The Sacred Heritage
"It is not much to give to the theme that so long filled my heart."When a man is healthy, he doesn't spend a lot of time pondering his health, but when he is sick he does think about his health. How sick am I? How did I get sick? What will it take for me to recover?
European civilization is sick, and I have spent the greater part of my adult life contemplating its sickness. I have felt for a number of years now that I know the cause of its sickness. In various articles such as "Only My Blood Speaks," The Poetic Core of Western Civilization, and The Lost Thread, I have attempted to expose the serpent that has entwined itself around Europe. That serpent is philosophical speculation. What the philosophical speculators bring to Christianity is a "hedge your bets" type of strategy: "Christ is risen… maybe, but in case He isn't, let's make sure we have a philosophical system to fall back on."
Christianity, however, is not a faith that permits that kind of dualism. When philosophy and Christianity are joined, there is a diminished sense of man's sin and man's need for a loving savior. Sin becomes something that can be cured by the proper use of man's reason. And when sin can be cured by rationality, there is a loss of the tragic sense of life. If the world is ordered so marvelously with pat answers for every contingency of existence, what need is there for the Suffering Servant?
Christianity is a religion of depth. If the riddle of existence can be solved by an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world, then we need only consult with the men who possess that knowledge; we do not have to plumb the depths in search of a Savior who speaks to us from the depths.
It is to the Europeans that we must turn for a vision of the true God. Their gods were hero-gods. They couldn't conceive of a god in any other form, and when they were told the story of the ultimate Hero-God, they embraced Him. But unfortunately, the transmission of Christianity via the Romans was a mixed blessing. The Europeans heard the story of the great Hero-God, but with that story came the serpent of philosophical speculation. The Greco-Romans had rejected the vision of their bards, such as Sophocles and Virgil, who saw that only a Hero above the nature gods could save man. Instead the Greco-Romans placed their faith in those men who professed to have found the secret of the universe in the mind, and not the heart, of man. They came as missionaries and teachers, but what their convertites and pupils brought to the faith, a realization that Christ was the Hero-God, was of infinite value. If the intellectual elite of the Roman Church had had the humility to learn from their pupils, the division of Christendom could have been prevented. For what was the Protestant Reformation in essence but an attempt by the Northern Europeans (minus Ireland) to reclaim that vision of the Hero-God free from the serpentine entanglements of the philosophers?
But of course a movement that is only a desperate gasp for life can be easily subverted. The same serpent of philosophical speculation that had entwined itself around the Roman Church entwined itself around the Protestant church as well.
The tragic Christ, the heroic Christ of St. Paul, of Isaiah, was the Christ who the 'primitive' Europeans saw when they embraced Christianity. And we need their dauntless spirits if we are to reclaim the true Europe. Noble hearts must respond directly to His heart. "Now his good sword he has drawn; And he has thrown the sheath away," was the war cry of the old Europeans as they joined their Lord in His battle against Satan. It must once again be our war cry.
The current breed of post-Christians are the bastard children of the illicit union of Christianity and speculative philosophy. They have the outward features of human beings, but they have lost touch with the spiritual wellspring of life. Inside they are dead. So they look for renewal from the barbarian races. "They will provide the blood and spirit we lack." But that will never be. The blood cannot function without the spirit or the spirit without the blood. The barbarians lack the spirit while the post-Christians lack the blood. There is nothing vital in barbarism or post-Christianity. True vitality comes not from the bloodless faith of the philosophical speculators or from the blood-without-spirit faith of the barbarians. True faith comes only from the spirit-infused blood that once belonged to the European.
When the vision is blurred because we attempt to see existence with the eye of the philosopher rather than through the eye of the bard, we kill the blood and eviscerate the spirit. But the eviscerated faith of the modern philosopher is presented to us as a higher faith. All my life I have heard the same propaganda: "There is primitive man who fears lightning and is superstitious. Then there is the man who believes in a human God with a slightly higher ethical code than primitive man. And then there is intellectual man who knows all Gods are just manifestations of the human mind, which is the true God."
