The Lady with the torn hair who looks on gladiators in grapple: G. K. Chesterton's Marian poems.
Hans Urs von Balthasar confesses that, even for Catholics, there is a problem already inherent in a central phrase present in all of the creeds--"born of the Virgin Mary:' These words, yon Balthasar declares, constitute "a great theater of war:' On theological grounds alone, he notes, there is the obvious difficulty that, if the Second Person of the Trinity is to become fully human, then why is there no ordinary human conception? The scriptural difficulties for affirming the Virgin Birth are no less daunting: (1) it's a late doctrine about which Paul and Mark seem to know nothing; (2) Mary herself appears already to be Joseph's wife; (3) there are similarities to Greek legends and Egyptian myths of gods birthing children from maidens; (4) and there are many references to Jesus' "brothers" in the New Testament--even if the Greek adelphoi can refer to distant kinsmen no less than immediate siblings (47).
This is obviously not the occasion to enter into such a huge controversy. Yet it may be an opportune moment to examine the ecumenical challenge implicit in G. K. Chesterton's abiding devotion to Our Lady--a phrase no non-Catholic should be embarrassed to use. As Chesterton himself notes, the Marian title often used by Anglicans--namely, "the Madonna'--quite literally and incongruously means "the my Lady:' GKC'S high regard for the Holy Virgin was not prompted by pious longing for motherly comfort--the usual canard about "sentimental Marianism:' It sprang, instead, from his estimate of her as the Theotokos, the God-bearing mother of Jesus who is also mother of his Body called the Church. To explore this Chestertonian estimate of the her, we will need to glance first at Chesterton's Newmanesque idea of the development of Christian doctrine while also looking briefly at Lumen Gentium as containing the Second Vatican Council's main pronouncements on Marian matters. Then, I believe, we will be better prepared to examine two of Chesterton's most important Marian poems--"The Nativity" plus a little- known work occasioned by Chesterton's visit to Our Lady's University in 1930 and entitled "The Arena"
I. Chesterton, Newman, and Lumen Gentium
In his novel The Ball and the Cross, Chesterton has the protagonist, a Scots Catholic named Evan McIan, exclaim to his antagonist, an English atheist named James Turnbull, that "[T]here are only two things that really progress; and they both accept accumulations of authority. They may be progressing uphill or down; they may be growing steadily better or steadily worse; but they have steadily advanced in a certain definable direction; they are the only two things, it seems, that ever can progress. The first is strictly physical science. The second is the Catholic Church" (64). McIan is seeking to convince his atheist friend that the Church is not a retrograde institution wedded to a benighted and superstitious past, but that Christianity and science are both valid, even if alternative, ways of knowing. Indeed, the Church possesses its own received body of knowledge in God's self-revealed will for the world. Christian doctrines and practices have had a bi-millennial historical formation, moreover, through rigorous argument and careful testing. In addition to this rich moral and theological tradition, Christianity has also produced art of the first rank as well as saints whose lives are virtually unexampled in other religious traditions. It is not to be regarded, therefore, as a set of merely private religious opinions to be confined to individuals or even to denominations. On the contrary, its message and ministry are universal, and they should be seriously considered by non-Christians, even as they should be honored in such public places as courts of law. (4)
Both scientific and religious knowledge flourish when they engage present concerns by way of antecedent experience, and thus as they formulate judgments and principles via constant modification and enlargement. For Chesterton's Roman Catholic hero, his own tradition is the most obvious example of this credible and creditable form of historically developed and communally sustained knowledge: "If you want an example of anything which has progressed in the moral world by the same method as science in the material world," McIan declares to Turnbull, "by continually adding to without unsettling what was there before, then I say that there is only one example. And that is Us [i.e., Roman Catholics]" (Chesterton Ball 64-65).
McIan is clearly echoing John Henry Newman's idea of the development of doctrine. Newman holds that the original divine disclosure given to the Church by the triune God through Israel and Christ--the acorn of divine revelation--gradually ramifies into the great oak tree of Christian doctrine, so that what is originally implicit is made ever more explicit. (5) The seed of Faith thus effloresces into dogmatic developments, often in new and surprising ways. They "unsettle" the past only as newly emerging scientific theories modify their predecessors: by building upon and extending them. Neither Trinity nor Incarnation, for example, is anywhere made evident in the New Testament, yet the Church rightly developed these doctrines that were already present in nuce (Newman Essay 63-84). (6) Even the Marian dogmas, those teachings that seem furthest removed from biblical attestation and Christocentric focus, are the logical outworkings of the Church's tradition, Newman argues. He notes that, of all the major doctrines of the Church, only one was formulated not first of all from a theological quandary but from the long-attested witness of the laity and the clergy, mainly in the preaching of the Eastern churches from early in the 2nd century. This unique dogma was affirmed at the Synod of Ephesus in 431--namely, that the mother of Jesus is the Theotokos, the "Mother of God." (7)
In a letter addressed to the Anglican bishop Edward Pusey, Newman clarified the Church's early and vigorous devotion to the Blessed Lady: "when once we have mastered the idea, that Mary bore, suckled, and handled the Eternal in the form of a child, what limit is conceivable to the rush and flood of thoughts which such a doctrine involves? What awe and surprise must attend upon the knowledge, that a creature has been brought so close to the Divine Essence" (Newman Certain Difficulties 82-3). Pointing out that the indissoluble bond linking Virgin and Child is not a novum, since it is figured over and again in the catacombs, Newman adds: "Mary is there drawn with the Divine Infant in her lap, she with hands extended in prayer, He with His hand in the attitude of blessing. No representation can more forcibly convey the doctrine of the high dignity of the Mother, and, I will add, of her influence with the Son" (Newman Certain Difficulties 55). What may seem initially minimal references in the Scriptures thus become definitively maximal claims in the Tradition--yet, as Newman says, in full continuity with biblical teaching and proclamation.
Newman's understanding of doctrinal development leaves much to be debated and determined. What, for instance, is the proper relation of Scripture and Tradition? If the Church is the extension of the Incarnation, is Tradition the extension of Scripture? If so, does Scripture still have its own normative authority, so that Tradition must be measured by it, and not the other way around? However such complex questions may be answered, one matter seems clear: Evangelical Protestants can no longer draw on the riches of Roman Catholic art and theology and sainthood without reassessing the most distinctive of all Catholic practices and doctrines: the uniqueness of Mary as the Mother of God.
