Porous and Buffered: Reading A Secular Age

David Russell Mosley

taylor-cover-a-secular-age

Eastertide
31 March 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

So I’ve recently taken the plunge and started reading Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. For those unfamiliar with Taylor and/or this work, Taylor is a Canadian philosopher and is professor emeritus at McGill University. He has written numerous works on political philosophy, history of philosophy, intellectual history and more. A Secular Age is Taylor’s attempt at putting a narrative to the transition that happens between, essentially, pre- and post-Enlightenment thinking and living. Specifically, Taylor wants to answer, narratively, “why as it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?”⁠1 This book fits, to a certain extent, within the same realm as John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory or Catherine Pickstock’s After Writing, and other such intellectual histories that seek to describe how we arrived at our modern understandings of reality and society. Taylor’s book is massive and to help me engage more fully with it, I’ve decided to blog my way through it. I intend to take it a chapter at a time and so this first post will cover, to an extent, the Introduction and Chapter 1. However, I want to be clear, I am more giving my thoughts on this book as I work my way through it rather than reviewing or intentionally critiquing it. My plan is just to highlight what I found interesting or problematic about the book as I move through it, so take my opinions with a grain of salt. If you’ve read the book, feel free to correct me when I’m wrong. If you haven’t, feel free to take it up with me and comment as you read the sections on which I am commenting. Now, to the thing!

In the Introduction, Taylor is laying out what he intends to do in this book, specifically, to describe how we moved from a porous self in an enchanted cosmos to a buffered self in a secular age. I’ll tackle porous/enchanted and buffered in a moment, but first, I want to address Taylor’s understanding of secular. Taylor describes three different kinds of secularity but wants to focus on the third kind, “which [he] could perhaps encapsulate in this way: the change I want to define and trace is one which takes us from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.”⁠2 This third sense of “secular” is in essence where religious belief becomes one option among others and no longer the guiding principle by which life is lived. Taylor, however, does make it clear that religion is tied to all three kinds of secularity, ” as that which is retreating in public space (1), or as a type of belief and practice which is or is not in regression (2), and as a certain kind of belief or commitment whose conditions in this age are being examined (3).”⁠3 This is interesting because Taylor is here arguing that secularity in general cannot cut its ties with religion, it cannot escape transcendence. It can only define itself in contradistinction from religion. Nevertheless, what Taylor wants to do is understand and narrate how we moved from what he will call the porous self to the buffered.

In Chapter 1, then, titled “The Bulwarks of Belief,” Taylor begins to define his terms, particularly porous/enchanted and buffered/disenchanted or secular. The enchanted world (which term Taylor takes up as the antonym to Weber’s disenchantment) is the world in which our pre-modern ancestors lived. For Taylor, “The enchanted world in this sense is the world of spirits, demons, and moral forces which our ancestors lived in.”⁠4 I’m really quite intrigued by Taylor’s use of enchantment and his understanding of the premodern self. For readers of these letters, you’ll know I have an intense interest in enchantment (which I often equate with sacramental and liturgical). It seems to me that Taylor means something similar, however, he is far less interested than I am, for instance, in developing a theology of enchantment or premodern understanding. This is largely because Taylor is offering a narrative and not explicitly arguing for one position over another (or at least not yet).

Taylor understands the person living in the enchanted cosmos as porous, that is open to these spirits, demons, and moral forces not as two minds (or more) that can work together or against one another, but as porous, capable of being internally affected by them. For the porous self, meaning is not primarily in the mind as they are for the buffered self. Taylor describes the buffered understanding of meaning this way,

“On the former view meanings are “in the mind” in the sense that things only the meaning they do in that they awaken a certain response in us, and this has to do with our nature as creatures who are thus capable of such responses, which means creatures with feelings, with desires, aversions, i.e. beings endowed with minds, in the broader sense.”⁠5

An object only has meaning insofar as I, as a being with intellect, imbue it with such. A tree is beautiful or menacing precisely because I feel it to be so, not because the tree itself has beauty or menace. But for our porous ancestors this was not the case. Meaning existed in things. Taylor describes this through the cult of the saints:

