18 November, 2020
When you strive to defend the achievements of Christian civilisation you encounter an awful lot of kickback, a lot of angry hostility towards Christian culture. It can be dispiriting.
But Christmas is a time for absolute and entirely positive joyfulness. It is not the chief Christian festival, for that honour is reserved to Easter, the so-called Queen of Feasts, but it is perhaps the most loved, and not only by Christians, but also by so many who have lost their faith or never had it to begin with. That gentle agnostic Thomas Hardy wanted so much to believe that the lovely story was true:
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
‘Come; see the oxen kneel,
In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,’
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
Hoping it might be so: those words nicely express the pathos and the longing of very many people in our sad old materialistic world, people who know the story but can’t quite hear the music, who are so used to miracles of technology in every aspect of daily life that they can’t recognise the biggest Miracle of all, that God became a human person so that he could raise humanity to the divine.
Italy’s most loved Christmas Carol, written by St Alfonso Liguori, expresses this truth most succinctly:
Tu scendi dale stelle, o Re del Cielo…
Ahi, quanto ti costò l’avermi amato!
You come down from the stars, o King of Heaven…
Oh, how much did it cost you, loving me!
Luciano Pavarotti sings it here. There are splendid versions too by Andrea Bocelli, Caterina Valente, Beniamino Gigli and many others. To me its most powerful line is how much did it cost you! One thinks of those three gifts – gold for his Kingship, frankincense for his Divinity, and myrrh as a dreadful omen of the death that he was doomed to die. What gifts to bring a new-born baby!
Many of us who read this short piece already share the belief that Hardy hoped to have. Sadly most people in the world, in every generation and not just our own, are deaf to the music. But the really lovely thing about Christmas is that more than any other day it brings believers and non-believers together: those who don’t or can’t yet manage to believe often substitute mere sentimentality for belief, yet they do share some kind of instinct for the divine, they have some sense of the awesome wonder lying just beneath the surface of their lives.
SIR HARRY CHAUVEL AND THE AUSTRALIAN LIGHT HORSE IN PALESTINE
Mr Neville Clark MC gave a splendid address in Hobart on 30 October, which was the Eve of the 103rd anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba. I have uploaded the whole text here. I recommend you read it: not only is it a fine history of the events, but leads to a noble and inclusive conclusion:
‘they (the Australian Light Horse) placed a burden of debt upon all Australians today, for whether our ancestors were here 60,000 years ago, or whether some of us arrived, as it were yesterday, we all of us equally owe our freedom to that unsurpassed generation of 1914-1918 who suffered to build a better Australia.’
And what a super peroration! –
‘But as for that New Jerusalem, when the tabernacle of God will be with men and they shall be his people, that is a prophecy yet to be fulfilled. “We are a Christian nation”, declared Harry Chauvel. Could we be so again? Not through war and suffering – though who could rule that out forever? – but through an even more thorough obedience to God’s commandments so that we might have right to enter in through the gate into that City, to be greeted by Him who is the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. Even so, come Lord Jesus!’
REDISCOVERING THE WEST
This splendid article by Simon Kennedy, of Brisbane’s Christian Heritage College, surveys attitudes towards that elusive notion of The West. Here’s a taster: ‘The wisdom of Western civilisation can be expressed as the belief that human wisdom is not confined to our own time and place. Therefore, we can seek truth because the truth really is out there. We can go and find it, because there is an order and a truth that lies beyond us and is founded upon a Being outside of us.’
AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY APPOINTS DIRECTOR OF RAMSAY WESTERN CIVILISATION PROGRAMME
The ACU has announced the appointment of Prof Robert Carver to this prestigious and important position. I am proud to say that Prof Carver was once a student of mine, long ago and far away at school in Adelaide! I am personally thrilled and certain that ACU will share my delight.
THE TRUTH ABOUT MARIE STOPES
Was she society’s benefactor, or Malthusian proto-Nazi eugenicist and racist? This interview with Mark Sutherland, grandson of Halliday Sutherland, tells the story of the latter’s almost forgotten legal dispute with Stopes. Starts at 28 minutes.
THANK HEAVEN FOR OLD-FASHIONED LABOR PEOPLE!
In this Ramsay Centre recording Peter Baldwin speaks on the self-loathing of Western civilization. Mr Baldwin was a Federal Labor minister for six years. In another piece, the Hon Joel Fitzgibbon talks on the theme The World is Moving while Australia Stands Still. Contrary to rusted-in popular opinion, Australia has no mainstream conservative political party. One finds real conservatives (far too few of them, in my view) wherever one is lucky enough to find them!
GEOFFREY BLAINEY ON THE CRUSADES
‘No longer do well-informed citizens of the Western World seem to remember one significant fact. From the 7th to the 10th Centuries the forces of Islam captured more than half of all Christian territories in Europe and Asia Minor. The Crusades, poorly coordinated, re-captured only a fraction of what had been lost.’ We could add that militant Islam threatened Europe from time to time until the First World War (do read Mr Clark’s article), and of course Islamic State still does.
THE COVID CRISIS
According to the Australian Department of Health, there were 36 ‘flu-related deaths in Australia to October 2020, and 943 in the same period in 2019. Make of that what you will, but is it possible that all that hand-washing keeps ‘flu away, but not Covid?
SUMMER SCHOOLS – URGENT REQUEST
Our Philosophy and Latin summer schools are hanging by a thread! Do please write to me at once if you’d like to join either of our classes. ALL WELCOME!
With best wishes always,
FOR YOUR DIARY
MEDIEVAL LATIN, 11-15 JANUARY 2021
This course, now in its 27th year, offers a general introduction to post-classical Latin, poetry and prose, sacred and secular. We shall read some splendid literature that has had a formative influence on Western Civilisation. Some prior knowledge of Latin is assumed. There will be an introduction to palaeography, including an opportunity to handle original manuscripts.
NEW TESTAMENT GREEK, 18-22 JANUARY 2021
Cancelled. Watch this space in 2021!
PHILOSOPHY, 25-29 JANUARY 2021
A five-day overview of the history and core trends of Philosophy taught by University of Tasmania academic Dr David Moltow:
This course is suitable for those who are interested in, but have not formally studied, the evolution of western philosophical thought. Beginning with the Ancient Greeks as the founders of Western Philosophy, we will go on to explore Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, through the middle ages discussing the work of Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas, and into the modern period. We will focus not just on the writings of prominent philosophers, but on the problems they sought to address (most of which continue to preoccupy our thoughts) and the methods by which they addressed them. We will explore how philosophers through the ages have sought to understand the ‘big questions’ – meaning, being, knowledge, ethics, aesthetics, free-will, religion, politics – and consider how their thoughts might help us today to think through some of the issues that confront us, privately and in our communities.
All three January Summer Schools will, it is hoped, be held at Jane Franklin Hall (University of Tasmania), 6 Elboden Street, South Hobart.
Our annual conference originally scheduled for 2020 has been postponed to 25–26 June 2021. We’ll be a year older, and perhaps wiser. It will be worth waiting for! We are looking at the possibility of running this online as well as on site in Hobart. The theme will be secondary education, with a particular focus on the development of the spiritual and religious dimension of human nature. See our website for further details.