The Second Vatican Council considered this very matter in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. There the Council made clear the most fundamental of all Marian claims--namely, that the Blessed Virgin "occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and yet very close to us" (54). Seeking to avoid alienating their "separated brethren"--as Protestants, formerly declared to be heretics, are now more generously called--the Council exhorts Catholic theologians and preachers "to abstain zealously both from all gross exaggerations as well as from petty narrow-mindedness in considering the singular dignity of the Mother of God. [....] Let them rightly illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which always look to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity, and piety" (67). Earlier in the document, the authors of Lumen Gentium declare that, while "she far surpasses all [other] creatures, both in heaven and on earth;' she also "belongs to the offspring of Adam who must be saved." This clearly indicates that Our Lady is also "redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son" (53). There could hardly be a more perspicuous statement of the Blessed Virgin's dependence on Jesus Christ for her salvation. Nor is this a recent Catholic emphasis. Already in the fourteenth century, Dante poignantly and paradoxically described Mary's dependence on her Son by naming her figlia del tuo figlio, "daughter of your son."
All of the exalted titles that the Church ascribes to Mary--Theotokos, Daughter of Zion, Stella Maris, the Rosary Queen, the Immaculately Conceived, the Perpetually Virgin, the Bodily Assumed, the Help of Sinners, the New Eve, the Advocate, the Auxiliatrix, the Adjutrix, the Mediatrix, though not yet Co-Redemptrix--all of these noble honorifics derive from her utterly humble and faithful devotion to her Son. "The Father of mercies" declare the authors of Lumen Gentium, "willed that the incarnation should be preceded by the acceptance of her who was predestined to be the mother of His Son, so that just as a woman [i.e., Eve] contributed to death, so also a woman [i.e., Mary] should contribute to life" (56). In giving her full and free consent to the Word of God announced by Gabriel, Mary'sfiat becomes the motto of every Christian: "Be it unto me according to thy word" (King]ames Version Luke 1:38). (8) The Blessed Lady is no helpless passive recipient of divine grace; on the contrary, she actively participates in her own prevenient redemption, just as St. Paul instructs all believers to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12b-13). Hence Brian Daley's luminous claim concerning the centrality of Mary as the prime exemplar of Christ and thus the Mother of the Church:
[B]ecause the son she humanly bore into life from her own womb is personally and ontologically the Son of God, Mary's importance for Christian thought and sensibilities suddenly burgeoned in a new, unpredictable way. She becomes, for the Christian world, not God or a part of the divine Mystery, but a paradigmatically redeemed human being: a unique representative of the human participation in God's life that we call grace or divinization, with unique importance for helping her fellow human beings advance towards that same grace, and so with a unique claim on our interest, devotion and honor. And she undergoes this development because, in a way beyond concepts, she is recognized now as the one who "mothers God" in us all. (9)
The word "divinization" is derived from the Greek theosis. For the Eastern Church, as increasingly also for Western Christianity, it is the key term for authentic Christian existence. We are meant so fully to participate in God's own triune life, through the sacraments and practices of the Church, as gradually to be made divine. So declared the author of 2 Peter: If we are to receive God's blessings in His Son, he asserts, we must become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4, 10-11). St. Athanasius of Alexandria gave theosis its most celebrated formulation in the fourth century: "God became man that man might become God" (On the Incarnation 54:3). This renewed emphasis on theosis helps to resist a one-sided emphasis on forensic salvation--the notion, namely, that we are simply declared righteous in and through the merits of Christ's atoning death, even though we remain sunk in sin, untransformed by grace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was so troubled by such an over-realized doctrine of justification by grace alone that he memorably and acidly called it "cheap grace." Too many of his fellow Christians in Germany--Protestants and Catholics alike--persisted in their corrupt and untransformed lives, especially their political lives. Because they had been baptized and thus "justified" they felt free to live according to the demands of the Nazi state, failing to recognize that the Church should constitute a radically renewed counter-community over against Hitler and his Deutsche Christen.
Even the noble Barth, though also a vigorous opponent of the Nazis, mistakenly insisted on total human helplessness before the irresistible work of God's justifying grace. His reading of sanctification became equally one-sided. The entirety of our human response to the divine initiative, according to Barth, is the product of Christ's saving acts in our behalf. Like a late-born nominalist, Barth seems to fear that if the smallest whit of our salvation depends on us, then none of it depends on God. The Anglican theologian N. T. Wright is a major dissenter against such hyper-Calvinism. The New Testament clearly teaches, Wright argues, that God does not leave us in our sinful state by juridically declaring us to be justified. On the contrary, he grants us the freedom for theosis--the ever-increasing transformation-that becomes the surest sign that we are participating in the triune life of God. We are indeed "workers together" (synergoi) with him" (2 Cor. 6:1), as Paul called himself and missionary assistants. Thus will Christians be judged according to their divinization, even while acknowledging that it is graciously given by God (1 Cor. 15:10; Col. 1:29).
Although people often suppose that because Paul taught justification by faith, not works, there can be no room for a future judgment "according to works" this only goes to show how much some have radically misunderstood him. The future judgment according to deeds, a judgment exercised by Jesus at his "judgment seat," is clearly taught in, for instance, Romans 14:9-10, 2 Corinthians 5:10, and elsewhere). [....] [T]his picture of future judgment according to works is actually the basis of Paul's theology of justification by faith. [....] Justification by faith cannot be collapsed, as so many in the last two centuries have tried to do, either into a generalized liberal view of laissez-faire morality or into the romantic view that what we do outwardly doesn't matter at all since the only thing that matters is what we're like inwardly. [....] No: justification by faith is what happens in the present time, anticipating the verdict of the future day when God judges the world. (Wright 130-40) (10)
Perhaps it is also time for evangelical Protestants to recognize that a similar understanding of theosis underwrites the Marian doctrines of both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Thus should they too consider exalting the Blessed Virgin as the first person to realize full divinization. As the Second Vatican Council declared, she is the one who "in this singular way [...] cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace" (Lumen, 61). Two drastic conclusions follow: (1) We cannot speak of Christ without speaking of his Mother; (2) nor can we speak of Christ's Church without honoring Mary's mothering of it as well. (11)
In his various obiter dicta concerning Our Lady, Chesterton confirms these two central claims. In The Everlasting Man, for example, Chesterton recounts a bizarre incident in his childhood Church of England parish, where a statue allegedly exhibiting undue regard for the Blessed Virgin was drastically modified. These latter-day iconoclasts quite barbarously removed the Christ Child from the arms of the Holy Mother. This struck Chesterton as passing strange:
One would think that this [act] was even more corrupted with Mariolatry, unless the mother was counted less dangerous when deprived of a sort of weapon. But the practical difficulty is also a parable. You cannot chip away the statue of a mother from all round that of a newborn child. You cannot suspend the new-born child in mid-air; indeed you cannot really have a statue of a newborn child at all. Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a newborn child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother. You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother, you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, [...] we must admit, if only as we admit it in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross. (106-7)
The aureoles also "mingle and cross" in two of Chesterton's finest Marian poems, "The Nativity" and "The Arena"
II. The Lady with the Torn Hair: "The Nativity"
Chesterton the poet is at his best in his Christmas verse. He rightly credits Charles Dickens as almost single-handedly recovering this holy feast for the Anglophone world, after the Puritans had almost succeeded in suppressing Christmas as the ultimate display of papist paganism. In fact, their celebration of Thanksgiving was an attempt to displace Christmas as a holy day. Chesterton wittily suggested that the English might want to devise their own counter-Thanksgiving, praising God that the Puritans had departed! Chesterton exalted Christmas because he rightly regarded it not as the Feast of the Incarnation but of the Nativity. Until only recent times, in fact, the term Incarnation named the entire event of Christ's conception, birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension--not only his entrance into the world. (12) Nor does the Nativity center upon Jesus alone but on his Holy Mother as well. Thus does Chesterton begin and end his poem with splendid Marian moments, though the final hint often goes undetected.