The ruling elite in church and society actually believe that they have achieved the highest stage of existence. They worship the great universal mind that is beyond the gods of the pagans and the God of the Christian. Because the fact of modern man's exalted state, by virtue of his elevated "intellectual" notions of God, is such a given to the post-Christian of the 20th and 21st centuries, we need to go back to the 19th century to see a different vision of God.
The great poets and novelists do not just give us their personal visions; they also give us a glimpse of the spiritual under-girding of the society in which they live. And what we see in the late 1700's through the 1800's and into the early 1900's is a titanic struggle for the soul of Europe. The satanic serpent of philosophical speculation finally decided that he no longer needed to slither on his belly and take people by surprise. He could now stand upright and enjoy the fruits of years of slithering, philosophical speculation: Darwinism, capitalism, communism, science and psychology were all creations of the speculating serpent. But there was also a heroic response. European man was not dead yet. An enormous amount of writers saw through the myth of the "higher stage of existence" and threw in their lot with the God-Man. Surely their journeys also reflected the spiritual journeys of many of their countrymen.
With most of the writers, excepting Walter Scott, the post-Christian consciousness was not something they merely observed in others; it was part of their soul. But they, the great ones, fought against it and tried to reclaim the integral vision of the God-Man. Such a vision belongs in the speculators' second stage of existence, but is in reality the only real stage of existence for a truly Christian and truly European man.
The list of knights errant who made the great refusal is very long (see "The Nineteenth Century Way to God"), but I will limit my discussion here to five men: Walter Scott, Thomas Hughes, J. S. Le Fanu, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Ian McClaren.
With a great many writers it is necessary to forgive much in their personal lives. And that is fair. We are all sinners, and if an author has shown us a glimpse of the eternal through his writings we should mercifully place a veil over his private failings. I know I don't want to hear anything about the personal life of an author I admire unless it is something laudatory. But of course there is always somebody who will take delight in bringing your hero down to earth. "Dickens wrote all those books about happy Victorian families, while he was …." You know that type of debunker. I despise that type of attack even when used against an author I don't like. The E. Michael Jones School of Literary Criticism disgusts me. But such critics we will always have with us. Which is why I take particular delight in their inability to lay a glove on one of my heroes, Sir Walter Scott. H. V. Morton says this about him in his book, In Scotland Again: "It is a commonplace that we who come after must forgive many a man for his sins because he was a great artist. Scott needs no forgiveness. He was a perfect man." Any discussion of a European comeback must begin with Sir Walter Scott.
Scott saw the beginning of the post-Christian stage of European man. But it was never part of his soul. He did not have to fight, like Dostoyevsky, with the demons that were within and without. He was the last thoroughly European writer. Christianity for Scott was not a philosophy from which one could take a few maxims to live by. Christianity was that inextinguishable flame that distinguished the European hearth fire from every other hearth fire. Scott's contempt for the fanatics of every denomination was rooted in a respect, nay a reverence, for the Man of Sorrows. And because of this reverence, Scott loved the continent that nurtured and protected the story of the heroic God-Man. He saw in the new world of industrialism and commerce the victory of the serpent. In all of his literary romances he sets the spirit of European chivalry against the speculative serpent. And it is a chivalry that has been shorn of its medieval formalism. It is not the outward, warlike chivalry of the Knights Templar but is instead a deeper chivalry of the heart. A spindly-legged clergyman such as Reuben Butler can practice it just as intensely as a knight like Quentin Durward.
Scott was a conservative of the blood and spirit. He sensed that the ancient ways were best because they were closer to Him. And he did not equate old Europe with one Christian denomination or one political party or one social structure. In Scott's view, what distinguished the old European man from the new breed of European intellectuals was the old Europeans' disdain for abstract reason divorced from the common experience of the European man of flesh and blood. The European everyman did not need to theorize; he knew in his blood, infused with the blood and spirit of the God-Man, what was the best way to live.