“But seeing things this way understates the strangeness of the enchanted world. Thus precisely in this cult of the saints, we can see how the forces here were not all agents, subjectivities, who could decide to confer a favour. But power also resided in things. For the curative actions of saints was often linked to centres where their relics resided; either some piece of their body (supposedly), or some object which had been connected with them in life, like (in the case of Christ) pieces of the true Cross, or the sweat-cloth which Saint Veronica had used to wipe his face, and which was on display on certain occasions in Rome. And we can add to this other objects which had been endowed with sacramental power, like the Host, or candles which had been blessed at Candlemas, and the like. These objects were loci of spiritual power; which is why they had to be treated with care, and if abused could wreak terrible damage.”⁠6

Taylor gets more precise and notes that these meaningful (in the true sense of that word) objects relate on a cosmic level, “So in the pre-modern world, meanings are not only in minds, but can reside in things, or in various kinds of extra-human but intra-cosmic subjects. We can bring out the contrast with today in to dimensions, by looking at two kinds of peers that these things/subjects posses.”⁠7 I am reminded here of John Milbank’s article “Fictioning Things” where writes that the objects in fairy-tales often function as the movers of the plot:

“Fairy-tale yields up a symmetrically opposite paradox: the circulation of objects in the basic plot is shadowed by the operations at a meta-narrative level of misty personages––senders and helpers, preternaturally “other” fairy figures and giants or else legendary human persons. Moreover, though the human heroes and heroines of the main plot are ciphers, who simply receive gifts as well as performing impossible tasks, etc. these ciphers, unlike the more strongly characterized gods or heroes, do in the end triumph, thanks to the mediations of the magical objects and a series of exchanges at the meta-narrative level with the “other” fairy realms.⁠”8

What Milbank describes, it seems to me, is the same kind of relationship between the saint and the relic as described by Taylor. These meaningful objects filled with power and thus cause an affect whether one intends them to or not (one might think of Uzzah and the ark, the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, or other similar examples). Taylor describes the good objects as capable of good or ill depending on how one uses them, though he never describes whether or not an object imbued with evil power could be used for good if used inappropriately. What Taylor is missing here, so far as I can see, is an extra level of connectivity. The relic of a saint is imbued with power from the saint, but the saint herself is imbued with power from God. Thus the grace mediated through a physical object ultimately receives its power from God. So while meaning is not simply in the mind, that is in the human or even angelic mind, it is ultimately founded in the mind of God. Why Taylor does not, in this chapter at least, make this point, I cannot say.

Another key to the porous self and the “charged” objects is that the effects of the charged object often function on multiple levels. When describing the healing that is given by such an object, Taylor notes that this healing is often not limited to the physical:

“That is, the same force that healed you could also make a better, or more holy person; and that in one act, so to speak. For the two disabilities were often seen as not really distinct. This shows that in, for instance, the healing at and by shrines, relics, sacred objects, etc., we are dealing with something different from modern medicine, even where the analogy seems closest.”⁠9

Without being explicit, Taylor recalls two, almost contrary ideas. On the one hand, I, at least, am reminded of the healings effected by Jesus. Often is the physical healing accompanied by a forgiveness of sin. However, and here is where either Taylor himself, or, possibly, our premodern ancestors, could  (or did) go wrong, which is to suggest that there is a direct connection between the physical ailment and particular unholiness. Christ himself denounces this when asked by his disciples who sinned in the case of the man born blind. However, it is clear that there is a connection (from Genesis 3 onward) between our physical ailments (that we die) and our sinfulness.

Taylor’s description of the enchanted cosmos is one that is inherently social. “But living in the enchanted, porous world of our ancestors was inherently living socially. It was not just that the spiritual forces which impinged on me often emanated from people around me, e.g., the spell cast by my enemy, or the protection afforded by a candle which has been blessed in the parish church. Much more fundamental, these forces often impinged on us as a society, and were defended against by us as a society.”⁠10

The buffered self, it would seem, though Taylor has not made this argument explicit as of yet, is one that not only puts up boundaries between me and creation (whether spiritual or physical) but also between me and other selves. If the porous self is inherently social, the buffered self is inherently individual.

Taylor is clearly not, at present, arguing for a return to the porous or enchanted. I’m not sure he believes this possible. Problematic for me is that Taylor does not seem even to be interested to ask whether or not it is true. I understand that his purpose is to narrate, to describe, and he is doing that. So I cannot fault him for doing what he set out to do; I just wish he were doing something a little different, but that’s my problem, not his.