Chesterton does not idealize the Bethlehem scene. By means of alternating trochees and iambs, we are shown a stable made externally golden by the setting sun. Within, it is drafty and chill and lifeless. In accord with the ancient tradition that regards a woman's tresses as her most erotic feature, the sinless Virgin's hair is wondrously modest but also noticeably disheveled. Here is a woman in the pangs of childbirth. In full consent to the divine will, she consents for her hair to be torn, as she thrashes in agony. Perhaps her flesh is also ripped as the infant is brought forth from her womb. (13) Here, for once only in the poem, Chesterton resorts to the past tense in describing the birth of Jesus. Because this child is born to this woman in this way, every child's birth now acquires new significance. The human race no longer repeats itself in endless and weary iteration, as the engine of animal reproduction runs on. Because this one divine Child subsumes the whole of humanity in his Nativity, every newborn is meant to be reborn. Hence Chesterton's crucial replacement of the definite article that we expect ("the child") with the indefinite article that startles and surprises ("a child").
Though published in 1897, when Chesterton had only recently begun identifying himself as a Christian, and a quarter century before he was received into the Church of Rome, this poem is filled with remarkable theological discernment. In the claim that Christ assumes the whole of humanity within himself, Chesterton is echoing the teaching of the ancient church as well as anticipating the work of le nouvelle theologie. Its most characteristic exponent, Henri de Lubac, also insists that human nature is not one thing here and another thing elsewhere. However twisted and tarnished their condition, all people bear the imprint of God as the result of both their creation and their redemption in Christ. Humanity constitutes, in fact, a bodily no less than a spiritual whole. To desecrate even a single person, therefore, is to desecrate all others. (14) "The divine image" de Lubac declares, "does not differ from one individual to another: in all it is the same image." Our embodied souls/ensouled bodies display our shared human dependence, our singleness as a race, our commonality that makes us "so entirely one that we ought not speak of man in the plural any more than we speak of three Gods." Hence the teaching of St. Augustine that we are "one spiritual family intended to form the one city of God" (Catholicism 29). The effect of the Incarnation, it follows, is all-encompassing. "Christ from the very first moment of his existence [i.e., his conception no less than his nativity] virtually bears all men within himself [....] For the Word did not merely take a human body; his Incarnation was not a simple corporatio, but as St. Hilary says, a concorporatio. He incorporated himself in our humanity, and incorporated [our humanity] in his humanity" (de Lubac Catholicism 37-8). (15)
Chesterton makes a radical theological claim in shifting from the past tense to the present in all of the succeeding stanzas. For in this one birth, we can now take the measure of all other births, whether for good or ill. In the second stanza, for instance, we are shown the awful waste and loss entailed in most human lives. The promise heralded by the infant's first motion within its mother's womb (its "quickening") is often brought forth not into a long and happy life, but into a long and perpetual death. The child becomes the father of the man, alas, in an awful anti-Wordsworthian way. Instead of reaching healthy maturity, he becomes passively withdrawn, alienated, void of all sensibility; or else he becomes aggressively crass and clever and heartless--all for want of the Love that both conceived and birthed this all-defining Child of Bethlehem. Yet not one of Chesterton's stanzas ends in dejection, as the final lines always return to the hope now resident in the birth of every child. God has waited with frightening forbearance. Chesterton's reversed trochaic and spondaic rhythm echoes this divine reversal--i.e., God's refusal to grow weary and angry at human sinning. Not a single castaway child is now or ever has been excluded from the compass of divine mercy. Whether in the irrecoverable past, in the obvious present, or in the unimaginable future, every child is reclaimed with this Child's birth.
The measure of the Nativity is historical no less than personal. The long unfurling course of human history constitutes an obliterating successiveness. Mighty civilizations have risen and collapsed beyond all recovery, indeed all remembrance. Yet of one thing we can still be assured, amidst the endless cycles of time wherein, to use Milton's metaphor of the flower, many are "no sooner blown than blasted": Christ's birth stretches backwards no less than forward to lay claim on every child born to woman. Even when those nameless and numberless children were most horribly conceived, for example, in loveless acts of lust and violent acts of rape--even there the Good News of this gentle Love-Child and his Mother was also proclaimed in the infant's wail.
Chesterton's tropes shift from the personal and the historical to the luminous and the tenebrous in the fourth and fifth stanzas, as the gloaming passes into nightfall. Despite the loud clamor made by logical thinkers and political actors, despite the worried fantasies of those who can only negate, despite the withering contempt shown by high officials of state and church alike, the quiet motion of angel feathers first heard by Mary can be felt again, hovering over the rude stable. The sun rising afresh over the Bethlehem stall is the dawn that will soon break upon the entire world, awakening men from their oblivious slumbers. This Day Spring from on high now illumines all who dwell in darkness. The rural shepherds who keep watch over the world's sheep, perhaps representing those who guard the well being of others, will now be warmed by the Sun of true pastoral care. The urbane wise men, with their minds dimmed by their sin-limited art and thought, personify all the thinkers and artists who shall now receive true enlightenment. Most especially will these piercing rays strike the tyrant whose visage is now as livid as his soul is shadowed. Whereas Mary's hair was torn by her gracious consent, Herod's countenance is involuntarily ripped, as if to anticipate the veil that will be torn in the Temple on Good Friday. Like the Christ-child in Chesterton's parish church, chipped away by philistines who feared the Virgin holding him, so will this helpless infant-king become God's curious weapon against all despots who ravage body and soul alike. This defenseless infant ruling the universe from a bed of straw will pierce the world's will-to-power with the terrible lance of love.