An established system is not to be tried by those tests which may with perfect correctness be applied to a new theory. A civilized nation, long in possession of a code of law, under which, with all its inconveniences, they have found means to flourish, is not to be regarded as an infant colony, on which experiments in legislation may, without much danger of presumption, be hazarded. A philosopher is not entitled to investigate such a system by those ideas which he has fixed in his own mind as the standard of possible excellence. The only unerring test of every old establishment is the effect it has actually produced, for that must be held to be good, from whence good is derived. The people have, by degrees, moulded their habits to the law they are compelled to obey; for some of its imperfections remedies have been found, to others they have reconciled themselves; till, at last, they have, from various causes, attained the object which the most sanguine visionary could promise to himself from his own perfect unembodied system.Scott completely rejected the "higher stage of development" theories of the new breed of European intellectuals. In his world there was no such thing as a perfect system that could transcend Christianity. His God was always Christ, the Hero-God of the Europeans.
from Scott's "Essay on Judicial Reform" quoted in John Gibson Lockhart's Memoirs
of the Life of Scott
In the introduction to his masterpiece, Uncle Silas, J. S. LeFanu says that he tried to write in the spirit of Sir Walter Scott. He succeeds. The character for whom LeFanu's novel is named is the embodiment of the post-Christian man. He knows, intellectually, what Christianity is, so he can talk and behave like a Christian. But in reality he is a believer in the "higher" religion. The Hero-God that speaks to human hearts does not inspire him because he has no heart that can be set aflame.
Of my wretched uncle's religion what am I to say? Was it utter hypocrisy, or had it at any time a vein of sincerity in it? I cannot say. I don't believe that he had any heart left for religion, which is the highest form of affection, to take hold of. Perhaps he was a sceptic with misgivings about the future, but past the time for finding anything reliable in it. The devil approached the citadel of his heart by stealth, with many zigzags and parallels. The idea of marrying me to his son by fair means, then by foul, and, when that wicked chance was gone, then the design of seizing all by murder, supervened. I dare say that Uncle Silas thought for a while that he was a righteous man. He wished to have heaven and to escape hell, if there were such places. But there were other things whose existence was not speculative, of which some he coveted, and some he dreaded more, and temptation came. 'Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man's work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.' There comes with old age a time when the heart is no longer fusible or malleable, and must retain the form in which it has cooled down. 'He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; he which is filthy, let him be filthy still.'The heroine, Maud Ruthyn, seems helpless against the ruthless Uncle Silas. But she is saved, not by her intellect, but by her innocence and the grace of God. In a marvelous denouement, LeFanu depicts the working of grace in a character who we would not have suspected of being receptive to God's grace. But Maud's innocence inspires him. He becomes a hero in spite of himself.
So it was vain: I was trapped, and all was over.
I stood before him on the step, the white moon shining on my face. I was trembling so that I wonder I could stand, my helpless hands raised towards him, and I looked up in his face. A long shuddering moan—'Oh—oh—oh!' was all I uttered.
The man, still holding my arm, looked, I thought frightened, into my white dumb face.
Suddenly he said, in a wild, fierce whisper—
'Never say another word' (I had not uttered one). 'They shan't hurt ye, Miss; git ye in; I don't care a damn!'
It was an uncouth speech. To me it was the voice of an angel. With a burst of gratitude that sounded in my own ears like a laugh, I thanked God for those blessed words.
LeFanu saw that the new Europe of science and rationalism was not going to produce a new golden age; it was going to produce inhuman men like Uncle Silas. Only the God-Man, pure and unadulterated by rationalism and science, could prevail against the Uncle Silases of the new Europe.
It is not easy to recall in calm and happy hours the sensations of an acute sorrow that is past. Nothing, by the merciful ordinance of God, is more difficult to remember than pain. One or two great agonies of that time I do remember, and they remain to testify of the rest, and convince me, though I can see it no more, how terrible all that period was.
