Wherever an Altar is Found, There Every Last Feature of Civilization Exists

The very day that Dr. Bill posted Sport is not about hunting or fighting, David Sansone’s Greek Athletics and the Genesis of Sport landed on my stoop. Like George Hersey’s Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture, it is one of those little books that knits together a large and diverse range of apparently unrelated items and links them coherently to ancient sacrifice. I highly recommend both books, if only for the fascinating factoids to be found by the dozen on their every page.

Hersey shows that the tropes of classical architecture all derive from the sacrificial rite; Sansone argues persuasively that sport began as a relic of the sacrificial cult that in turn was a fossil of the hunt. Both bolster their cases with overwhelming evidence.

So, Maistre seems with every passing month to be more correct than even he perhaps ever knew, in saying that, “Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” Everything seems to go back to the sacrificial rite: to the hunt, to war, to violence and its expiation.

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Real Tradition Must Be Sacred Tradition

We can jaw till the cows come home about how to reform the social order so that it works better, and in so doing improve our own understandings, and those of our fellows, so that we jointly decide matters in such a way as to restore a more humane, realistic and successful social order. Such discourse is not only edifying, but can nerve us to action. We could even implement a lot of quite sensible reforms – indeed, it is within the realm of possibility that all the outward forms of an ideal traditional society could be implemented, sometime after the Collapse of the Liberal Order, when men are casting about for a better way. That would be good!

Political acts can truly make the world a bit better, at the margin, than it would otherwise be.

But in the absence of a fairly widespread metanoia, a spiritual awakening and change of heart, all the clever and salutary reforms in the world will not secure for us a robust and durable traditional society, that reliably supports true human flourishing. They might slow the rot, but cannot heal it; cannot procure for us a healthy body politic.

A merely secular order, that does not consciously refer its ends, forms, and significations to the ultimate source of all order and meaning, has severed itself from the root of all things, and must therefore soon err, and stray, and perish.

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Creatura : Creator :: Map : Territory

According to the invaluable Online Etymology Dictionary, the English word “map” is derived from:

… Medieval Latin mappa mundi “map of the world;” first element from Latin mappa “napkin, cloth” (on which maps were drawn), “tablecloth, signal-cloth, flag,” said by Quintilian to be of Punic [i.e., Tyrian] origin (compare Talmudic Hebrew mappa, contraction of Mishnaic menaphah “a fluttering banner, streaming cloth”) + Latin mundi “of the world,” from mundus “universe, world” (see mundane).

Now this is interesting, because while the Old Testament refers to the firmament of the cosmos with the word raqiaà, meaning literally “extent” – apparently a merely abstract geometrical idea – it is described variously in scripture as like a crystalline tent or canopy (Isaiah 40:22, Ezekiel 1:22), or a scroll (Isaiah 34:4; Revelation 6:14). I.e., an expanse of fabric such as are used as a substrate for maps.

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Amputation versus Askesis

On the one hand, you have the ephemeral symptoms of nihilism: tattoos, piercings, sex change operations, and soon no doubt random unmotivated pointless amputations of this or that. On the other, you have askesis, that cuts away everything that is not of the Truth.

The first rejects substance and meaning in favor of nothing. It deletes great hunks of being, at the same time complicating what remains – and not in a good way. The nihilists are hunted, harried, gloomy, weakened, fey.

The second abjures partiality for fullness, of being, significance, beauty. It clarifies and simplifies, as the dross falls away, leaving only the dense pure gold. The students of askesis are at peace, or on their way to it. They are hearty, quiet, relaxed, and hard to spot.

The first ends in crabbed miserable death, the second in life everlasting.

Then there is everyone in between, all of whom must sooner or later decide between these two options.

