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Book of Days – May 9 – Proclamation of the End of the American Civil War
Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 10:01 AM

It is somewhat difficult to settle on a date for the end of the American Civil War (or the War of the Rebellion as it was denominated by the United States War Department or the War of Northern Aggression as denominated by many Confederates).  Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865.  Johnston surrendered to Sherman on April 26.  The last recognized battle was that of Palmito Ranch, fought on May 12 and 13, 1865.  Kirby Smith surrendered on June 2 on board the U.S.S. Fort Jackson, pursuant to terms negotiated with General Edward Canby on May 26.  Cherokee Chief Stand Watie surrendered on June 23. On August 20, President Andrew Johnson executed at proclamation Declaring that Peace, Order, Tranquillity, and Civil Authority Now Exists in and Throughout the Whole of the United States of America.  The last Confederate ship to surrender was the C.S.S. Shenandoah on November 6. But many date the actual end of the war to this date in 1865, when President Andrew Johnson issued executive orders and a proclamation which declared The Belligerent Rights of the Rebels at an End. See http://www.nytimes.com/1865/05/10/news/important-proclamations-belligerent-rights-rebels-end-all-nations-warned-against.html.

For today’s writing, Walt Whitman’s poem Reconciliation:


WORD over all, beautiful as the sky!
Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly lost;
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world:
… For my enemy is dead—a man divine as myself is dead;
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin—I draw near;
I bend down, and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

Fr. Kurt Spengler, Memory Eternal
Monday, May 8, 2017, 2:39 PM

4217127 150x150 Fr. Kurt Spengler, Memory EternalAfter a long battle with cancer, Fr. Kurt Spengler fell asleep in the Lord on May 5. His obituary does not mention it, but he had been particularly involved with pro-life ministry in the Chicago area, including participating in Speak Out Illinois as a representative of Orthodox Christians for Life. In fact, that is where I believe I first met Fr. Kurt and his lovely wife Roberta. May his memory be eternal!

Book of Days – May 8 – V-E Day
Monday, May 8, 2017, 6:51 AM

On this date in 1945, the Allies celebrated Victory in Europe, as the unconditional surrender of the Germans was accepted.  It was also the 61st birthday of America’s president, Harry S Truman.  As I only post works in the public domain, I’m compelled to seek a work from an earlier war, the Great War, for this day.  In a less celebratory mood, I have chosen For the Fallen Laurence Binyon:

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Source: The London Times (1914)

Book of Days – May 7 – Birth of Robert Browning
Sunday, May 7, 2017, 7:42 AM

On this date in 1812, Robert Browning was born.  While not his best work, he is undoubtedly best remembered for his children’s poem, The Pied Piper of Hamelin:



Hamelin Town’s in Brunswick,
By famous Hanover city;
The river Weser, deep and wide,
Washes its wall on the southern side;
A pleasanter spot you never spied;
But, when begins my ditty,
Almost five hundred years ago,
To see the townsfolk suffer so
From vermin, was a pity.


They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladle’s,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women’s chats
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.


At last the people in a body
To the town hall came flocking:
“‘Tis clear,” cried they, ‘our Mayor’s a noddy;
And as for our Corporation–shocking
To think we buy gowns lined with ermine
For dolts that can’t or won’t determine
What’s best to rid us of our vermin!
You hope, because you’re old and obese,
To find in the furry civic robe ease?
Rouse up, sirs! Give your brains a racking
To find the remedy we’re lacking,
Or, sure as fate, we’ll send you packing!”
At this the Mayor and Corporation
Quaked with a mighty consternation.


An hour they sat in council,
At length the Mayor broke silence:
“For a guilder I’d my ermine gown sell,
I wish I were a mile hence!
It’s easy to bid one rack one’s brain–
I’m sure my poor head aches again,
I’ve scratched it so, and all in vain
Oh for a trap, a trap, a trap!”
Just as he said this, what should hap
At the chamber door but a gentle tap?
“Bless us,’ cried the Mayor, “what’s that?”
(With the Corporation as he sat,
Looking little though wondrous fat;
Nor brighter was his eye, nor moister
Than a too-long-opened oyster,
Save when at noon his paunch grew mutinous
For a plate of turtle, green and glutinous)
“Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?
Anything like the sound of a rat
Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!”