Next day was the funeral, that appalling necessity; smuggled away in whispers, by black familiars, unresisting, the beloved one leaves home, without a farewell, to darken those doors no more; henceforward to lie outside, far away, and forsaken, through the drowsy heats of summer, through days of snow and nights of tempest, without light of warmth, without a voice near. Oh, Death, king of terrors! The body quakes and the spirit faints before thee. It is vain, with hands clasped over our eyes, to scream our reclamation; the horrible image will not be excluded. We have just the word spoken eighteen hundred years ago, and our trembling faith. And through the broken vault the gleam of the Star of Bethlehem.
Let me just add before leaving LeFanu that I think his Maud Ruthyn and Scott's Jeanie Deans are the two greatest heroines in English literature.
Thomas Hughes' magnificent work, Tom Brown's School Days, and the sequel, Tom Brown at Oxford, deserve to be placed in the topmost rank of English literature, but they are not placed there because they are so unabashedly Christian. There are three aspects to Hughes' Christianity. The first is charity. In this he is like so many of his 19th century contemporaries. They saw St. Paul's meditation on charity (1 Corinthians 13) as the very essence of Christianity. We know Tom Brown will never go too far astray when we see how he takes care of "little Arthur."
On went the talk and laughter. Arthur finished his washing and undressing, and put on his night-gown. He then looked round more nervously than ever. Two or three of the little boys were already in bed, sitting up with their chins on their knees. The light burned clear, the noise went on. It was a trying moment for the poor little lonely boy; however, this time he didn't ask Tom what he might or might not do, but dropped on his knees by his bedside, as he had done every day from his childhood, to open his heart to him who heareth the cry and beareth the sorrows of the tender child, and the strong man in agony.The second part of Hughes' vision is implicit in most of the 19th century authors, but Brown makes it explicit, which is unique. Hughes places before us the vital connection between a belief in heroes and faith in the Hero-God. In doing this, he shows us the reason our European ancestors were able to see that Christ the Hero, whose reflection they saw in the faces of their warrior-hero gods, was the true Hero God.
Tom was sitting at the bottom of this bed unlacing his boots, so that his back was toward Arthur, and he didn't see what happened, and looked up in wonder at the sudden silence. Then two or three boys laughed and sneered, and a big brutal fellow, who was standing in the middle of the room, picked up a slipper, and shied it at the kneeling boy, calling him a sniveling young shaver. Then Tom saw the whole, and the next moment the boot he had just pulled off flew straight at the head of the bully, who had just time to throw up his arm and catch it on his elbow.
"Confound you, Brown, what's that for?" roared he, stamping with pain.
"Never mind what I mean," said Tom, stepping on to the floor, every drop of blood in his body tingling; "if any fellow wants the other boot, he knows how to get it."
And let us not be hard on him, if at that moment his soul is fuller of the tombAnd thirdly, Hughes sees, in contrast to virtually every other European of that era or subsequent eras, the limitations of Greek philosophy:
and him who lies there, than of the altar and Him of whom it speaks. Such stages
have to be gone through, I believe, by all young and brave souls, who must win
their way through hero-worship, to the worship of Him who is the King and Lord
of heroes. For it is only through our mysterious human relationships, through
the love and tenderness and purity of mothers, and sisters, and wives, through
the strength and courage and wisdom of fathers, and brothers, and teachers, that
we can come to the knowledge of Him, in whom alone the love, and the tenderness,
and the purity, and the strength, and the courage, and the wisdom of all these
dwell forever and ever in perfect fullness.
The result of Hardy's management was that Tom made a clean breast of it, telling everything, down to his night at the ragged school, and what an effect his chance opening of the "Apology" had had on him. Here for the first time Hardy came in with his usual dry, keen voice, "You needn't have gone so far back as Plato for that lesson."
"I don't understand," said Tom.
"Well, there's something about an indwelling spirit which guideth every man, in St. Paul, isn't there?"
"Yes, a great deal," Tom answered, after a pause; "but it isn't the same thing."
"Why not the same thing?"
"Oh, surely, you must feel it. It would be almost blasphemy in us now to talk as St. Paul talked. It is much easier to face the notion, or the fact, of a demon or spirit such as Socrates felt to be in him, than to face what St. Paul seems to be meaning."
