bobby1933 (bobby1933) wrote,

Murder Is Also A Sin

"....In the course of random reading a man comes across a pagan
custom that strikes him as picturesque or a Christian action that
strikes him as cruel; but he does not enlarge his mind sufficiently to
see the main truth about pagan custom or the Christian reaction against
it. Until we understand, not necessarily in detail, but in their big
bulk and proportion that pagan progress and that Christian reaction, we
cannot really understand the point of history at which St. Francis
appears or what his great popular mission was all about.

Now everybody knows, I imagine, that the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries were an awakening of the world. They were a fresh flowering of
culture and the creative arts after a long spell of much sterner and
even more sterile experience which we call the Dark Ages. They may be
called an emancipation; they were certainly an end; an end of what may
at least seem a harsher and more inhuman time. But what was it that was
ended? From what was it that men were emancipated? That is where there
is a real collision and point at issue between the different
philosophies of history. On the merely external and secular side, it has
been truly said that men awoke from a sleep; but there had been dreams
in that sleep of a mystical and sometimes of a monstrous kind. In that
rationalistic routine into which most modern historians have fallen, it
is considered enough to say that they were emancipated from mere savage
superstition and advanced towards mere civilised enlightenment. Now this
is the big blunder that stands as a stumbling-block at the very
beginning of our story. Anybody who supposes that the Dark Ages were
plain darkness and nothing else, and that the dawn of the thirteenth
century was plain daylight and nothing else, will not be able to make
head or tail of the human story of St. Francis of Assisi. The truth is
that the joy of St. Francis and his Jongleurs de Dieu was not merely an
awakening. It was something which cannot be understood without
understanding their own mystical creed. The end of the Dark Ages was not
merely the end of a sleep. It was certainly not merely the end of a
superstitious enslavement. It was the end of something belonging to a
quite definite but quite different order of ideas.

It was the end of a penance; or, if it be preferred, a purgation. It
marked the moment when a certain spiritual expiation had been finally
worked out and certain spiritual diseases had been finally expelled from
the system. They had been expelled by an era of asceticism, which was
the only thing that could have expelled them. Christianity had entered
the world to cure the world; and she cured it in the only way in which
it could be cured. Viewed merely in an external and experimental
fashion, the whole of the high civilisation of antiquity had ended in
the learning of a certain lesson; that is, in its conversion to
Christianity. But that lesson was a psychological fact as well as a
theological faith. That pagan civilization had indeed been a very high
civilisation. It would not weaken our thesis, it might even strengthen
it, to say that it was the highest that humanity ever reached. It had
discovered its still unrivalled arts of poetry and plastic
representation; it had discovered its own permanent political ideals; it
had discovered its own clear system of logic and language. But above
all, it had discovered its own mistake. That mistake was too deep to be
ideally defined; the short-hand of it is to call it the mistake of
nature-worship. It might almost as truly be called the mistake of being
natural; and it was a very natural mistake. The Greeks, the great guides
and pioneers of pagan antiquity, started out with the idea of something
splendidly obvious and direct; the idea that if a man walked straight
ahead on the high road of reason and nature, he would come to no harm;
especially if he was, as the Greek was, eminently enlightened and
intelligent. We might be so flippant as to say that man was simply to
follow his nose, so long as it was a Greek nose. And the case of the
Greeks themselves is alone enough to illustrate the strange but certain
fatality that attends upon this fallacy. No sooner did the Greeks
themselves begin to follow their own noses and their own notion of being
natural, than the queerest thing in history seems to have happened to
them. It was much too queer to be an easy matter to discuss. It may be
remarked that our more repulsive realists never give us the benefit of
their realism. Their studies of unsavoury subjects never take note of
the testimony they bear to the truths of traditional morality. But if we
had the taste for such things, we could cite thousands of such things as
part of the case for Christian morals. And an instance of this is found
in the fact that nobody has written, in this sense, a real moral history
of the Greeks. Nobody has seen the scale or the strangeness of the
story. The wisest men in the world set out to be natural; and the most
unnatural thing in the world was the very first thing they did. The
immediate effect of saluting the sun and the sunny sanity of nature was
a perversion spreading like a pestilence. The greatest and even the
purest philosophers could not apparently avoid this low sort of lunacy.
Why? It would seem simple enough for the people whose poets had
conceived Helen of Troy, whose sculptors had carved the Venus of Milo,
to remain healthy on the point. The truth is people who worship health
cannot remain healthy on the point. When Man goes straight he goes
crooked. When he follows his nose he manages somehow to put his nose out
of joint, or even to cut off his nose to spite his face; and that in
accordance with something much deeper in human nature than
nature-worshippers could ever understand. It was the discovery of that
deeper thing, humanly speaking, that constituted the conversion to
Christianity. There is a bias in a man like the bias on a bowl; and
Christianity was the discovery of how to correct the bias and therefore
hit the mark. There are many who will smile at the saying; but it is
profoundly true to say that the glad good news brought by the Gospel was
the news of original sin.