“Come in!”–the Mayor cried, looking bigger:
And in did come the strangest figure!
His queer long coat from heel to head
Was half of yellow and half of red
And he himself was tall and thin,
With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin,
And light loose hair, yet swarthy skin,
No tuft on cheek nor beard on chin,
But lips where smiles went out and in–
There was no guessing his kith and kin!
And nobody could enough admire
The tall man and his quaint attire.
Quoth one: “It’s as if my great-grandsire,
Starting up at the Trump of Doom’s tone,
Had walked this way from his painted tombstone!”


He advanced to the council-table:
And, “Please your honors,” said he, “I’m able,
By means of a secret charm, to draw
All creatures living beneath the sun,
That creep or swim or fly or run,
After me so as you never saw!
And I chiefly use my charm
On creatures that do people harm,
The mole and toad and newt and viper;
And people call me the Pied Piper.”
(And here they noticed round his neck
A scarf of red and yellow stripe,
To match with his coat of the self-same check;
And at the scarf’s end hung a pipe;
And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying
As if impatient to be playing
Upon this pipe, as low it dangled
Over his vesture so old-fangled.)
“Yet,” said he, “poor piper as I am,
In Tartary I freed the Cham,
Last June, from his huge swarm of gnats;
I eased in Asia the Nizam
Of a monstrous brood of vampyre-bats:
And as for what your brain bewilders–
If I can rid your town of rats
Will you give me a thousand guilders?”
“One? Fifty thousand!” was the exclamation
Of the astonished Mayor and Corporation.


Into the street the Piper stept,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept
In his quiet pipe the while;
Then, like a musical adept,
To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled,
And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled,
Like a candle-flame where salt is sprinkled;
And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,
You heard as if an army muttered;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling.
Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
Brown rats, black rats, gray rats, tawny rats,
Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives–
Followed the Piper for their lives.
From street to street he piped advancing,
And step for step they followed dancing,
Until they came to the river Weser
Wherein all plunged and perished!
‹Save one who, stout as Julius Caesar,
Swam across and lived to carry
(As the manuscript he cherished)
To Rat-land home his commentary:
Which was, “At the first shrill notes of the pipe,
I heard a sound as of scraping tripe,
And putting apples, wondrous ripe,
Into a cider-press’s gripe:
And a moving away of pickle-tub-boards,
And a leaving ajar of conserve-cupboards,
And a drawing the corks of train-oil-flasks,
And a breaking the hoops of butter-casks:
And it seemed as if a voice
(Sweeter far than by harp or by psaltery
Is breathed) called out, ‘Oh rats, rejoice!
The world is grown to one vast dry-saltery!
So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon,
Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!’
And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon,
All ready staved, like a great sun shone
Glorious scarce an inch before me,
Just as methought it said ‘Come bore me!’
— I found the Weser rolling o’er me.”


You should have heard the Hamelin people
Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple.
Go,” cried the Mayor, “and get long poles!
Poke out the nests and block up the holes!
Consult with carpenters and builders
And leave in our town not even a trace
Of the rats!”– when suddenly, up the face
Of the Piper perked in the market-place,
With a, “First, if you please, my thousand guilders!”


A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue;
So did the Corporation too.
For council dinners made rare havoc
With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock;
And half the money would replenish
Their cellar’s biggest butt with Rhenish.
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gypsy coat of red and yellow!
“Beside,” quoth the Mayor with a knowing wink,
“Our business was done at the river’s brink;
We saw with our eyes the vermin sink,
And what’s dead can’t come to life, I think.
So, friend, we’re not the folks to shrink
From the duty of giving you something for drink,
And a matter of money to put in your poke;
But as for the guilders, what we spoke
Of them, as you very well know, was in joke.
Beside, our losses have made us thrifty.
A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!


The Piper’s face fell, and he cried,
“No trifling! I can’t wait! Beside,
I’ve promised to visit by dinnertime
Bagdad, and accept the prime
Of the Head-Cook’s pottage, all he’s rich in,
For having left, in the Caliph’s kitchen,
Of a nest of scorpions no survivor–
With him I proved no bargain-driver,
With you, don’t think I’ll bate a stiver!
And folks who put me in a passion
May find me pipe to another fashion.”


“How?” cried the Mayor, “d’ye think I brook
Being worse treated than a Cook?
Insulted by a lazy ribald
With idle pipe and vesture piebald?
You threaten us, fellow? Do your worst,
Blow your pipe there till you burst!”


Once more he stept into the street
And to his lips again
Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane;
And ere he blew three notes (such sweet
Soft notes as yet musician’s cunning
Never gave the enraptured air)
There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping, and little tongues chattering,
And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering,
Out came the children running.
All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.