Well thanks for enduring this long post, if you have. If you’ve read this book, let me know if I’m wrong (or right) and what I might have missed.

Sincerely,
David

anImage_21.tiff

1 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 25.

2 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 3.

3 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 15.

4 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 26.

5 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 31.

6 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 32.

7 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 33.

8 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 15.

9 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 39.

10 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 42.

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That Hideous Strength: The Cosmic and Enchanted Earth

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
8 October 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

That Hideous Strength is perhaps often viewed as one of the strangest and weakest of Lewis’s fictional books. It certainly makes little sense if we think of it as the culmination of a Space Trilogy since the entire book takes place on Earth. What’s more this book makes a sudden introduction of Arthurian mythology that is completely absent from the previous two. Some even criticise it for its portrayal of gender and male-female relationships (This however, is contested by Alison Milbank who seems to think Lewis get this more right than wrong. I don’t have a source for this as it is something she said in her class on Fantasy and Religion). And yet, for all of this, I cannot help but love this book.

It helps that I am something of a sucker for all things Arthurian. As evidenced by these posts. But even beyond this, Lewis does something very interesting on a cosmic level in this book. The book sets the tale of two protagonists, Jane Studdock and her husband Mark. Jane and Mark are still newly married, both academics, though she has put her work to the side for the time beings, finding it hard to return to it (she’s doing a PhD on Donne). Jane is troubled by dreams she’s having. She later finds out that she is a seer, that is, sometimes she dreams things that are currently happening. It’s important to note two things, first, Jane does not dream or predict the future. She is simply capable of dreaming the present. Second, Jane does not do this by calling upon spirits of any kind. It is, rather, hereditary. And it is this point that I find most interesting. Lewis has constructed a world where a human creature can, while asleep, ‘dream things true’ as Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet. In some ways, this is the epitome of an enchanted cosmos. Jane sees the present, and even more, she sees the present in a way that is useful to the Christians she eventually fully joins at the St Anne’s Manor. Lewis doesn’t make it obvious that these are visions given to Jane by God in say the way Daniel, Paul, John, or others have had visions. She isn’t seeing heavenly realities, but what she sees becomes guided by the influence the Director has over her. She is an enchanted human being, with a native ability that is intended for good uses, but can be turned to evil.

However, the enchantment runs even deeper than this. When Merlin is awakened or brought back into time, what his state was before his reanimation is uncertain, he is ravenous to reconnect with the rocks, fields, and trees around him. But he isn’t allowed to. The Director, the current Pendragon, will not allow him, it is no longer, according to God it would seem, acceptable. Nevertheless, the Director himself has the ability to tame animals in a way no other human can. Mice come at his beck and call to clean up crumbs; a bear lives with them (along with a few other animals); they have a garden, which doesn’t seem to have any particularly enchanted properties to it (not like the animals do), but living within nature does seem to be an integral aspect of their lives at St Anne’s. In fact, the garden growing, animal raising people of St Anne’s are contrasted with the N.I.C.E. and their desire to denature the Earth.

On the Angelic end of things, which has been the focus of the previous two letters in this series, there is decidedly less and more. Because the lens through which we see the world is the uninitiated Jane, rather than Ransom himself, encounters with the angelic are terrifying. There is a scene where Ivy, a member of the group at St Anne’s is reflecting on the Director’s encounters with angelic beings behind the planets (the wanderers) in the cosmos. ‘“Do you know,” said Ivy in a low voice, “that’s a thing I don’t understand. They’re so eerie, those ones [angels] that come to visit you. I wouldn’t go near that part of the house if I thought anything was there, not if you paid me a hundred pounds. But I don’t feel like that about God. But he ought to be worse, if you see what I mean.” “He was, once,” said the Director. “You are quite right about the powers. Angels in general are not good company for men in general, even when they are good angels and good men. It’s all in St. Paul. But as for Maledil Himself, all that changed: it was changed by what happened at Bethlehem.”’ Lewis does something I can’t quite fully account for here. Throughout the series, he has somewhat acted as though Earth, Thulcandra, the Silent Planet were purely under the sway of Satan and that the other Oyarsa cannot enter it, and that its own eldila are not always on our side (even if they aren’t always against us). This makes little sense when compared with Scripture where throughout the Old Testament and Apocrypha angels not only appear but aid humanity in obvious ways. In the New Testament, they fade somewhat behind the glory of Christ, but are still present. Perhaps, however, what Lewis is doing here is distinguishing between the hierarchies. Those great beings who guard and move the planets cannot enter into ours easily and are bad company for us, but those who are intended to work directly with us are not as bad company for us. Still, though, it is clear that we are meant to commune directly with God and not simply through the angels.