Rome rose at the expense of her Greek teachers largely because she did
not entirely consent to be taught these tricks. She had a much more
decent tradition; but she ultimately suffered from the same fallacy in
her religious tradition; which was necessarily in no small degree the
heathen tradition of nature worship. What was the matter with the whole
heathen civilisation was that there nothing for the mass of men in the
way of mysticism, except that concerned with the mystery of the nameless
forces of nature, such as sex and growth and death. In the Roman Empire
also, long before the end, we find nature-worship inevitably producing
things that are against nature. Cases like that of Nero have passed into
a proverb when Sadism sat on a throne brazen in the broad daylight. But
the truth I mean is something much more subtle and universal than a
conventional catalogue of atrocities. What had happened to the human
imagination, as a whole, was that the whole world was coloured by
dangerous and rapidly deteriorating passions; by natural passions
becoming unnatural passions. Thus the effect of treating sex as only one
innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing
became soaked and sodden with sex. For sex cannot be admitted to a mere
equality among elementary emotions or experiences like eating and
sleeping. The moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant.
There is something dangerous and disproportionate in its place in human
nature, for whatever reason; and it does really need a special
purification and dedication. The modern talk about sex being free like
any other sense, about the body being beautiful like any tree or flower,
is either a description of the Garden of Eden or a piece of thoroughly
bad psychology, of which the world grew weary two thousand years ago.

This is not to be confused with mere self-righteous sensationalism about
the wickedness of the pagan world. It was not so much that the pagan
world was wicked as that it was good enough to realise that its paganism
was becoming wicked, or rather it was on the logical high road to
wickedness. I mean that there was no future for "natural magic"; to
deepen it was only to darken it into black magic. There was no future
for it; because in the past it had only been innocent because it was
young. We might say it had only been innocent because it was shallow.
Pagans were wiser that paganism; that is why the pagans became
Christians. Thousands of them had philosophy and family virtues and
military honour to hold them up; but by this time the purely popular
thing called religion was certainly dragging them down. When this
reaction against the evil is allowed for, it is true to repeat that it
was an evil that was everywhere. In another and more literal sense its
name was Pan.

It was no metaphor to say that these people needed a new heaven and a
new earth; for they had really defiled their own earth and even their
own heaven. How could their case be met by looking at the sky, when
erotic legends were scrawled in stars across it; how could they learn
anything from the love of birds and flowers after the sort of love
stories that were told of them? It is impossible here to multiply
evidences, and one small example may stand for the rest. We know what
sort of sentimental associations are called up to us by the phrase "a
garden"; and how we think mostly of the memory of melancholy and
innocent romances, or quite as often of some gracious maiden lady or
kindly old person pottering under a yew hedge, perhaps in sight of a
village spire. Then, let anyone who knows a little Latin poetry recall
suddenly what would have once stood in place of the sun-dial or the
fountain, obscene and monstrous in the sun; and of what sort was the god
of their gardens.

Nothing could purge this obsession but a religion that was literally
unearthly. It was no good telling such people to have a natural religion
full of stars and flowers; there was not a flower or even a star that
had not been stained. They had to go into the desert where they could
find no flowers or even into the cavern where they could see no stars.
Into that desert and that cavern the highest human intellect entered for
some four centuries; and it was the very wisest thing it could do.
Nothing but the stark supernatural stood up for its salvation; if God
could not save it, certainly the gods could not. The early Church called
the gods of paganism devils; and the Early Church was perfectly right.
Whatever natural religion may have had to do with their beginnings,
nothing but fiends now inhabited those hollow shrines. Pan was nothing
but panic. Venus was nothing but venereal vice. I do not mean for a
moment, of course, that all the individual pagans were of this character
even to the end; but it was as individuals that they differed from it.
Nothing distinguishes paganism from Christianity so clearly as the fact
that the individual thing called philosophy had little or nothing to do
with the social thing called religion. Anyhow it was no good to preach
natural religion to people to whom nature had grown as unnatural as any
religion. They knew much better than we do what was the matter with them
and what sort of demons at once tempted and tormented them; and they
wrote across that great space of history the text; "This sort goeth not
out but by prayer and fasting."