The Mayor was dumb, and the Council stood
As if they were changed into blocks of wood,
Unable to move a step or cry,
To the children merrily skipping by–
And could only follow with the eye
That joyous crowd at the Piper’s back.
But how the Mayor was on the rack
And the wretched Council’s bosoms beat,
As the Piper turned from the High Street
To where the Weser rolled its water’s
Right in the way of their sons and daughters!
However he turned from South to West
And to Koppelberg Hill his steps addressed,
And after him the children pressed;
Great was the joy in every breast.
“He never can cross that mighty top!
He’s forced to let the piping drop
And we shall see our children stop!
When, lo, as they reached the mountain-side,
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain-side shut fast.
Did I say all? No! One was lame,
And could not dance the whole of the way;
And in after years, if you would blame
His sadness, he was used to say,–
“It’s dull in our town since my playmates left!
I can’t forget that I’m bereft
Of all the pleasant sights they see,
Which the Piper also promised me.
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
Joining the town and just at hand,
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new;
The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here,
And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
And honey-bees had lost their stings,
And horses were born with eagles’ wings:
And just as I became assured
My lame foot would be speedily cured,
The music stopped and I stood still,
And found myself outside the hill,
Left alone against my will,
To go now limping as before,
And never hear of that country more!


Alas, alas for Hamelin!
There came into many a burgher’s pate
A text which says that heaven’s gate
Opens to the rich at as easy rate
As the needle’s eye takes a camel in!
The mayor sent East, West, North and South,
To offer the Piper, by word of mouth
Wherever it was men’s lot to find him,
Silver and gold to his heart’s content,
If he’d only return the way he went,
And bring the children behind him.
But when they saw ‘twas a lost endeavor,
And Piper and dancers were gone forever,
They made a decree that lawyers never
Should think their records dated duly
If, after the day of the month and year,
These words did not as well appear:
“And so long after what happened here
On the twenty-second of July,
Thirteen hundred and seventy-six;”
And the better in memory to fix
The place of the children’s last retreat,
They called it the Pied Piper’s Street,
Where any one playing on pipe or tabor
Was sure for the future to lose his labor.
Nor suffered they hostelry or tavern
To shock with mirth a street so solemn,
But opposite the place of the cavern
They wrote the story on a column,
And on the great church-window painted
The same, to make the world acquainted
How their children were stolen away,
And there it stands to this very day.
And I must not omit to say
That, in Transylvania there’s a tribe
Of alien people who ascribe
To the outlandish ways and dress
On which their neighbors lay such stress,
To their fathers and mothers having risen
Out of some subterranean prison
Into which they were trepanned
Long time ago in a mighty band
Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land,
But how or why they don’t understand.


So, Willy, let you and me be wipers
Of scores out with all men–especially pipers!
And, whether they pipe us free, from rats or from mice,
If we’ve promised them ought, let us keep our promise.

Book of Days – May 6 – End of the Battle of Chancellorsville
Saturday, May 6, 2017, 7:59 AM

On this date in 1863, the Confederacy completed their brilliant victory over the Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Though greatly outnumbered, Generals Lee and Jackson managed to deliver a resounding blow to the Union army and to Union morale, sending the Union forces into a general retreat across the Rappahannock River. Having lost despite numerical superiority, Union General Joseph Hooker was relieved of command, leaving General George Meade in command when the two armies met again in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania less than two months later. By the end of the battle, Jackson was dead, having been the victim of friendly fire.

For today’s writing, the description of the wounded arriving from the battle of Chancellorsville by an army nurse, Walt Whitman:


The Wounded from Chancellorsville

May, ’63.—AS I write this, the wounded have begun to arrive from Hooker’s command from bloody Chancellorsville. I was down among the first arrivals. The men in charge told me the bad cases were yet to come. If that is so I pity them, for these are bad enough. You ought to see the scene of the wounded arriving at the landing here at the foot of Sixth street, at night. Two boat loads came about half-past seven last night. A little after eight it rain’d a long and violent shower. The pale, helpless soldiers had been debark’d, and lay around on the wharf and neighborhood anywhere. The rain was, probably, grateful to them; at any rate they were exposed to it. The few torches light up the spectacle. All around—on the wharf, on the ground, out on side places—the men are lying on blankets, old quilts, &c., with bloody rags bound round heads, arms, and legs. The attendants are few, and at night few outsiders also—only a few hard-work’d transportation men and drivers. (The wounded are getting to be common, and people grow callous.) The men, whatever their condition, lie there, and patiently wait till their turn comes to be taken up. Near by, the ambulances are now arriving in clusters, and one after another is call’d to back up and take its load. Extreme cases are sent off on stretchers. The men generally make little or no ado, whatever their sufferings. A few groans that cannot be suppress’d, and occasionally a scream of pain as they lift a man into the ambulance. To-day, as I write, hundreds more are expected, and to-morrow and the next day more, and so on for many days. Quite often they arrive at the rate of 1000 a day.