"Yes, much easier. The only question is whether we will be heathen or not."
"How do you mean?" said Tom.
"Why, a spirit was speaking to Socrates, and guiding him. He obeyed the guidance, but knew not whence it came. A spirit is striving with us too, and trying to guide us--we feel that just as much as he did. Do we know what spirit it is? Whence it comes? Will we obey it? If we can't name it—know no more of it then he knew about his demon, of course, we are in no better position than he--in fact, heathens."
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson is rightly revered for his A Child's Garden of Verses, Treasure Island, and Kidnapped. But the Stevenson canon contains much more. He was one of the greats, who was brought up to revere the third, 'higher' stage of existence, but who rejected it for the second, Christian-fairy tale stage of existence.
In Ebb Tide, we meet a man who has reconverted. He was a man of the mind, but he returns to Christian orthodoxy. It is significant that in the two movie versions of Ebb Tide, the Christian reconvertite is depicted as a madman. Why, of course. How could a man exposed to the wonders of the 'higher' religion of the mind return to a Crude Fairy Tale? But Attwater does reject the new faith. And his unflinching orthodoxy brings another sinner into the fold: "That's just the one thing wanted; just say, 'Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief! And He'll fold you in His arms. You see, I know! I've been a sinner myself!"
It doesn't matter whether a great poet comes from a Catholic or a Protestant background; he always sees that the Christian faith cannot be made into a philosophy. It must always be a faith, with God and the devil warring for the soul of man. Stevenson, in Thrawn Janet, gives us a wonderful glimpse of the on-going war between God and the devil. And he makes it clear that a man who has one foot in the third stage of the 'higher' religion and one foot in the Christian stage cannot cope with the devil.
The Reverend Murdoch Soulis seemed like a good young man when he first came into Balweary, but he was "fu' o' book learnin' and grand at the exposition, but as was natural in sae young a man, wi' nae leevin' experience in religion… There was no doubt onyway, but that Mr. Soulis had been ower lang at the college."
Murdoch is not in the final stage when he comes to Balweary. He has only been flirting with it. When he encounters evil incarnate, he is driven back to orthodoxy.
"Witch, heldame, devil!" he cried, "I charge you by the power of God, begone — if you be dead, to the grave — if you be damned, to hell."And for the rest of his life, the Rev. Murdoch Soulis never again flirted with the third stage of religion.
In the 1890's two novels appeared that stand as a final testament to the faith of the European peoples. In Beside the Bonnie Briar Bush and its sequel, The Days of Auld Lang Syne, John Watson (pen name, Ian Maclaren) sets before us an image of Christ that is beyond creed, it is pure unadulterated vision. Our hearts burn within us when reading the Drumtochty novels, and we feel with absolute certainty that "this is Christianity and these people are the true Europeans."
Watson places us in the town of Drumtochty where there are two Presbyterian kirks, the Free Kirk and the established Kirk. But it is not Calvinism that dominates the hearts and minds of the people of Drumtochty. It is Christ. Before there was an Aquinas, before there was a Calvin, there was the Savior.
The town of Drumtochty is a bit of a throwback; there is no one in the town who has completely gone over to the third stage of religion. But there are some who are in danger. And they are brought back to the fold by other Drumtochtians who can see His blood on the bonnie brier bush. One such individual is the local Dominie who has made a whited sepulcher of the Greek classics. As his prize pupil lies dying, he realizes that it was the pupil who was the true teacher:
"Maister Jamieson, ye hae been a gude freend tae me, the best I ever hed aifter my mither and faither. Wull ye tak this buik for a keepsake o' yir grateful scholar? It's a Latin 'Imitation' Dominie, and it's bonnie printin'. Ye mind hoo ye gave me yir ain Virgil, and said he was a kind o' Pagan sanct. Noo here is my sanct, and div ye ken I've often thocht Virgil saw His day afar off, and was glad. Wull ye read it, Dominie, for my sake, and maybe ye 'ill come to see--" and George could not find words for more.Yes, "like unto that of a little child." When the Europeans bent their knees to Christ they did so with the faith that was like unto that of a little child. It took centuries for them to become too adult and too intelligent to believe in a fairy story about a heroic God who was God and man.