In the end, what That Hideous Strength gives us is the cosmic come home. The grand movements in the Fields of Arbol (Lewis’s “Old Solar” for the Cosmos) are affected by and affect what happens on Earth, not in an astrological way, but because the whole Cosmos, created and upheld by God, is also governed by his created beings and all of it is tending toward one end. It is all tending toward the overcoming of the world with the Kingdom of Heaven, of the overcoming of Britain with the kingdom of Logres. Let me leave you with the discussion of Logres in That Hideous Strength, keeping in mind that this discussion not only applies to every nation, but to the whole cosmos.

‘“It all began,” he [Dr Dimble] said, “when we discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the Sixth Century wen something that is always trying to break through into this country nearly succeeded. Logres was our name for it––it will do as well as another. And then … gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting.”

‘“What haunting?” asked Camilla.

‘“How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven’t you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind ever Milton, a Cromwell: a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers: the home of Sidney––and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain.”

….

‘“It was long afterwards,” he said, “after the Director had returned from the Third Heaven, that we were told a little more. This haunting turned out to be not only from the other side of the invisible wall. Ransom was summoned to the bedside of an old man then dying in Cumberland. His name would mean nothing to you if I told it. That man was the Pendragon, the successor of Arthur and Uther and Cassibelaun. Then we learned the truth. There has been a secret Logres in the very heart of Britain all these years: an unbroken succession of Pendragons. That old man was the seventy-eighth from Arthur: our Director received from him the office and the blessings; tomorrow we shall know, or tonight, who is to be the eightieth. Some of the Pendragons are well known to history, though not under that name. Others you have never heard of. But in every age they and the little Logres which gathered around them have been the fingers which gave the tiny shove or the almost imperceptible pull, to prod England out of the drunken sleep or to draw her back from the final outrage into which Britain tempted her.”

….

‘“So that, meanwhile, is England,” said Mother Dimble. “Just this swaying to and fro between Logres and Britain?”

‘“Yes,” said her husband. “Don’t you feel it? The very quality of England. If we’ve got an ass’s head, it is by walking in a fairy wood. We’ve heard something better than we can do, but can’t quite forget it … can’t you see it in everything English––a kind of awkward grace, a humble, humorous incompleteness? How right Sam Weller was when he called Mr. Pickwick an angel in gaiters! Everything here is either better or worse than––”

‘“Dimble!” said Ransom….

‘“You’re right, Sir,” he said with a smile. “I was forgetting what you have warned me always to remember. This haunting is no peculiarity of ours. Every people has its own haunter. There’s no special privilege for England––no nonsense about a chosen nation. We speak about Logres because it is our haunting, the one we know about.”

‘“Aye,” said MacPhee, “and it could be right good history without mentioning you and me or most of those present. I’d be greatly obliged if anyone would tell me what we have don––always apart from feeding pigs and raising some very decent vegetables.”

‘“You have done what is required of you,” said the Director. “You have obeyed and waited. It will often happen like that. As one of the modern authors has told us, the altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else. But don’t jump to conclusions. You may have plenty of work to do before a month is passed. Britain has lost the battle, but she will rise again.”’

Let us be Logres in the midst of Britain.

Sincerely yours,
David

Heaven and Earth: The Re-Enchantment of the Cosmos

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
20 September 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I want to take a brief brake from my letters on C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy to bring to your attention two things I’ve seen today. The first is a video on the nature of heaven and earth I will share below. Please give it a watch (Hat Tip to Robin Parry at Theological Scribbles for posting this).

In this excellent little video we are reminded of two incredibly important things. The first is that at one time Heaven and Earth were united. At one time, perhaps, our world was not so unlike those depicted in either Malacandra or Perelandra. God and his angels, the whole order of being, was represented on Earth, were capable of being experienced by humanity in a more direct fashion. Then a split happens, Earth rejects heaven. The video then deftly points out that the temple will be come the primary locus on Heaven on Earth. However, what it fails to mention, probably due to lack of time, is that there seemed to be other pockets of Heaven on Earth, at least before the tabernacle and temple. Jacob in Bethel sees the ladder with the orders of angels ascending and descending; Moses finds himself by a bush that is burning but not consumed as is told that the ground beneath him is holy. In fact, the video fails to mention even in the divorce of Heaven and Earth, the divorce isn’t true, in a sense. The world cannot go on existing unless it participates in God. Nevertheless, the key here, is that the temple becomes the main sight where Heaven and Earth collide.