Hence the poems rightful return, in the final two stanzas, to the Marian moment in the Nativity. Though still weary with the pangs of parturition, her delight remains so strong that Chesterton must convert a noun into a verb. Nothing less than the Marian act of "joying" can describe the Annunciation that came to her in a voice that, though proffering the seemingly impossible, was even less coercive than the lightest brush of angel wings. What cannot possibly happen has indeed happened: the infant whose umbilical is still drying must already be accorded the munus triplex. First formulated by Eusebius and later given prime importance by Calvin and Wesley, the trifold office of Christ's earthly ministry consists of the Priest who sacrifices himself for us, the Prophet who pronounces judgment and mercy on us, the King who rules and defends us--all because "a child is born."
Then comes the extraordinary surprise of the final stanza, where the poetic speaker anonymously addresses the Infant himself. The babe is no longer "mewling and puking" (to use candid Shakespearean language) but sleeping, whether in his wicker basket or else in his mother's arms, having only a sunray for his diadem. "You who are human like us" the questioner twice interrogates the divine Babe, "What is your origin and aim? Are you another John the Baptizer announcing the wrath to come or a future Gamaliel offering wise rabbinic counsel?" Such seemingly legitimate questions ignore the most fundamental fact: this Nativity is unlike all others. Thus do we hear a second voice making a sudden and perhaps impatient interruption. Surely it is the Holy Mother who halts such clamorous queries, lest the sleeping babe be rudely roused, and lest we too miss the staggering Mystery of eternity shut within the span of a man's hand. (16) Surely it is time not to question but to be questioned; indeed, to bow in silence, for "A child is born."
III. The Lady Who Looks on Gladiators in Grapple: "The Arena"
"The Arena" is not so fine an accomplishment as "The Nativity,' although its trochaic meters, its strong caesurae in the third and sixth lines, its Anglo-Saxon kennings ("gladiators in grapple"), its iambic upbeats in the final word or phrase of each stanza--all of these are splendid poetic qualities indeed. More notable still are its strong Marian sentiments. Chesterton wrote the poem to commemorate his six-week visit to Notre Dame in October 1930, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate and also lectured weekly on Victorian literature to a full audience of 500 in Washington Hall. (17) He and Mrs. Chesterton were delighted to stay with an ordinary Catholic family rather than being put up in a South Bend hotel. They also attended the dedication of the new Notre Dame Stadium on October 10, as Arthur C. Hope comically reports:
Navy had come on for the dedicatory game, and Father [Charles] O'Donnell [the university president] was busy with them. [The Midshipmen] were to be defeated the next day 26-2. President O'Donnell] had told Johnny Mangan, the University chauffeur, to look after the Chestertons, and to see that they got into the stadium and that Mr. Chesterton had a seat on the platform from which the speeches were to be made. There were about twenty thousand people present, and when the students saw the magnificent bulk of [the 300-pound, six feet and four-inch] Chesterton going toward the platform, they cheered wildly: "He's a man! Who's a man? He's a Notre Dame man!" Chesterton turned nervously to Mangan, saying: "My, they're angry!" "Angry!" exclaimed Johnny, "golly man, they're cheerin' you!" Whereat Chesterton began such a fit of laughing and sputtering as almost to choke himself.
In the poem's opening stanza, it is not a living Nero who looks down from his villa, surveying the ostentatious Domus Aurea, the enormous pleasure-palace whose construction he had both ordered and supervised. The looming figure is, instead, a gigantic golden statue erected in exaltation of the dead emperor himself, depicted perhaps in the likeness of the sun god Sol. The soaring shadow of this aureate potentate falls over the arena where gladiators pierce and tear and trample each other to death. The golden Lady atop the golden dome scans quite a different scene. As Mater Dolorosa no less than Mater Laetabilis, she looks with both grief and gladness on a stadium designed for recreation in the root sense of the word. Two kinds of rulers thus view two kinds of arenas, as two kinds of gladiators do two kinds of battle representing two radically alternate ways: the pagan way of death, and the Christian way of life--one delighting in the bloodsport of those who kill for the sake of permanent death, the other delighting in the playfulness of those who die in order to live forever.
Chesterton doesn't vilify the Roman killers while glorifying the Christians whom they martyred, for this would have made the poem into a hagiographical exercise rather than an engagement between two countervalent cultures. It would have also created easy sympathy for the Christian victims as well as easy contempt for their pagan butchers. Instead, Chesterton focuses on the gladiators who salute the Colossus Neroni. Arrogantly modeled on the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, this gargantuan gilded statue of Nero rose 130 feet. (18) The tyrant's warriors thus greet the emperor's enormous effigy with their own boastful Ave. They salute him, not with lances pointed upward to the freedom of the heavens, but downward to the Fates of the underworld ruled by Dis, the god whose gates are guarded by the thrice-headed hound named Cerberus.
Their mighty Imperator is yet another of the unelected Roman dictators who were meant to rule for life, though they usually lasted only until they were slain or, like Nero, they killed themselves. These heathen gladiators pay extravagant tribute to their despot's graven image by addressing it as "the Lord of Life" presumably because his subjects survived only by his permission. Yet Nero is in fact the emperor of death, since his brute battlers find their only raison d' etre either in slaying or being slain. They play out their Liebestod, their love-song of death, on lyres that cannot be strummed to truthful tunes. Their dry whirlpool thus becomes a prison-like oval consisting of the dust from which they were made and to which they will return without any hope of homecoming. The grim circularity of their chariot-games also replicates the grim pattern described in Ecclesiastes: "The wind [...] whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again, according to its circuits" (1:6). Having sown the wind of tyranny, they reap only the whirlwind of death.
It might seem that Chesterton offers little more than a cultural critique of the Neronian practice of keeping the masses content by means of panem et circenses, with no desire to link it to the contemporary scene. Yet he discerns a telling contrast between ancient pagan entertainments and modern Christian games. This is surprising, given his initial impressions of the United States. Though he admired the traditional virtues he observed in American small towns on his first visit in 1921, (19) he was also feared that monopolistic commercialism would soon triumph over democratic Jeffersonianism. Only five years later, therefore, he prophesied the coming of a dread kind of bread and circuses inveigling the whole of the West:
[T]he next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality; and especially on sexual morality. And it is coming, not from a few Socialists surviving in the Fabian Society, but from the living exultant energy of the rich resolved to enjoy themselves at last with neither Popery nor Puritanism nor Socialism to hold them back. The thin theory of Collectivism never had any real roots in human nature, but the roots of the next heresy, God knows, are as deep as nature itself, whose flower is the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life. I say that the man who cannot see this cannot see the signs of the times; cannot see even the sky-signs in the street, that are the new sort of signs in heaven. The madness of to-morrow is not in Moscow but much more in Manhattan--but most of what was in Broadway is already in Piccadilly. (GK's Weekly 19 June 1926)
Chesterton foresaw that we would come to play out our lives within a new infidel arena, a deadly carnival where men would be fed the unsacramental bread of nonstop entertainment. He also predicted that our hypersexualization would eventually equal that of our ancient pagan counterparts. Our orgies differ from the pagan Romans, if only because contemporary debauchery produces dead babies left at our abortuaries or corpses left from our wars.
