27 November, 2019
I once wrote an article claiming that the Incarnation of Christ had been the central and pivotal event in world history. A good friend, a professor of mathematics and certainly no fool, thought my view ‘curious’, but said that he would prefer to award the title to the Invention of the Wheel. He wasn’t joking and he wasn’t unkind – he just saw things differently.
Nothing could better illustrate the divergence of focus that separates believers from their dear and much-loved friends who have no faith. It’s much more than a mere difference of opinion, it’s a fundamental gulf between perspectives: we live here as strangers, in a sense: we see the world through alien eyes because our citizenship is elsewhere and our home is in Eternity.
Christ’s coming at his birth brought Eternity down to Earth and claimed the Earth as his birthright. No words can describe the immensity of that transaction. The Incarnation has tinged every part of our lives, whether we are aware of it or whether (which is true of perhaps most of the world’s people) we swan around in simple ignorance, or in angry denial.
Christ’s coming is deeply imprinted on our art, our music, our poetry and our prose, our laws and constitutions, our morals and our customs. Bach and Mozart could never have sung so sweetly, Raphael and Michelangelo would have been myopic, Dante and Donne would not have written their best poetry, laws would have been crueller, so many of our charitable institutions such as hospitals, hospices and refuges would never have been founded, the moral compass that led to such ideas as universal education, social services and health care would have been ungrounded.
The very stones that cried out for joy in the gorgeous gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages would have had nothing to rejoice about. Beliefs and practices that are nowadays indifferent or even hostile to Christianity had their origins in a Christian view of the world: the Red Cross, Amnesty International are two of the best known. And what is Socialism, in essence, if not a determination to protect the weak and share the world’s goods with justice and equity? Most controversial of all, western Science is an offspring of the Christian thirst for truth and understanding: some may claim Science as the best antidote for religion, but just think of those scientists, living and departed, who have thought otherwise, from Galileo to Newton to Mendel.
The notions of focus and myopia put me in mind of George Herbert’s lovely little hymn:
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.
A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.
Rejoice in your faith of Jesus, whether you share in it or merely admire it from the outside, and give thanks for all those rich blessings that faith has showered on us.
VALE FR PAUL STENHOUSE MSC
My dear friend Paul Stenhouse died on 19 November after a long illness which he had bravely held at bay for many years. He combined the sweetest nature imaginable with tremendous scholarship (he was a fluent arabist, among a great many other attainments) and deep wisdom. I came to know him first when I was at St John’s and he was a Fellow of the college. He had been Editor of Annals, Australia’s oldest continually-running Catholic journal, for half a century. Annals was in trouble financially: the last paper issue appearing just a few weeks ago was Paul’s last big effort before he died. I hope it will continue as an online publication in the hands of his many friends and admirers.
He will be greatly missed by all who knew him: Heaven is sweeter and the Earth has grown a little colder. May he rest in peace.
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