6 December, 2022
What we Christians think of as spiritual realities have never been harder to grasp, by ordinary people, in a world so richly endowed by thrilling material blessings, yet also plagued by all kinds of miseries. The comforts and the dangers of our lives often almost overwhelm us.
A wise friend of mine, a Rabbi, once described atheism as ‘spiritual tone-deafness’. It’s such a clever description of that state of mind that hears the noise but can make no sense of it. Even agnostics hear the noise, that is to say they recognize the existence of non-physical things, but they discern no pattern or good purpose behind it.
The poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1948), understandably embittered by war, wrote these words in a Christmas poem –
‘Peace upon earth!’ was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We’ve got as far as poison-gas.
That is bitterness indeed. Yet that same poet felt a deep longing for the comfort of belief. As a child he had been touched by the quaint old folk myth that on Christmas Eve oxen in their stalls bend their knees in honour of Christ’s birth – and he wrote this, wishing that he could believe it too –
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
‘Come; see the oxen kneel…’
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
There’s tremendous pathos in that last line. Hardy seems always to have hovered on the brink of faith. Another little poem of his, The Darkling Thrush speaks of the merry chattering of a bird. There’s no apparent reason for its ecstatic warbling, but it makes lovely music and sings its heart out anyway. Could it be, Hardy wonders, that the thrush has an instinctive joyfulness, a kind of Hope that the poet himself cannot yet share? It was a grim, cold, bitter evening, yet the little bird sings for joy –
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew,
And I was unaware.
Few of us share the strong faith of the Saints. We are anchored in Hope but we still see through a glass darkly, as St Paul describes it, and our Faith wavers as much when we face hard times, as when we are over-excited by the wonderful, captivating delights of this world. Keeping an even tenor is a tough challenge.
May we all come to know the joy that makes creation sing! The Christopher Dawson Centre wishes all readers an increase of Faith, firm assurance, and unquenchable joy in the approaching festival of Christmas.
JOHN HALDANE IN HOBART
Eminent Scottish philosopher Prof John Haldane spoke on Religious art and religious understanding (an illustrated introduction to art as a medium of philosophical/theological reflection) in Hobart on 10 November.
It is a remarkably fine address, richly illustrated with examples of Christian art from antiquity to modern times. Watch it here.
AUSTRALIAN UNIVERSITIES: AN OVERVIEW
Conservative commentary is commonly dismissive of the modern university, but this articleby a former Vice-Chancellor presents a more sympathetic and balanced view.
Some NSW Catholic schools are going on the offensive against student-led and inquiry-based learning in favour of traditional instruction. This piece by Lucy Carroll reports improved results and better student behaviour using the Catalyst Programme. Compare similar findings in Britain’s Michaela School, and in Catholic schools in Tasmania.
RUSSIAN AGGRESSION: ANOTHER VIEW
Western alliance ‘duplicitous’ in its dealings with the Ukraine/Russia conflict? Scott Ritter’s analysis of Angela Merkel’s recent comments: ‘Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.’ Trigger Warning: this article might shock some readers!
‘THE NEW GLOBAL CLASS WAR’
Speaking of trigger warnings, this Spiked article by Joel Kotkin may disturb some readers. It will certainly appeal to so-called ‘climate sceptics’, but it ought to be read – and checked – by those who accept the common narrative on climate change and our responses to it.
SUMMER SCHOOLS JANUARY 2023
We are pleased to report that all our summer schools are going ahead in January. Numbers are down and we have had many requests for online classes but we feel unable to accommodate them, for two principal reasons. The first is that online lecturing can only work if it is polished and professional, which demands fulltime technical support; poorly produced online chats are worse than useless. The second is that the move by institutions away from face-to-face teaching towards online teaching alone is pedagogically disastrous. We shall stick to traditional practice and hope that in the brave new world of the Great Re-set there will still be wandering scholars willing to travel to learn!
16 – 20 January
THE WESTERN TRADITION: AN OVERVIEW OF 2000 YEARS OF HISTORY, LITERATURE, PHILOSOPHY, THEOLOGY AND ART. Venue: Jane Franklin Hall, South Hobart
23 – 27 January
NEW TESTAMENT GREEK: AN INTENSIVE INTRODUCTORY COURSE FOR BEGINNERS.
Venue: Fr John Wall Memorial Library, New Town.
‘The Holy Church has cultivated and kept in highest honour the source texts of this wisdom, and especially the Greek and Latin languages, as if they were a sort of golden robe clothing Wisdom itself.’ (Pope John XXIII)
9 – 13 January
MEDIEVAL AND LATER LATIN: A READING COURSE IN SACRED AND SECULAR POETRY AND PROSE FOR PEOPLE WITH SOME PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OF THE LANGUAGE. Venue: Priory of Our Lady of Cana, Colebrook.
‘The Latin language is assuredly worthy of being defended with great care instead of being scorned; for the Latin Church it is the most abundant source of Christian civilization and the richest treasury of piety. We must not hold in low esteem these traditions of our fathers which were our glory for centuries. (Pope Paul VI)
Each school extends from Monday to Friday inclusive. Bookings can be made directly by email or on Eventbrite.