The Lady who looks down from the Main Building at Our Lady's University is the empress who presides over another order entirely. Like her Son standing below, she beckons all to come to her as also to him: VENITE AD ME OMNES. The Blessed Virgin gleams in an October sun that should be a fearful eschatological sign of the approaching End. For an Indian summer reverses the normal course of the seasons, as warm sunny days return after frost has withered the leaves and just as the first snow seems ready to fall. Yet this strange heat signals an infinitely greater ardor, the love of the Theotokos who warmed the Christ-child at her breast, both when she suckled him as an infant lying in her arms and again when she embraced him as he was deposed from his cross.
The University's own Notre Dame surveys a scene that is hard to imagine in our time. These are athletic warriors from a far more innocent day, when football was a sport and not a religion, when coaches were paid less than professors, (20) and when athletes played more for love of the game than for broken skulls and necks and perhaps lavish future paychecks. (21) Yet, given sufficient allowance for its pleasant anachronism, Chesterton's analogy still holds. This oval stadium does not reek with the stench of blood. The "scampering boy" represents a new understanding of play. It is not an escapist flight from reality into a vicarious violence so much as it is a new and free kind of order revealing how life itself should be enacted--namely, as a game played with rules and limits, as a contest that is also a celebration. Its combatants are not seeking a victory unto death over their opponents. Unlike the blood-stench of the Roman arena, this playing field has been cleansed by the cheers of a throng whose adversaries are not nemeses so much as kinsmen. Their triply trinitarian shouting and tramping and whirling marks their delight in the goodness of the whole creation. This Christian crowd sends up a volley not of deadly gunshots but of cheers so raucous that they "shake down the thunder from the sky." In hailing the fighting athletes of Notre Dame, these football fans literally and ineluctably salute the God-bearer.
Why, then, do these young men salute their Blessed Mother as the Queen of Death, whereas the gladiators had hailed Nero at the Lord of Life? It is because she has removed the fear of death, the fatal sword-thrust that once was held over them as the final enemy to be conquered. Having tearfully and faithfully remained beside her Son during his dying, the fifth of her seven sorrows, this Mater Dolorosa enables them to fight aright, praying for them now and at the hour of their death. In her multiplied griefs, moreover, she has brought forth the Emperor of the Good News. Christ's infinite generosity is given not in the beastly satisfactions meant for mobs, but in the feasts and delights of the Church: the Eucharistic Meal and the Beatific Vision.
Gilded with the love that moves the sun and the other stars, the Lady of the Victories (22) wields no sword herself. Instead, this Queen of all creatures (23) blazes with the ardor that prompts her warriors to enter the arena of both death and life ever so gaily. This Lady and no other mothered the Lord who conquers all those who would feign to be the lords of the world. The chivalrous combatants of the Blessed Mother are thus the Gladiators of God. They wield the gladius of the Spirit by refusing to torment even their enemies. They do combat without sneering. They laugh without desiring to wound. They carry no burden at all except the one that is most lightsome, the yoke that is easy because it is imposed by the world's true Imperator, the Christus Victor who rules the world from a gibbet, the Sovereign who cannot be defeated because, as Chesterton says elsewhere, his Cross is "Defeat itself." Even as he hung from Golgotha, moreover, Jesus remained his Mother's Child, bestowing on her a new son, the much-revered John. Yet this conferral of a new motherhood is far more than an arrangement for Mary's future care, perhaps during her old age. "Jesus commits her to the Beloved Disciple to be his mother from now on," declares Brian Daley, "as a sign that following the crucified Lord involves identification, assimilation into his family, calling his mother our mother as well. Mary has implicitly become a central figure in the life of the Church."
During the final years of his life, when Chesterton began to have long thoughts about everlasting things, he returned again to the Blessed Virgin. In one of his last and best books, The Well and the Shallows, Chesterton made what I regard as his deepest Marian confession. It is a reminder that, just as it is impossible to speak of Christ apart from his Body, so it is impossible to speak of the Church apart from the Mother of God:
Now I can scarcely remember a time when the image of Our Lady did not stand up in my mind quite definitely, at the mention of the thought of all these things ... But whether the figure was distant, or was dark and mysterious, or was a scandal to my contemporaries, or was a challenge to myself--I never doubted that this figure was the figure of the Faith. The instant I remembered the Catholic Church, I remembered her. When I tried to forget about the Catholic Church I had to forget her! When I finally saw what was nobler than my fate, the freest and the hardest of all my acts of freedom, it was in front of a gilded and very gaudy little image of her in the port of Brindisi that I promised the thing that I would do, if I returned to my own land. (CW 3 346)
Chesterton refers to a tour of Italy that he had made in 1920. Not until two years later, at age 48, would he and his wife Frances be received into the Roman Catholic Church. Almost everyone knows that G. K. Chesterton was the most celebrated convert of his time. Few know, however, that he was also a Marian poet who challenges Christians of all sorts to restore the Blessed Lady to her rightful place in Christian belief and devotion.