Civil War Hospital 300x193 Book of Days   May 6   End of the Battle of Chancellorsville

Army Hospital during the American Civil War

Scientism, Ridicule, and Applause Lines
Friday, May 5, 2017, 10:00 AM

laugh12 226x300 Scientism, Ridicule, and Applause Lines

Interestingly, scientism is a word that is only used by those who oppose it. Why is that?

Since most people have never heard the word scientism, it might sound a bit overboard to call it the religion of our age. How can a word that relatively few people know, and its followers don’t use be the religion of our age?  But now ask yourself what percentage of Americans would nod their heads in agreement with the following statement:

It’s no one’s business but your own if you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist or whatever, but when it comes to things that effect everyone (education, politics, etc.) we should limit talk about what’s real to what all of us can agree is real.

That statement is creedal scientism (notice how it grants total authority to those who come closest to believing in nothing). And would anyone doubt that more Americans today (and nearly all Europeans) would comfortably nod their heads in agreement with that statement than could recite the Nicene Creed with sincerity?

Respond to the statement above with “prove it” and you’ll get a confused look (although it still might be worth trying). This is because it’s not a statement that opens itself to proof. It’s a resolution of the will, an emotional reaction, or an applause line for the Bill Maher show or The View. And it has nothing to do with reason or science.

And this is why followers of scientism never use the word scientism, let alone define it. The moment they name it they’re obliged to define their terms. And once they do that it withers away under any kind of reasoned debate. Why bother with any of that when all they really want is the applause?

And why do so many applaud? They applaud because the creed sounds reasonable without having to go to the trouble of reasoning anything through. And they applaud to signal that they’re with the smart guy and because applause is a nice way of ridiculing and shutting up those who aren’t.

Webster’s tells me that scientism is: “thought or expression regarded as characteristic of scientists.”  If someone can find scientism used this way in a published sentence, I’d like to see it.  French philosopher and poet Benjamin Fondane knew what he was talking about when he described it as “hatred for religious transcendence.”  Benjamin Fondane died at Auschwitz in 1944.


Book of Days – May 5 – Kublai Khan becomes ruler of the Mongol Empire
Friday, May 5, 2017, 9:54 AM

On this date in 1260, Kublai Khan became ruler of the Mongol Empire.

For today’s writing, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, Kublai Khan:

blank Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.


For THIS Has Esolen Left Providence College
Thursday, May 4, 2017, 9:19 AM

Touchstone Senior Editor Anthony Esolen has made it official and public in this article at Crisis–his leaving Providence College and what attracted him elsewhere, that is, to Thomas More College, in New Hampshire. His article really is upbeat; there are such lights still rising up, cultural renewal happens, hope springs eternal. May God prosper his teaching.

Book of Days – May 4 – Battle of Tewksbury
Thursday, May 4, 2017, 7:58 AM

On this date, in 1471, the battle of Tewksbury was fought during the War of the Roses, resulting in the death of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, the Lancaster heir apparent to the throne of his father, King Henry VI.

For today’s reading an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part III, Act 5, Scene 5:

SCENE V. Another part of the field.

Flourish. Enter KING EDWARD IV, GLOUCESTER, CLARENCE, and soldiers; with QUEEN MARGARET, OXFORD, and SOMERSET, prisoners

* * *

So part we sadly in this troublous world,
To meet with joy in sweet Jerusalem.

Is proclamation made, that who finds Edward
Shall have a high reward, and he his life?

It is: and lo, where youthful Edward comes!
Enter soldiers, with PRINCE EDWARD

Bring forth the gallant, let us hear him speak.
What! can so young a thorn begin to prick?
Edward, what satisfaction canst thou make
For bearing arms, for stirring up my subjects,
And all the trouble thou hast turn’d me to?

Speak like a subject, proud ambitious York!
Suppose that I am now my father’s mouth;
Resign thy chair, and where I stand kneel thou,
Whilst I propose the selfsame words to thee,
Which traitor, thou wouldst have me answer to.