But Domsie understood. "Ma laddie, ma laddie, that I luve better than onythin' on earth, I'll read it till I die, and, George, I'll tell ye what livin' man does na ken. When I was your verra age I had a cruel trial, and ma heart was turned frae faith. The classics hae been my bible, though I said naethin' to ony man against Christ. He aye seemed beyond man, and noo the veesion o' Him has come to me in this gairden. Laddie, ye hae dune far mair for me than I ever did for you. Wull ye mak a prayer for yir auld dominie afore we pairt?"
There was a thrush singing in the birches and a sound of bees in the air, when George prayed in a low, soft voice, with a little break in it.
"Lord Jesus, remember my dear maister, for he's been a kind freend to me and mony a puir laddie in Drumtochty. Bind up his sair heart and give him licht at eventide, and may the maister and his scholars meet some mornin' where the schule never skails, in the kingdom o' oor Father."
Twice Domsie said Amen, and it seemed as the voice of another man, and then he kissed George upon the forehead; but what they said Marget did not wish to hear.
When he passed out at the garden gate, the westering sun was shining golden, and the face of Domsie was like unto that of a little child.
Drumtochty gets into a man's soul. Once he's been exposed to the town, he can never really leave it. There is something about that town that is antithetical to those who stand poised between Christianity and the 'higher' stage. One young minister is in danger, when his dead Mother's words come back to him.
He had finished its last page with honest pride that afternoon, and had declaimed it, facing the southern window, with a success that amazed himself. His hope was that he might be kept humble, and not called to Edinburgh for at least two years; and now he lifted the sheets with fear. The brilliant opening, with its historical parallel, this review of modern thought reinforced by telling quotations, that trenchant criticism of old-fashioned views, would not deliver. For the audience had vanished, and left one careworn, but ever beautiful face, whose gentle eyes were waiting with a yearning look. Twice he crushed the sermon in his hands, and turned to the fire his aunt's care had kindled, and twice he repented and smoothed it out. What else could he say now to the people? and then in the stillness of the room he heard a voice, "Speak aThese short glimpses of the 19th century counterattack do not do justice to the depth and breadth of the resistance. But they do reveal to us the essential touchstone of reality: Men and women of depth, when faced with the tragedy of existence (often brought home to them by satanic 'isms' such as capitalism and communism), return to a Christ-centered Christianity. The philosophical Christ, the theological Christ, is not sufficient. They instinctively know that they need a hero, not a sage. They need the God-Man. They knew it; we don't. That's why there is a chasm between our culture and the 19th century European culture. However, the chasm is not impassable. We simply need to recapture the same spirit as the early Europeans:
gude word for Jesus Christ."
Next minute he was kneeling on the hearth, and pressing the magnum opus, that was to shake Drumtochty, into the heart of the red fire, and he saw, half-smiling and half-weeping, the impressive words, "Semitic environment," shrivel up and disappear.
As the last black flake fluttered out of sight, the face looked at him again, but this time the sweet brown eyes were full of peace.
It was no masterpiece, but only the crude production of a lad who knew little of letters and nothing of the world. Very likely it would have done neither harm nor good, but it was his best, and he gave it for love's sake, and I suppose that there is nothing in a human life so precious to God, neither clever words nor famous deeds, as the sacrifices of love.
The moon flooded his bedroom with silver light, and he felt the presence of his mother. His bed stood ghostly with its white curtains, and he remembered how every night his mother knelt by its side in prayer for him. He is a boy once more, and repeats theLord's Prayer, then he cries again, "My mother! my mother!" and an indescribable contentment fills his heart.
The Son of God goes forth to war
A kingly crown to gain;
His blood red banner streams afar:
Who follows in His train?