The Nativity The thatch on the roof was as golden, Though dusty the straw was and old, The wind had a peal as of trumpets, Though blowing and barren and cold, The mother's hair was a glory Though loosened and torn, For under the eaves in the gloaming A child was born. Have a myriad children been quickened, Have a myriad children grown old, Grown gross and unloved and embittered, Grown cunning and savage and cold? God abides in a terrible patience, Unangered, unworn, And again for the child that was squandered A child is born. What know we of aeons behind us, Dim dynasties lost long ago, Huge empires, like dreams unremembered, Huge cities for ages laid low? This at least--that with blight and with blessing, With flower and with thorn, Love was there, and his cry was among them, "A child is born." Though the darkness be noisy with systems, Dark fancies that fret and disprove, Still the plumes stir around us, above us The wings of the shadow of love: Oh! Princes and priests, have ye seen it Grow pale through your scorn; Huge dawns sleep before us, deep changes, A child is born. And the rafters of toil still are gilded With the dawn of the stars of the heart, And the wise men draw near in the twilight, Who are weary of learning and art, And the face of the tyrant is darkened, His spirit is torn, For a new king is enthroned; yea, the sternest, A child is born. And the mother still joys for the whispered First stir of unspeakable things, Still feels that high moment unfurling Red glory of Gabriel's wings. Still the babe of an hour is a master Whom angels adorn, Emmanuel, prophet, anointed, A child is born. And thou, that art still in thy cradle, The sun being crown for thy brow, Make answer, our flesh, make an answer, Say, whence art thou come--who art thou? Art thou come back on earth for our teaching To train or to warn--? Hush--how may we know?--knowing only A child is born. (CW 10,2 144-48) The Arena Causa Nostrae Laetitae Dedicated to the University of Our Lady, Indiana There uprose a golden giant On the gilded house of Nero Even his far-flung flaming shadow and his image Looking down on the dry whirlpool Of the round Arena Spinning As a chariot-wheel goes spinning; and the chariots at the charge. And the molten monstrous visage Saw the pageants, saw the torments. Down the golden dust undazzled saw the gladiators go, Heard the cry in the closed desert, Te salutant morituri, As the slaves of doom went stumbling, shuddering, to the shades below. "Lord of Life, of lyres and laughter, Those about to die salute thee, At thy godlike fancy feeding men with bread and beasts with men, But for us the Fates point deathward In a thousand thumbs thrust downward, And the Dog of Hell is roaring through the lions in their den." I have seen, where a strange country Opened its secret plains about me, One great golden dome stand lonely with its golden image, one Seen afar, in strange fulfillment, Through the sunlit Indian summer That Apocalyptic portent that has clothed her with the Sun. She too looks on the Arena, Sees the gladiators in grapple, She whose names are Seven Sorrows and the Cause of All Our Joy, Sees the pit that stank with slaughter Scoured to make the courts of morning For the cheers of jesting kindred and the scampering of a boy. "Queen of Death and deadly weeping Those about to live salute thee, Youth untroubled; youth untortured; hateless war and harmless mirth And the New Lord's larger largesse Holier bread and happier circus, Since the Queen of Sevenfold Sorrow has brought joy upon the earth." Burns above the broad arena Where the whirling centuries circle, Burns the Sun-clothed on the summit, golden-sheeted, golden shod, Like a sun-burst on the mountains, Like the flames upon the forest Of the sunbeams of the sword-blades of the Gladiators of God. And I saw them shock the whirlwind Of the World of dust and dazzle: And thrice they stamped, a thunderclap; and thrice the sand-wheel swirled; And thrice they cried like thunder On Our Lady of the Victories, The Mother of the Master of the Masterers of the World. "Queen of Death and Life undying Those about to live salute thee; Not the crawlers with the cattle; looking deathward with the swine, But the shout upon the mountains Of the men that live for ever Who are free of all things living but a Child; and He was thine." (Chesterton CW 10,1 108-9)
von Balthasar, Hans Urs. Credo: Meditations on the Apostles' Creed. 1989. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000.
Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Vol. I, Part 2, trans. G. T. Thomson. New York: Scribner's, 1956.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. Mahwah NJ: Paulist, 1994.
Chesterton, G. K. The Ball and the Cross 1909. New York: Dover, 1995.
--. Collected Works. Vol. 3. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1990.
--. Collected Works Vol. 10. Collected Poetry Part 1. San Francisco, Ignatius 1994.
--. Collected Works Vol. 10. Collected Poetry Part 2. San Francisco, Ignatius, 2008.
--. The Everlasting Man. 1925. Radford, VA: Wilder, 2006.
--. Orthodoxy. 1908. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995.
--. What I Saw in America. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1922.
Daley, Brian. "The Divinization of the Theotokos: Fifth-Century Christological Controversy and the Figure of Mary." Unpublished lecture, Villanova University, October 22, 2010. Privately circulated.
Hope, Arthur J., CSC. Notre Dame--One Hundred Years <http://archives.nd.edu/ hope/hope29.htm>
Kelly, J. N. D. "Nestorius:' Encyclopedia Britannica. <http://britannica.com/ EBchecked/topic/409867/Nestorius>
Lindbeck, George A. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984.
de Lubac, Henri. Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man. 1938. Trans. Lancelot C. Sheppard and Sister Elizabeth Englund OCD. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988.
--.The Splendour of the Church. Trans. Michael Mason. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1956.
Lumen Gentium. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. <http://vatican.va/.../ vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html >
Malitz, Jtirgen. Nero. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.
McInerny, Ralph "Mammon and Uniquity" <http//:thecatholicthing.org/columns/2008/mammon-and- uniquity.html>
Newman, John Henry Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching Considered, Vol. 2. 1896. London: Longmans, Green, 1920.
--. An Essay on the Development of Doctrine. 1878. In Conscience, Consensus, and the Development of Doctrine. New York: Doubleday Image, 1992.
--. The Idea of a University Notre Dame IN: U of Notre Dame P, 1982. Wright, N. T. Surprised by Hope. New York: HarperOne, 2008.
--. What Saint Paul Really Said. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.
Note: Chesterton's poems "The Nativity" and "The Arena" appear in full at the end of this essay.
(1) An earlier version of this essay was presented on November 20, 2011, at the annual symposium sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame. The general theme was '"Younger than Sin': Retrieving Simplicity Through the Virtues of Humility, Wonder & Joy" I am grateful to several friends and colleagues who have contributed mightily to its wholesale revision, especially Ann Astell, Bob Barry, Holly Coolman, Gary Culpepper, Tony Esolen, Aurelie Hagstrom, Barry Harvey, Jim Keating, and Will Williams.
(2) Henri de Lubac replied to Barth, not in defense but in affirmation of his outrageous claim: "Setting on one side the value judgments that go with it, we can accept the Barthian analysis. Catholic faith regarding Our Lady sums up symbolically, in its special case, the doctrine of human co-operation in the Redemption, and thus provides the synthesis, or matrix concept, as it were, of the dogma of the Church" (Splendour 239).
(3) Lindbeck elaborates: "It was only after the long, slow growth of Marian devotion, combined with an Augustinian doctrine of original sin and a keen awareness of God's respect for the freedom of his creatures, that the question of the Immaculate Conception could be properly raised or answered. It was answered positively because Christian sensibilities rebelled against attributing sin to Mary even in the first moment of her life. Their abhorrence of this notion was justified because on the level of lived piety, even if this is not provable by theological speculation, it is incompatible with Mary's freedom in becoming Theotokos and, more crucially, with God's humility and condescension in waiting on a creaturely 'yes' (which, to be sure, he himself graciously provided). Thus Christians discovered that the grammar of their faith required them to speak of the Mother of our Lord as sinless in a way concealed from the first generations" (97).
