had not realized that it was from St. Jean d’Arc (Joan of Arc). Nor did I realize the Robert E. Lee connection! As the linked essay recounts:

There are many similarities between St. Joan of Arc and Robert E. Lee, the two most obvious being that they were both great generals and they both possessed incredible faith in God. How appropriate, then, that Robert E. Lee’s famous presentation sword, the one that he wore during his meeting with Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, is engraved on one side with one of Saint Joan’s most famous quotes and spiritual truths:

“Aide toi et Dieu t’aidera”

(“Aid yourself and God will aid you”)

But there is more, which makes this especially meaningful to me, personally: this account confirms what I thought I understood: that the sword General Lee was wearing when he surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse – a moment which must have been among the most, if not the very most, painful moments of his life – was the “Maryland Sword”:

This particular sword was a gift from an admirer who lived in Maryland. It was presented to him in 1863. It is said to have been commissioned in Paris by Louis-Francois Devisme. The giver of the gift has been lost over the years but the sword has been preserved and refurbished to its original state. The sword is forty and one-half inches in length, possessing a lion’s head on the pommel and has an ivory grip. The blade is inscribed, “Gen. Robert E. Lee CSA from a Marylander 1863.” The scabbard is of blued steel. Both pieces are flawless and priceless. Its beauty is something to be seen to be appreciated.

That the Sword of General Lee, the Maryland Sword, is also in a sense a Sword of St. Joan of Arc raises the hair on the back of my neck – but in a good way, a very good way! The essay’s author continues:

My thoughts are how many times Lee as a Christian in gazing upon the words [“Aide toi Dieu t’aidera”] did he think about the saying and use it as motivation to continue? During adversity, surrender and even death, those words inscribed upon that sword must have been recalled and shared with others.

I doubt it not. Amen, and amen!

Sadly, according to reports, some within “Take ’em down NOLA” – the main group behind the removal of four Confederate monuments from the city, which is dedicated to the removal or renaming of all “symbols of white supremacy,” so-called – are targeting not only Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, but the “Maid of Orleans”: Joan of Arc herself (*). Will idiocy never end? The lunatics, it seems, are running the asylum!

(* Jean d’Arc does not appear on this, supposedly “official,” list, but reports suggest that she may be on an unofficial list of “Take ’em down NOLA” targets. Sadly, I would not be a bit surprised!)

Leben wie vor 100 Jahren – Filmbildsendung – Florian Schmitz – YouTube

I may have shared this previously, but even if I did, it’s worth a re-visit: Florian Schmitz seeks to live, to the greatest extent possible, according to the model of his forebears of c. 1900. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for this young man! I wish there were a version of this video with English subtitles.

It is of course true that “you can’t go home again”; alterity (the state of being other or different, otherness – particularly with respect to the differences between our present age and earlier times) is a real thing. However, sometimes you can bring the best parts (or at least, adapt or interpret them) of the past into the present.

Sometimes, perhaps often, we should!

Lack of respect for, and connection with, the past, our traditions – Tradition itself – is a major piece of our present malaise. A tree cut off from its roots cannot be healthy, and will soon wither. The same is true of a culture or society. And we in the West are increasingly cut off from our past, our traditions, our cultural heritage: and not accidentally; all too often, intentionally, as part of a focused program of social engineering.

What this young man is doing is an act of creative rebellion against the modernist / post-modernist machine, and I salute him for it.

Update / Nota Bene: A friend of mine advises me that it is possible to get a translation by adjusting one’s YouTube settings to “Close-captioned,” set subtitles to German, and then select the translation function to English. The resulting machine translation is clunky, imprecise, and a little hard to follow, but it allows a non-German-speaker (like me) to get at least the gist of what Florian is saying. Many thanks, Angela!

Easter and Paganism, by John Morgan – Our Celtic Traditions

An excellent post by my friend John Morgan, on the subject of Easter, its origins, calculations, etc.

One still gets those who say that it is borrowed from Paganism, and while it seems reasonably certain that the English / Germanic name for this holiday was adopted via a month-name (“Ēastermōnaþ” and variations on the linguistic theme) from Eostre (reconstructed OHG *Ostara), a purported goddess who – interestingly enough – is attested only in the works of St. Bede the Venerable, the Anglo-Saxon Christian proto-historian (!), and while there has clearly been some borrowing / adoption / adaption of existing European folk traditions as Christianity moved out of its original Mediterranean context and into Western and Northern Europe, associating Easter with goddesses like Ishtar and Astarte is… well, let’s just be gentle, and say it’s a stretch. 🙂

Historically, as John points out, the dating of Easter is based on the dating of the Jewish feast of Passover; the only parallel with European Paganism is that both had Spring feasts in the vicinity of the Vernal Equinox, and/or the Full Moon nearest to it. There is nothing surprising about such parallels, and it doesn’t imply a connection, other than a basic human one.

Similarly, for the early Christian evangelists of Anglo-Saxon England to find parallels between a month dedicated to the dawn, rising sun, increasing light, etc., and Jesus, who was known as the Day-Star, compared to the Dayspring (dawn), hailed as the Sun of Righteousness, and called by the Gospel-writer St. John the “light [which] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” is hardly surprising!

Theologically, of course, there are considerable differences between the Christian message and the Pagan myths which preceded it. Christians – myself included – would point out that these were prefigurings, foreshadowings, of the “true myth” (C.S. Lewis) which is Christianity; the “dying god” of Paganism being a shadow of the form (to put it in Platonic terms) which was embodied and given geographical and historical, and of course human, context in Jesus of Nazareth: the Incarnate Word of God. For more on this, see my reflections on “Christianity in an Age of Unbelief,” posted earlier.

At any rate, click the link, read the post. Most excellent!

Why Did Patrick Henry Oppose the Constitution? – The Imaginative Conservative

To Americans familiar only with Henry’s blazing “Liberty or Death” oration of 1775, it may come as a shock to learn that Henry opposed the adoption of the Constitution.

Source: Why Did Patrick Henry Oppose the Constitution? – The Imaginative Conservative

To Americans familiar only with Henry’s blazing “Liberty or Death” oration of 1775, it may come as a shock to learn that Henry opposed the adoption of the Constitution. Henry always had a flair for the dramatic, but on this occasion, Mother Nature offered him an improbable assist: As he thundered against the dangers of the new centralized government, a howling storm rose outside the Richmond hall. Frightened delegates scurried to take cover.

A memorable scene, to be sure, but how could the man who cried “give me liberty or give me death,” this patriot who penned Virginia’s resolves against the Stamp Act in 1765, not support the Constitution? The answer was pretty simple: Henry thought that the American Revolution was, at root, a rebellion against the coercive power of the British government. In particular, it was a rebellion against unjust British taxes. Henry, therefore, thought it was madness for Americans to place that same kind of consolidated political authority over themselves again…

A most interesting treatment of an era and an episode in American history of which most Americans know little or nothing! I myself knew only parts of this. Of special note is his discussion of the successes, as well as failures, of the American government under the Articles of Confederation – a part of our history which is almost complete terra incognita to many (most) contemporary Americans. Well worth a read!

Nota Bene: I should note that I do not entirely agree with the assertion that “In particular, [the American Revolution] was a rebellion against unjust British taxes.” It was a rebellion against many things, of which taxes were one important one – but only one. Continue reading “Why Did Patrick Henry Oppose the Constitution? – The Imaginative Conservative”