Then something new happens. A being from Heaven fully enmeshes himself in Earth. Not just any being, either but the Being, the source and font of all that we call being, the Son, the second person of the Trinity becomes a human without forsaking his divinity. Now, he himself is a pocket of heaven everywhere he goes and he begins to reclaim people and things for heaven. The people part is obvious, lost become found, blind regain sight, sinners are made saints. However, remember that Christ also transfigured water (both by turning it to wine and sanctifying it for baptism). Christ transfigures bread and wine into his body and blood in the Eucharist. Christ is, in a sense, revealing to us the true meaning and purpose of these worldly (and even manmade) objects. He makes them pockets of heaven.

But beyond even this, believers, and therefore the Church, become pockets of heaven, or thin places, if you like (often called a Celtic Christian idea, I can say that I spent roughly three years studying ancient Irish Christianity and never encountered the phrase thin places, but it is a useful metaphor). However, I want to suggest that there are still physical thin places; the most obvious of which are churches (that is the buildings). Traditionally, church buildings have been built theologically. Shape and design are given a theological meaning. Even more so, the medieval churches are filled with images (primarily images called icons in the Christian East), statues, and carvings to evoke Heaven. Angels surround the altar (what many Protestants call the communion table), depictions of the life and death of Christ and the saints are set in place, not merely to inspire or remind us of the stories.  They are there to draw our minds into Heaven which is present in that space, unlike how it may be present in others. Why? Because as the video noted concerning the death of Christ, the efficacy of that death (and the nature of that life) is repeated in the sacraments. Preeminent of these is the Eucharist where we share in the body and blood of Christ, however conceived by celebrants and participants. This makes churches holy ground, thin places where Heaven and Earth collide.

This brings me to a blog post I read this morning. Robb Beck at “Sublunary Sublime” reminds us that the re-enchantment project in Christianity can become something of a purely intellectual notion at best and mere cliché at worst if we are not careful. He reminds us at the end of the short post, ‘Re-enchanting the universe is not some abstract idea, nor is it a simple intellectual task. It is a summons to face the enemy head on. As Fr. Steward Headlam once remarked, “it seems to me to be the duty of every minister of Christ to do all he possible can to stir up a divine discontent in the hearts and minds of the people with the evils which surround them.”’ This is, I believe, the natural conclusion of what I have outlined above. If the Earth is “enemy occupied territory” as C. S. Lewis calls it, then the Church and the churches are bastions of Heaven which send out Heavenlings to reclaim, to re-enchant a world gone dormant, a world lulled to sleep by the lying lullaby of the Enemy. And it is fitting that this all begins at the altar, at the recapitulation, the non-identical repetition of the Cross.

This is what it means to pray Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on Earth as it is Heaven. This too, I would argue, is the significance of praying for our daily bread. That this bread represents true sustenance cannot be denied for what is more sustaining than the Bread of Life?

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

The Enchanted Cosmos-A Response to Matt Moser at Christ and University

David Russell Mosley


3 March 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

 Over on Christ and University, Matt Moser has been doing a series on the difficulties of teaching Dante. In his most recent post Moser notes that a significant issue in reading Dante is his cosmology which we no longer share on a broad societal level. This is an issue one often sees when reading Ancient and Medieval literature. In a sense, this is precisely what C. S. Lewis seeks to address in his The Discarded Image. The medievals, Dante, thought differently than we do about the way world works. One of the most common cases of this is an issue over spontaneous generation. The ancients and medievals thought flies came from decaying meat, spontaneously, or, usually, through some juxtapositional of the Zodiac.

This, however, is not the kind of problem we’re dealing with in Dante, nor is it the main problem we deal with in most of the Ancient and Medieval writers. Instead, as Moser notes, it is an issue of enchantment, or even more, an issue of seeing the Universe as a Cosmos (which means order). Moser writes, 

‘This is the challenge of reading Dante. His cosmic imagination is difficult to apprehend because we inhabit an a-cosmological, disenchanted world. But more importantly, this is the challenge of Dante: “See the world you inhabit in this way,” he bids us. “To see order is to see goodness; to see harmony is to see beauty. To see goodness and beauty is to see truth. To see truth is to behold God.”’