(4) Chesterton may have acquired this idea from John Henry Newman, who set it forth most clearly in The Idea of a University: "Religious doctrine is knowledge, in as full a sense as Newton's doctrine is knowledge. University Teaching without Theology is simply unphilosophical. Theology has at least as good a right to claim a place there as Astronomy" (31-2). In no way, however, does Newman regard Theology, in medieval fashion, as the queen of the sciences. Its reliance on divine revelation makes it one science amid others. If indeed there is an overarching discipline, it is Philosophy:
I lay it down that all knowledge forms one whole, because its subject-matter is one; for the universe in its length and breadth is so intimately knit together, that we cannot separate off portion from portion, and operation from operation, except by a mental abstraction; and then again, as to its Creator, though He of course in His own Being is infinitely separate from it, and Theology has its departments towards which human knowledge has no relations, yet He has so implicated Himself with it, and taken it into His very bosom, by His presence in it, His providence over it, His impressions upon it, and His influences through it, that we cannot truly or fully contemplate it without in some main aspects contemplating Him. Next, sciences are the results of that mental abstraction, which I have spoken of, being the logical record of this or that aspect of the whole subject-matter of knowledge. As they all belong to one and the same circle of objects, they are one and all connected together; as they are but aspects of things, they are severally incomplete in their relation to the things themselves, though complete in their own idea and for their own respective purposes; on both accounts they at once need and subserve each other. And further, the comprehension of the bearings of one science on another, and the use of each to each, and the location and limitation and adjustment and due appreciation of them all, one with another, this belongs, I conceive, to a sort of science distinct from all of them, and in some sense a science of sciences, which is my own conception of what is meant by Philosophy, in the true sense of the word, and of a philosophical habit of mind. (Idea 38)
(5) Newman denies that the Bible can stand above the Church as the sole source of Christian authority, since it was canonized by the Church as one of its earliest deeds of development. Though most churches were using the same set of biblical texts by the middle of the third century, it was not until 393, at the Council of Hippo Regius (convoked by St. Augustine), that the Western canon was given official formulation. Hence the illegitimacy of claiming the authority of the Bible without also claiming the authority of the Church's Tradition for rightly interpreting it.
(6) Newman illustrates the most obvious branchings of the biblical tree: "It may be added that, in matter of fact, all the definitions or received judgments of the early and medieval Church rest upon definite, even though sometimes obscure sentences of Scripture. Thus Purgatory may appeal to the 'saving by fire; and 'entering through much tribulation into the kingdom of God'; the communication of the merits of the Saints to our 'receiving a prophet's reward' for 'receiving a prophet in the name of a prophet" and 'a righteous man's reward' for 'receiving a righteous man in the name of a righteous man'; the Real Presence to 'This is My Body'; Absolution to 'Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted'; Extreme Unction to 'Anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord'; Voluntary poverty to 'Sell all that thou hast'; obedience
to 'He was in subiection to His parents'; the honour paid to creatures, animate or inanimate, to Laudate Dominum in sanctis Ejus, and Adorate scabellum pedum Ejus; and so of the rest" (Essay 99).
(7) The council "never actually met in full session;' Brian Daley notes, "or issued an official decision:' Instead, "subsequent negotiations between the two sides--the bishops, principally, of the Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria--resulted in a joint statement, a year and a half later, that has come down to us as 'the faith of Ephesus.'"
J. N. D. Kelly observes that "Probably the earliest allusion to Mary in Christian literature is the phrase 'born of woman' in Gal. 4:4, which was written before any of the Gospels. As parallels such as Job 14:1 and Matt. 11:11 suggest, the phrase is a Hebraic way of speaking about the essential humanity of a person. When applied to Jesus, therefore, 'born of woman' was intended to assert that he was a real man, in opposition to the attempt--later seen in various systems of Gnosticism, a second-century dualistic religion--to deny that he had had a completely human life." The Synod of Ephesus sought not only to acknowledge Mary's exalted status in the economy of salvation, but also to resist the Nestorian insistence that Christ's divine and human natures were so loosely associated that they existed virtually as two persons. Such a notion, as Cyril of Alexandria made clear, denies "the reality of the incarnation and represents Christ as a God-inspired man rather than as Godmade-man."
(8) I have used the so-called King James Bible because this is the version of Scripture that Chesterton knew by heart from childhood and continued to quote throughout his life.
(9) Daley comments that the Marian doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Bodily Assumption (Dormition) derive from this same conviction that Mary "is the quintessentially holy human being: predestined by the Father, pointed to by the types of the Old Testament, cleansed even before the conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. [.... ] So her 'transferral' or 'change of state' from this present condition of mortality, however holy, to the radiant condition of Jesus' glorified body, is simply the final realization of the salvation from sin and death worked by him for our sakes. [.... ] What is being celebrated in Mary's dormition [...] is nothing more or less than the common hope of all Christians for salvation as complete persons."
(10) Wright makes this argument at much greater length, and with all the necessary qualifications, in Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision. Wright elsewhere claims that, only when centered in theosis and divinization, does justification become "the great ecumenical doctrine" (What Saint Paul 72).
(11) Icons from many ancient and medieval churches depict Mary as present at and presiding over Pentecost, sitting amidst the disciples as tongues of flame descend upon them.
(12) The Feast of the Annunciation is more properly regarded as the Feast of the Incarnation. The Latinate countries still make the ancient distinction clear by celebrating la Nativita and la Navidad. The feast of gift gifting is Epiphany, when the infant Christ received his own presents. Perhaps the great need is not to "put Christ back into Christmas" but to restore the Virgin Mary to her rightful place there.
(13) The question of Mary's suffering is much controverted. From the early years of the Church's life, speculation concerning the preservation of her physiological virginity became rife. Some held that Christ's birth was as miraculous as his conception, and thus that he was born without the breaking of Mary's hymen. Yet none of these speculations has ever been declared to be official dogma. The Church's dogmatic claim is that Mary is Virgin before Christ's birth, during his life, and until her death, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: "The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth 'did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it.' And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the 'Ever-virgin'" (para. 499, p. 126).
(14) Consider, for instance, Chesterton's remarkable poem entitled "Thou Shalt Not Kill" about a man so crazed with loathing for another man, perhaps a neighbor, that he decides to kill him. Seizing a knife to strike the man dead, the narrator hears a voice calling to him in biblical admonition:
This is a common man: knowest thou, O soul, What this thing is? Somewhere where seasons roll There is some living thing for whom this man Is as seven heavens girt into a span, For some one soul you take the world away-- Now know you well your deed and purpose. Slay!' Then I cast down the knife upon the ground And saw that mean man for one moment crowned. I turned and laughed: for there was no one by-- The man that I had sought to slay was I. (CW 10,1 255-56)
Suicide, for Chesterton, is not a private choice but, as St. Thomas taught, an evil contra naturam. It goes against the grain of the universe, the very nature of things as they are imbued with a divinely graced order, indeed with God's own image. "The man who kills himself, kills all men" (Orthodoxy 78).