Now the historical importance of St. Francis and the transition from the
twelfth to the thirteenth centuries, lies in the fact that they marked
the end of this expiation. Men at the close of the dark Ages may have
been rude and unlettered and unlearned in everything but wars with
heathen tribes, more barbarous than themselves, but they were clean.
They were like children; the first beginnings of their rude arts have
all the clean pleasure of children. We have to conceive them in Europe
as a whole living under little local governments, feudal in so far as
they were a survival of fierce wars with the barbarians, often monastic
and carrying a far more friendly and fatherly character, still faintly
imperial as far as Rome still ruled as a great legend. But in Italy
something had survived more typical of the finer spirit of antiquity;
the republic, Italy, was dotted with little states, largely democratic
in their ideals, and often filled with real citizens. But the city no
longer lay open as under the Roman peace, but was pent in high walls for
defence against feudal war and all the citizens had to be soldiers. One
of these stood in a steep and striking position on the wooded hills of
Umbria; and its name was Assisi. Out of its deep gate under its high
turrets was to come the message that was the gospel of the hour, "Your
warfare is accomplished, your iniquity is pardoned." But it was out of
all these fragmentary things of feudalism and freedom and remains of
Roman Law that there were to rise, at the beginning of the thirteenth
century, vast and almost universal, the mighty civilisation of the
Middle Ages.

It is an exaggeration to attribute it entirely to the inspiration of any
one man, even the most original genius of the thirteenth century. Its
elementary ethics of fraternity and fair play had never been entirely
extinct and Christendom had never been anything less than Christian. The
great truisms about justice and pity can be found in the rudest monastic
records of the barbaric transition or the stiffest maxims of the
Byzantine decline. And early in the eleventh and twelfth centuries a
larger moral movement had clearly begun, but what may fairly be said of
it is this, that over all those first movements there was still
something of that ancient austerity that came from the long penitentiary
period. It was the twilight of the morning; but it was still a grey
twilight. This may be illustrated by the mere mention of two or three of
these reforms before the Franciscan reform. The monastic institution
itself, of course, was far older than all these things; indeed it was
undoubtedly almost as old as Christianity. Its counsels of perfection
had always taken the form of vows of chastity and poverty and obedience.
With these unworldly aims it had long ago civilised a great part of the
world. The monks had taught people to plough and sow as well as to read
and write; indeed they had taught the people nearly everything the
people knew. But it may truly be said that the monks were severely
practical, in the sense that they not only practical but also severe;
though they were generally severe with themselves and practical for
other people. All this early monastic movement had long ago settled down
and doubtless often deteriorated; but when we come to the first medieval
movements this sterner character is still apparent. Three examples may
be taken to illustrate the point.

First, the ancient social mould of slavery was already beginning to
melt. Not only was the slave turning into a serf, who was practically
free as regards his own farm and family life, but many lords were
freeing slaves and serfs altogether. This was done under the pressure of
the priests; but especially it was done in the spirit of a penance. In
one sense, of course, any Catholic society must have an atmosphere of
penance; but I am speaking of that sterner spirit of penance which had
expiated the excesses of paganism. There was about such restitutions the
atmosphere of the death-bed; as many of them were doubtless were
examples of death-bed repentance. A very honest atheist with whom I once
debated made use of the expression, "Men have only been kept in slavery
by the fear of hell." As I pointed out to him, if he had said that men
had only been freed from slavery by the fear of hell, he would have at
least have been referring to an unquestionable historical fact.

Another example was the sweeping reform of Church discipline by Pope
Gregory the Seventh. It really was a reform, undertaken from the highest
motives and having the healthiest results; it conducted a searching
inquisition against simony or the financial corruption of the clergy; it
insisted on a more serious and self-sacrificing ideal for the life of
the parish priest. But the very fact that this largely took the form of
making universal the obligation of celibacy will strike the note of
something which, however noble, would seem to many to be vaguely
negative. The third example is in one sense the strongest of all. For
the third example was a war; a heroic war and for many of us a holy war;
but still having all the stark and terrible responsibilities of war.
There is no space here to say all that should be said about the true
nature of the Crusades. Everybody knows that in the very darkest hour of
the Dark Ages a sort of heresy had sprung up in Arabia and become a new
religion of a military but nomadic sort; invoking the name of Mahomet.
Intrinsically it had a character found in many heresies from the Moslem
to the Monist. It seemed to the heretic a sane simplification of
religion; while it seems to a Catholic an insane simplification of
religion, because it simplifies all to a single idea and so loses the
breadth and balance of Catholicism. Anyhow its objective character was
that of a military danger to Christendom and Christendom had struck at
the very heart of it, in seeking to reconquer the Holy Places. The great
Duke Godfrey and the first Christians who stormed Jerusalem were heroes
if there were any in the world; but they were the heroes of a tragedy.