Dietrich von Hildebrand on reverence and being

Writing (disapprovingly) in 1966 on the then-nascent reforms to the Roman rite Mass:

Reverence gives being the opportunity to speak to us: The ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei (ed: “capable of receiving God”). Reverence is of capital importance to all the fundamental domains of man’s life. It can be rightly called “the mother of all virtues,” for it is the basic attitude that all virtues presuppose. The most elementary gesture of reverence is a response to being itself. It distinguishes the autonomous majesty of being from mere illusion or fiction; it is a recognition of the inner consistency and positiveness of being-of its independence of our arbitrary moods. Reverence gives being the opportunity to unfold itself, to, as it were, speak to us; to fecundate our minds. Therefore reverence is indispensable to any adequate knowledge of being. The depth and plenitude of being, and above all its mysteries, will never be revealed to any but the reverent mind. Remember that reverence is a constitutive element of the capacity to “wonder,” which Plato and Aristotle claimed to be the indispensable condition for philosophy. Indeed, irreverence is a chief source of philosophical error. But if reverence is the necessary basis for all reliable knowledge of being, it is, beyond that, indispensable for grasping and assessing the values grounded in being. Only the reverent man who is ready to admit the existence of something greater than himself, who is willing to be silent and let the object speak to him- who opens himself-is capable of entering the sublime world of values. Moreover, once a gradation of values has been recognized, a new kind of reverence is in order-a reverence that responds not only to the majesty of being as such, but to the specific value of a specific being and to its rank in the hierarchy of values. And this new reverence permits the discovery of still other values. …

The irreverent man by contrast, approaches being either in an attitude of arrogant superiority or of tactless, smug familiarity. In either case he is crippled; he is the man who comes so near a tree or building he can no longer see it. Instead of remaining at the proper spiritual distance, and maintaining a reverent silence so that being may speak its word, he obtrudes himself and thereby, in effect, silences being. In no domain is reverence more important than religion. As we have seen, it profoundly affects the relation of man to God. But beyond that it pervades the entire religion, especially the worship of God. There is an intimate link between reverence and sacredness: reverence permits us to experience the sacred, to rise above the profane; irreverence blinds us to the entire world of the sacred. Reverence, including awe-indeed, fear and trembling-is the specific response to the sacred. 

Which jives rather nicely with my earlier diagnosis of modernity as “the institutionalization of rebellion against the order of being,” either birthed by or leading to a kind of spiritual autism, a “pervasive insensibility to the sacred”:

Without a sense of the sacred, reality becomes meaningless, senseless, and incomprehensible; the human condition becomes one not of citizenship and duty but of imprisonment and injustice. Rebellion against that order results, with predictable consequences.

60 years ago, we were told the Mass, that “gobbledegook of Latin ritual” pregnant with “obscurantism” and “magic” (to quote the execrable Paul Blanshard), had become incomprehensible to modern man, and that, far from trying to communicating its riches more effectively, we had to open it up to his appreciation by cutting out much which was worthy of appreciation. Now, it’s marriage that’s up for similar treatment. We’re all spiritual autists now.

No Flood Needed This Time Around

Birth rates are plummeting globally, so that even in countries where fertility is above replacement, it soon won’t be. In 150 years or so, the only people around will be religious conservatives, because other sorts of people with looser morals aren’t reproducing (thanks to the Pill, and all its knock-on social and economic effects, noticed in this video).

We have to step back and realize that what is happening to man right now is a pervasive and radical winnowing, comparable almost to the Flood. It’s natural selection at work, weeding out liberalism from the gene pool, and via co-evolution from the meme pool.  Put another way, liberalism is a lethal intellectual mutation. Whether it takes 50 years, or 1,000, liberalism is doomed, because it is at war with reality. Not only is it not nice to fool Mother Nature, it can never, ever be done in the first place. The Logos of the world is not mocked, no matter how amusing our petty pranks at his expense seem to us.

Fortunately for those who are deleting their own ilk from the world’s future, this winnowing may not involve catastrophic war, plague, or economic collapse. The autophagy of liberalism need not destroy civilization in the process. Civilization, even the West, might just squeak through and prevail in the end, preserving some of the best bits of what it has so far achieved. We might get through this winnowing with very little pain and suffering: no mass death, just a series of successively smaller, successively more traditional generations, as liberals die off after long, entertaining, meaningless lives.

