Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An Advantage of Ash Wednesday

So, here is Lent. According to my custom of the last couple of years, I'm going to try to get through G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis. Perhaps I didn't word that quite right; I pick up that book every Lent because it is thought-provoking, not because I could remotely claim anything penitential about reading it. Likewise, it isn't a biography in the strictest sense of the word, it's more like an extended essay on Chesterton's philosophy, built around the life of the saint. Here's a bit from the first chapter:

He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men; possibly a much rarer mystical vocation. A lover of men is very nearly the opposite of a philanthropist; indeed the pedantry of the Greek word carries something like a satire on itself. A philanthropist may be said to love anthropoids. But as Saint Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ. Say, if you think so, that he was a lunatic loving an imaginary person; but an imaginary person, not an imaginary idea. And for the modern reader the clue to the asceticism and all the rest can be found in the stories of lovers when they seemed to be rather like lunatics. Tell it as the tale of one of the Troubadours, and the wild things he would do for his lady, and the whole of the modern puzzle disappears. In such a romance there would be no contradiction between the poet gathering flowers in the sun and enduring a freezing vigil in the snow, between his praising all earthly and bodily beauty and then refusing to eat, and between his glorifying gold and purple and perversely going in rags, between his showing pathetically a hunger for a happy life and a thirst for a heroic death. All these riddles would be easily be resolved in the simplicity of any noble love; only this was so noble a love that nine out of ten men have hardly even heard of it.


lucas said...

I'm glad someone else shares in the joys of reading his material.

Molly said...

Back at you!
I think "Orthodoxy" is my enduring fav., but there are so many others to choose from that I have a hard time settling on just one for sure.