Ah, that thy father had been so resolved!

That you might still have worn the petticoat,
And ne’er have stol’n the breech from Lancaster.

Let AEsop fable in a winter’s night;
His currish riddles sort not with this place.

By heaven, brat, I’ll plague ye for that word.

Ay, thou wast born to be a plague to men.

For God’s sake, take away this captive scold.

Nay, take away this scolding crookback rather.

Peace, wilful boy, or I will charm your tongue.

Untutor’d lad, thou art too malapert.

I know my duty; you are all undutiful:
Lascivious Edward, and thou perjured George,
And thou mis-shapen Dick, I tell ye all
I am your better, traitors as ye are:
And thou usurp’st my father’s right and mine.

Take that, thou likeness of this railer here.

Stabs him

Sprawl’st thou? take that, to end thy agony.

Stabs him

And there’s for twitting me with perjury.

Stabs him

O, kill me too!

Marry, and shall.

Offers to kill her

Hold, Richard, hold; for we have done too much.

Why should she live, to fill the world with words?

What, doth she swoon? use means for her recovery.

Clarence, excuse me to the king my brother;
I’ll hence to London on a serious matter:
Ere ye come there, be sure to hear some news.

What? what?

The Tower, the Tower.


O Ned, sweet Ned! speak to thy mother, boy!
Canst thou not speak? O traitors! murderers!
They that stabb’d Caesar shed no blood at all,
Did not offend, nor were not worthy blame,
If this foul deed were by to equal it:
He was a man; this, in respect, a child:
And men ne’er spend their fury on a child.
What’s worse than murderer, that I may name it?
No, no, my heart will burst, and if I speak:
And I will speak, that so my heart may burst.
Butchers and villains! bloody cannibals!
How sweet a plant have you untimely cropp’d!
You have no children, butchers! if you had,
The thought of them would have stirr’d up remorse:
But if you ever chance to have a child,
Look in his youth to have him so cut off
As, deathmen, you have rid this sweet young prince!

Away with her; go, bear her hence perforce.

Picking Sides with Michael Allen Gillespie
Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 12:04 PM
choosing sides 300x232 Picking Sides with Michael Allen Gillespie

Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress LC-H234- A-8048.

Michael Allen Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity confounds an easy scoring of history.

I am reading Michael Allen Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity. It is one of those books where the more I read, the more embarrassed I am about what I thought I used to know.

I spend a lot of my free time trying to answer the question, “How did we get into this mess?” And by “this mess” I’m referring to culture and the trajectory of the West. I want to know who to blame for all this. I have formed mental lists of responsible parties, along with quick shorthands describing what they did, when they did it, and their contributions to the general screwup.

For many years, William of Ockham (1285-1347) and his philosophy of nominalism has been one of my prime suspects, thanks to the work of Richard Weaver. My shorthand for Ockham and Duns Scotus went like this: “They threw out Aristotle’s universals and said things are just what people call them and nothing more. Eventually, Ockham’s philosophical descendants tossed out the human soul because ‘soul’ was just another one of those universal forms.” This shorthand always served me well when I was in need of a quick answer. But no more, thanks to Gillespie.

The problem with my shorthand is that it makes William of Ockham and Duns Scotus sound like a couple of 20th-century college professors or Richard Rorty enthusiasts who traveled back in time to make a mess of things.

As Michael Allen Gillespie explains, Ockham was reacting to the Scholastics whom Ockham said had put philosophy above Scripture. Meanwhile, the Scholastics charged the Nominalists of making God the creator of evil.  I sympathize with both groups, and I’m not sure which heresy I would have gone to bat for at the time.

Regardless, it wasn’t until Francis Bacon came along in the 1500s that Nominalism started sounding anything remotely like my modern shorthand, but even Bacon wouldn’t know what to make of the world that now professes not to know the difference between a man and a woman.

I can’t help but read history identifying the good guys and the bad guys, and picking who is on my team. But it’s a vulgar mistake to mix men who worked from a common sense tradition in with moderns on both the left and the right who reject tradition outright. I like how Georges Sorel described his mission: to demolish “this superstructure of conventional lies and to destroy the prestige still accorded to the ‘metaphysics’ of the men who vulgarize the vulgarization of the eighteenth century.”

At this point in the game, we’re vulgarizing the vulgarization of the vulgarization of the eighteenth century.

(I still don’t want Ockham on my team though.)

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