Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Third Dumb Brother

There are many variations of the defining fairy tale of European civilization, but the tale in essence is this: There are three brothers, and their household is so poor that their father sends them off to seek their fortune. First the oldest brother sets out. He comes across an old man (or sometimes an old lady) who appears to be starving. The old man asks for a bit of food and or drink. The first brother tells the old man to drop dead and goes off and meets with misfortune. The second brother then ventures forth. He meets the same old man, who asks him for food or drink, and the second brother also tells the old man to drop dead. In his ensuing travels, the second brother also meets with misfortune.

Then the third brother ventures forth. His father is a bit reluctant to let him leave home because he has always seemed to be a bit of a simpleton. But the third brother entreats his father to let him go seek his fortune, and his father relents.

The third brother comes across the same old man that his two older brothers had told to drop dead – and indeed, the old man seems about to drop dead. But the third brother shares his meager fare with him, and the old man makes a miraculous recovery because the old man is miraculous. He gives the third brother some kind of magic talisman (a cloak of invisibility, a flying horse, or a sword of invincibility) because the third brother has shown that he has a kind heart. And the third brother is not really a simpleton, he is only dumb in the worldly eyes of his cynical brothers who have the Parisian wisdom (which, as Balzac informs us, consists of the belief that a man with a kind heart is as stupid as a rhinoceros). But the third dumb brother, as we know from our fairy tales, confounds his wiser brothers and goes on to win fair maiden and the Kingdom.

The kernel of truth from the fairy tale is the keystone of European civilization, for is not Christ the original third dumb brother? He wasn’t obligated to reach out to us, his creatures, because he was compelled by some outside force. He reached out to us when we cried out from the depths because it is in his nature to love, just as it was no outside force that compelled the third dumb brother to share his food with the old man, but an inner desire that needed to love and reach out to another. And we must be like the third dumb brother if we are to respond to Christ’s love. St. Paul’s preaching was foolishness to the Greeks because they were too worldly wise and spiritually obtuse to become third dumb brothers.

It seems that the entire weight of the world is against third dumb brothers whenever they arise. The two cynical, worldly wise brothers always get the world’s approbation. And it often appears that the two ‘wise’ brothers get the Church’s support as well, but that is only when the Church’s machinery is working against its own soul.

There is an incredible ennui that comes upon one when confronted with the overwhelming superiority of the two cynical brothers. Prospero felt it before he prepared to meet with Caliban.

Prospero. You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Yes, we need to remind ourselves that it is their world, the world of the two soulless brothers and of Caliban, that will disappear. The dream world that Christ blessed with His love and sanctified with His blood is the real world; it is our world.

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