Important Essay by Eric L. Gans

In the latest of his ongoing Chronicles of Love and Resentment at the Anthropoetics website, Eric L. Gans discusses the evolution of resentment since the Middle Ages and shows the relation of a debased type of resentment to the reigning victimocracy. Gans argues that only a revival of the concept of sin can deliver us from the galloping totalitarianism of the victim-mentality. I strongly recommend the essay to Orthosphereans.  The link is here: http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/views/vw457.htm

The Allure of Lemuria

I recently set my freshman composition students the task of writing an essay based on each writer’s choice of a topic from a list of two hundred topics. I urged especially that writer-respondents to the assignment should strive to find interest in whatever topics they might select and that they should seek to discover the meanings in their topics. To prove that it could be done, I wrote the following essay on one topic from my own list – “Lemuria.” I append my list at the end of the essay. (TFB)

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The Abomination of Desolation of the Marital Altar

The Eucharist is a participation in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. But then likewise a true wedding is a participation in the Sacrifice at Golgotha.[1] The bed of marriage is properly an altar, where bride and groom offer their lives in a total sacrifice, joining and thereby engendering a new and larger organism.

When Paul says, “I beseech ye, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” [Romans 12:1], he refers to the whole and perfectly general motion of the Christian toward his Savior and Lord, howsoever expressed: whether in priesthood, or martyry, or marriage – or at Mass.

The rites of the altar – the bed, the table, the throne – are the basis of society: “Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” And, vice versa: where there is no altar, there is no civilization; no cult, no culture; no culture, no polis.

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New Article: From Romanticism to Traditionalism

My essay From Romanticism to Traditionalism appears at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website.  The argument is that numerous premises of contemporary Traditionalism find their prototypes in early-Nineteenth Century Romantic Movement.  The essay cites the work of the English lake Poets, especially William Wordsworth and Samuel T. Coleridge, as well as the work of Chateaubriand and Goethe, and of the American “Hudson River School” of painting.  I try to demonstrate the parallelism between Wordsworth’s outlook, or Goethe’s, and the outlook of the founders of Twentieth Century Traditionalism, such as René Guénon and Nicolas Berdyaev.  I offer a sample…

The Romantic subject resembles – or, rather, it anticipates – the Traditionalist subject, as Guénon, Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948), and others have defined it.  Guénon himself in The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times (1945) characterizes modern man as having “lost the use of the faculties which in normal times allowed him to pass beyond the bounds of the sensible world.”  This loss leaves modern man alienated from “the cosmic manifestation of which he a part”; in Guénon’s analysis modern man assumes “the passive role of a mere spectator” and consumer, which is exactly how Wordsworth saw it.  Of course, Guénon does not write of loss as an accident, but as the logical consequence of choices and schemes traceable to the Enlightenment.  As Wordsworth put it, “We have given our hearts away – a sordid boon.”

According to Berdyaev, writing in The Destiny of Man (1931), “Man is not a fragmentary part of the world but contains the whole riddle of the universe and the solution of it.”  Berdyaev asserts that, contrary to modernity, “man is neither the epistemological subject [of Kant], nor the ‘soul’ of psychology, nor a spirit, nor an ideal value of ethics, logics, or aesthetics”; but, abolishing and overstepping all those reductions, “all spheres of being intersect in man.”  Berdyaev argues that, “Man is a being created by God, fallen away from God and receiving grace from God.”  The prevailing modern view, that of naturalism, “regards man as a product of evolution in the animal world,” but “man’s dynamism springs from freedom and not from necessity”; it follows therefore that “evolution” cannot explain the mystery and centrality of man’s freedom.  When Berdyaev brings “grace” into his discussion, he echoes the original Romantics, whose version of grace was the epiphanic vision, the event answering to a crisis that brings about the conversion of the fallen subject and sets him on the road to true personhood.

Angel Millar has done an exceptional job in presenting the essay.  I take the opportunity here to thank him publicly.