(15) Salvation, it follows, is not an affair primarily of post-earthly salvation intended for solitary souls "getting to heaven" apart from their fellows. Christianity is not an inner and individual religion having to do with a hidden, invisible, and private relation to Jesus. Redemption is found in the public, visible, and social reality already present in Jesus Christ and his Church as constituting, however marred, the true human community. To be Christian, therefore, is to belong to the Body of Christ. Our restoration "is the recovery of lost unity" de Lubac writes, "--the recovery of supernatural unity of man with God, but equally of the unity of men among themselves" Hence his remarkable claim that "Christ the Redeemer does not offer salvation merely to each one; he is himself the salvation of the whole, and for each one salvation consists in a personal ratification of his original 'belonging' to Christ, so that he not be cast out, cut off from this Whole" (Catholicism 35, 39).
(16) I am reminded here of Henry Vaughan's "Hymn to the Nativity":
Welcome all wonders in one sight! Eternity shut in a span. Summer in winter, Day in night. Heaven in earth, and God in man. Great little one! Whose all-embracing birth Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav'n to earth.
(17) Chesterton accepted the invitation for his lengthy visit to the university because of its Marian name: "I recall my first landing [on an earlier tour of the States in 1921]. .... It all seemed strangely alien, although I quickly discovered what kind and generous people the Americans are. I did not feel like that at all when I came to America the second time. If you want to know why I felt different, the reason is in the name of your University. That name was quite sufficient as far as I was concerned. It would not have mattered if it had been in the mountains of the moon. Where she has erected her pillars, all men are at home, and I knew that I should not find strangers" (Qtd. in Hope).
(18) The Statue of Liberty is 151 feet from base to torch. After the Emperor Hadrian eventually had the colossus moved--Nero's visage being literally effaced--to a new place, the nearby arena took its name accordingly: the Coliseum. Nero's villa was decorated so lavishly with gold-leaf and frescoes and mosaics that the historian Suetonius was appalled at the arrogance that inspired it: "When the edifice was finished in this style and [Nero] dedicated it, he deigned so say nothing more in the way of approval than that at least he was beginning to be housed like a human being" (Malitz 74).
(19) "The men may be provincials, but they are certainly citizens; they consult on a common basis. And I repeat that in this, after all, they do achieve what many prophets and righteous men have died to achieve. This plain village, fairly prosperous, fairly equal, untaxed by tyrants and untroubled by wars, is after all the place which reformers have regarded as their aim" (Chesterton, What I Saw 89).
(20) Even Ara Parseghian was never paid more than $35,000 during the heyday of Notre Dame football (1964-74). For a scorching estimate of recent salaries shelled out to Notre Dame football coaches, see the late Ralph McInerny's "Mammon and Uniquity." This exemplar of Notre Dame's older kind of excellence was no less critical of its faculty than its coaches. He feared that his school would become yet another discipline-defined, research-driven, technics-dominated multiversity with a win-at-all costs football team:
One doesn't have to be a president or a coach to be baffled as to how that goal is to be reached. But anyone can ponder whether it is a worthy one. On the academic side, the mission of the university is fairly well stated. But the way the university is conducted is often in dubious harmony with that mission. It is not only coaches--well, one anyway--who are seen as motivated primarily by money. The faculty is replenished with that same vulgar assumption scarcely muted. The need, we are told, is for faculty salaries to be competitive. Once men and women joined the faculty of Notre Dame, not because they thought it was competitive with other putatively similar places, but because it was unique.
(21) Knute Rockne was the Notre Dame coach when the Chestertons visited the campus. His team won the national championship that year as it had done also in 1929 and 1924. Arthur Hope captures something of the spirit that then prevailed: "On nine or ten Saturdays during the fall, it was as though the Notre Dame boys entered the lists to joust for the honor of Our Lady." Rockne himself became Catholic only after coming to Notre Dame, largely due to the witness of his players, as he confessed: "I used to be impressed deeply at the sight of my players receiving Communion every morning, and finally I made a point of going to Mass with them on the morning of a game. I realized that it appeared more or less incongruous, when we arrived in town for a game, for the public to see my boys rushing off to church as soon as they got offthe train, while their coach rode to the hotel and took his ease. One night before a big game in the East I was nervous and worried about the outcome the next day, and was unable to sleep. I tossed and rolled about the bed, and finally decided to get up and sit downstairs. About five or six o'clock in the morning, while pacing the lobby of the hotel, I unexpectedly ran into two of my own players hurrying out. I asked them where they were going at such an hour, although I had a good idea. Within the next few minutes, my players continued hurrying out and I decided to go along with them. They didn't realize it, but these youngsters were making a powerful impression on me with their devotion, and when I saw all of them walking up to the Communion rail to receive, and realized the hours of sleep they had sacrificed, I understood for the first time what a powerful ally their religion was to them in their work on the football field. Later on, I had the happiness of joining my boys at the Communion rail" It happened, writes Hope, after Rockne "went to Father Vincent Mooney, one of his old baseball players, and asked for instructions. He was baptized in the Log Chapel on the 20th of November, 1925. It was characteristic of Rockne that he wanted this ceremony to be as private as possible. Not even his children knew of it."
(22) This term derives from an event in 626, when Constantinople, "after several months siege on land and sea by Persian and Avar invaders, was inexplicably freed, the siege abandoned, even though the Emperor Heraclius and the main force of the Byzantine army were away on a campaign in the East. In the emperor's absence, the city was under the direction of Patriarch Sergius, who directed that a procession carrying icons of the Virgin, along with the relic of her robe from the suburban church of Blachernai, be carried around the city walls every night. As the invaders melted away, the people of Constantinople were convinced that it was the Virgin Mary alone, fighting like Athena for her faithful city, who had brought them victory. [....] [A]n all night festival of thanks was proclaimed for the capital's liberation, and was repeated each year on its anniversary; central to the celebration was the singing of the Akathistos Hymn, presumably with its new dedication, and now understood as a paean of praise to Mary the victor, defender of Church and Empire" (Daley). In the West, the Battle of Lepanto (1571), where Catholic forces won an important battle against Muslim forces, was at first celebrated liturgically as "Our Lady of Victory" This feast of October 7th was renamed "Our Lady of the Rosary" and extended throughout the entire Church by Pope Clement XI in 1716.
(23) In "A Party Question" Chesterton challenges Protestant opponents to find anything but gentleness and mercy in the Virgin Mary, though he conveniently forgets her power-dethroning prophecy in the Magnificat:
Whom had she greeted and not graced in greeting, Whom did she touch and touch not his peace; And what are you, that made of such a meeting Quarrels and quibbles and a taunt to tease? (CW 10,1 510)
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|Author:||Wood, Ralph C.|
|Publication:||Christianity and Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2012|
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