Moser then connects this to education as such. In a cosmological understanding of education all the branches of the University are connected, they interpenetrate one another. But this is not the way we view education or the Cosmos. So it causes Moser to ask, ‘Is there a way to forge a cosmic imagination in our students given the a-cosmological world we inhabit today?’

I certainly do not wish to pretend that I have the one answer to this, the one solution that will fix all of education and our disenchanted vision of the universe. However, I think an aspect of the answer is in the problem. You see, the post is about the difficulties of teaching Dante, yet teaching Dante is one of the solutions to this problem. To put it more frankly, in order to get students to understand a cosmic and enchanted vision of the Universe we need to teach them about thinkers who have a cosmic and enchanted vision of the Universe. Even more so, if we agree with those thinkers, as Moser and I do, then we need to model that vision. 

There are perhaps two things for which I am most frequently criticised here at Letters from the Edge of Elfland. The first is a jumble of my relatively theological conservatism (meaning I think Jesus is really the Son of God and the Bible is the word of God, etc.) and my qualified support of thinkers like John Milbank and the school of theology known as Radical Orthodoxy. The other critique, however, is based on my writing about things like Faerie, and King Arthur, and Enchantment. Nevertheless, I won’t stop precisely because this is the vision of the world our Christian forebears had, not always couched in the terms I have inherited from the Medieval and Romantic British, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, and German traditions, but it was nevertheless a world where miracles were possible by the grace of God. It is a world where angels existed, as did demons. It is a world where God became man and now bread becomes flesh and wine blood. It is a world where humans can become gods or devils, but only by grace or its rejection. I think there are many ways to lead students to this kind of understanding (or at least to understand that this is how Dante et al., saw the world): not least of which are the reading and writing of fiction (especially fantasy), and reading the Ancients and Medievals themselves. However, to lead students to an even deeper understanding of the Cosmic vision of the Universe is to live it and to live it, unashamedly, in front of them.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

The Enchantment of Creation Or, I Do Believe in Faerie

Self-portrait of Chesterton concerning Distributism: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c0/Three_acres_and_a_cow.JPG

Self-portrait of Chesterton concerning Distributism: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c0/Three_acres_and_a_cow.JPG

Dear Friends and Family,

Part of my normal routine is to get up at five in the morning, do my morning ablutions, and then I come into the study, say my prayers, and by no later than 5:45 I begin my morning reading. Right now, I’m reading my way through The Everyman Chesterton, a collection of some of G. K. Chesterton’s most famous writings. At the moment, I’m in the middle of Orthodoxy, a fantastic book that ought to be read by all. Today I came to the chapter entitle ‘The Ethics of Elfland’. In this chapter, Chesterton lays out the laws and guidelines one usually finds in Faerie. There’s a particular quote I want to share with you:

‘I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened–dawn and death and so on–as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference by the test of fairyland; which is the test of imagination. You cannot imagine two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine a tree not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by their tail.’ (300 in my edition).

What Chesterton here is critiquing is this notion that simply because something has repeatedly happened does not mean it is what always must happen. He later adds, ‎’But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible the God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon’ (309). For Chesterton, imagination was the key test of a law. If you could imagine it differently, then it was not a law. This is magic, for Chesterton.

In Faerie, however, there are still laws. Two plus two must always equal four (unless you change the meaning of the words), black can never be white or blue or green and vice versa. Finally, good can never be evil and evil good. You see, in Faerie there are absolutes. I am reminded of George Macdonald, a nineteenth Scottish story writer and theologian. In his story The Princess and the Goblin, the princess is described as being beautiful and truthful for it is the mark of the princess to be honest. Faerie is a world where the transcendentals (Truth, Beauty, and Goodness) have not been separated and so where you find one you find them all.

I now have a secret to tell you. Perhaps you’ve guessed it already. Faerie is real, truly it is more real in so many ways than the earth as we know and understand it. We must look to Elfland for our ethics for they turn to the same Christ we do. This world is enchanted, if only we have the eyes to see it.

Sincerely yours,

David