Now I have taken these two or three examples of the earlier medieval
movements in order to note about them one general character, which
refers back to the penance that followed paganism. There is something in
all these movements that is bracing even while it is still bleak, like a
wind blowing between the clefts of the mountains. That wind, austere and
pure, of which the poet speaks, is really the spirit of the time, for it
is the wind of a world that has at last been purified. To anyone who can
appreciate atmospheres there is something clear and clean about the
atmosphere of this crude and often harsh society. Its very lusts are
clean; for they no have longer any smell of perversion. Its very
cruelties are clean; they are not the luxurious cruelties of the
amphitheatre. They come either of a very simple horror at blasphemy or a
very simple fury at an insult. Gradually against this grey background
beauty begins to appear, as something really fresh and delicate and
above all surprising. Love returning is no longer what was once called
platonic but what is still called chivalric love. The flowers and stars
are have recovered their first innocence. Fire and water are felt to be
worthy to be the brother and sister of a saint. The purge of paganism is
complete at last.

For water itself has been washed. Fire itself has been purified as by
fire. Water is no longer the water into which slaves were flung to feed
the fishes. Fire is no longer that fire through which children were
passed to Moloch. Flowers smell no more of the forgotten garlands
gathered in the garden of Priapus; stars stand no more as signs of the
far frigidity of gods as cold as those cold fires. They are like all new
things newly made and awaiting new names, from one who shall come to
name them. Neither the universe nor the earth have now any longer the
old sinister significance of the world. They await a new reconciliation
with man, but they are already capable of being reconciled. Man has
stripped from his soul the last rag of nature worship, and can return to

While it was yet twilight a figure appeared silently and suddenly on a
little hill above the city, dark against the fading darkness. For it was
the end of a long and stern night, a night of vigil, not unvisited by
stars. He stood with his hands lifted, as in so many statues and
pictures, and about him was a burst of birds singing; and behind him was
the break of day." --  G. K  Chesterton, St Francis of Assisi. Chapter 2.


My reading of the above paragraphs is that pagans had too much interest in sex and were too shameless  about it.  The genocide of the Cathars was not justified, but was understandable if not excusable because, among  other things, the  heretic Cathars had "unChristian" attitudes about sex; true, they followed the sermon on the mount more closely than Catholics did,  but that did not matter.  They were heretics and perverse..

Chesterton puverizes the ground the sexual bush before he overcomes his shame to speak of  it directly.  But  he finally does.  Pagan sex was perverted and asceticism ( plus more than a little violene) was required to purge Europe of it.

I should not have been shocked by Chesterton, for i remember that Meister Eckhart had had to  remind his  congregants that "murder was also a mortal sin (i.e. not only adultery and other sexual offenses)"  I had also read Georg Sorel, another 19th century intellectual (though he wrote in the early 2oth)  His essay On Violenc\, defends the use of violence against the state and against one's enemies.  Though not a Christian, he greatly admired the early Christians for their willingness to die and kill for their faith.  Also, a man is cowardly who will not kill someone for being homosexual.

The message of the Catholic convert and the civil servant convert to anarchism is the same.  Sex is bad, violence, not so much.

Christianity, particularly Roman Catholic Christianity, has given the world  almost the most restrictive sexual ethic ever known.  I say almost because there may yet be some as yet "undiscovered" primitive society that is as shame based as we are.

(Are or were).  Chesterton's comment about pagan culture (i.e. the worship of health is unhealthy) may be coming  true for  us.  The worship of sexual purity is turning against itself toward the sickest forms of pornography.

I mention all this because i have always wondered why i disliked Chesterton despite the fact that so many people that i respect, respet him.  He says the Romans were more decent than the Greeks?  What?!?!!??  Then i remember how  much conservatives,, fascists, militarists, etc. admire the Romans.  And i think of the people who worry more about unrestrained sexual activity than about unrestrained violence.  They seem strange "bedfellows" (pardon me) but it may be important to see what else they might have in common.  That contraceptives and homosexuality would be issues in an election should seem unbelievable.

For my money, St. Francis of Assisi and Pope Innocent III had nothing in common and i worry about those  who think they did.
Tags: franciscans, gnosis and agnosis, meister eckhart, rant, sex
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