A Position He Later Rejected

August 4th, 2007

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici

[Of Rome’s claims to final authority in the interpretation of Scripture]

The partial Papists wou’d infer from hence

Their Church, in last resort, shou’d Judge the Sense,

But first they wou’d assume, with wondrous Art,

Themselves to be the whole, who are but part

Of that vast Frame, the Church; yet grant they were

The handers down, can they from thence infer

A right t’ interpret? or wou’d they alone

Who brought the Present, claim it for their own?

In explanation of the title, it should be noted that John Dryden declared that he had converted to Catholicism shortly after the accession of King James. I suppose that Dr. Johnson’s reasons as to the possibility of the sincerity of such a timely conversion should suffice to quiet the impatient. Dryden may, of course have replied to this argument after his conversion, but if so I have not yet come across it.

Humility and Commentaries

August 2nd, 2007

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici

[Of the role of patristic interpretations of Scripture]

That Antient Fathers thus expound the Page,

Gives Truth the reverend Majesty of Age:

Confirms its force, by biding every Test;

For best Authority’s next Rules are best.

And still the nearer to the Spring we go

More limpid, more unsoyl’d the Waters flow.

(…)

In doubtful questions ’tis the safest way

To learn what unsuspected Antients say:

For ’tis not likely we shou’d higher Soar

In search of Heav’n, than all the Church before:

…if only we were sure of what Scripture was.

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici

[Of the absurdity of infallible interpretations in the absence of an infallible textual criticism]

Strange Confidence, still to interpret true,

Yet not be sure that all they have explain’d.

Is in the blest Original contain’d.

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici

[Some proofs of the divinity of Scripture –though by no means all Dryden mentions]

Whether from length of Time its worth we draw,

The World is scarce more Antient than the Law:

Heav’ns early Care prescib’d for every Age;

First, in the Soul, and after, in the Page.

Or, whether more abstractedly we look,

Or on the Writers, or the written Book,

Whence, but from Heav’n, cou’d Men unskill’d in arts,

In several Ages born, in several parts,

Weave such agreeing Truths? or how or why

Shou’d all conspire to cheat us with a Lye?

Unask’d their Pains, ungrateful their Advice,

Starving their Gain, and Martyrdom their Price.

Two Parts of the Mind

July 14th, 2007

C.S. Lewis, “Reason” (quoted in Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis, “Barfield and/or Lewis”

Set on the soul’s acropolis the reason stands

A virgin, arm’d, commercing with celestial light,

And he who sins against her has defiled his own

Virginity; no cleansing makes his garment white;

So clear is reason. But how dark, imagining,

Warm, dark, obscure and infinite, daughter of Night:

Dark is her brow, the beauty of her eyes with sleep

Is loaded, and her pains are long and her delight.

Tempt not Athene. Wound not in her fertile pains

Demeter, not rebel against her mother-right.

Oh who will reconcile in me both maid and mother,

Who make in me a concord of the depth and height?

Who make imagination’s dim exploring touch

Ever report the same as intellectual sight?

Then could I truly say, and not deceive,

Then wholly say, that I BELIEVE.

Paltry Penitence

July 11th, 2007

First, a famous lady giving a classic example of the problem of this post’s title.

Dear Lord, if you spare this town from becoming a smoking hole in the ground, I’ll try to be a better Christian. I don’t know what I can do … umm … ooh! The next time there’s a canned food drive I’ll give the poor something they’d actually like instead of old lima beans and pumpkin mix.”

(Marge Simpson, The Simpsons, Vol 1. of The Complete Third Season, Collectors Edition, “Homer Defined” 07:51-8:10)

Second, John Dryden explaining that God will not be satisfied with your absurd offers to make up for sin.

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici

[Of the moral inadequacy of Deism in the light of man’s sin]

Dar’st thou, poor Worm, offend Infinity?

And must the Terms of Peace be given by Thee?

Then Thou art Justice in the last Appeal;

Thy easy God instructs thee to rebell:

And, like a King remote, and weak, must take

What Satisfaction Thou art pleas’d to make.

But if there be a Pow’r too Just, and strong

To wink at Crimes, and bear unpunish’d Wrong;

Look humbly upward, see his Will disclose

The Forfeit first, and then the Fine impose:

A Mulct thy Poverty could never pay

Had not Eternal Wisdom found the way:

And with Cœlestial Wealth supply’d thy Store:

His Justice makes the Fine, his Mercy quits the Score.

See God descending in thy Humane Frame;

Th’ offended, suff’ring in th’ Offenders Name:

All thy Misdeed to him imputed see;

And all his Righteousness devolv’d on thee.

For granting we have Sin’d, and that th’ offence

Of Man, is made against Omnipotence,

Some Price, that bears proportion, must be paid;

And Infinite with Infinite be weigh’d.

See then the Deist lost: Remorse for Vice,

Not paid, or paid, inadequate in price:

What farther means can Reason now direct,

Or what Relief from human Wit expect?

That shews us sick; and sadly are we sure

Still to be Sick, till Heav’n reveal the Cure:

If then Heaven’s Will must needs be understood.

(Which must, if we want Cure, and Heaven, be Good)

Let all Records of Will reveal’d be shown;

With Scripture, all in equal balance thrown,

And our one Sacred Book will be That one.

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici

[Of the moral inadequacy of paganism in the light of man’s sin]

If Sheep and Oxen cou’d attone for Men

Ah! at how cheap a rate the Rich might sin!

From John Dryden’s The Hind & the Panther

But, gracious God, how well dost thou provide

For erring judgments an unerring guide!

Thy throne is darkness in the abyss of light,

A blaze of glory that forbids the sight.

O! teach me to believe thee thus conceal’d,

And search no further than thyself reveal’d;

But Her alone for my director take,

Whom thou hast promis’d never to forsake.

My thoughtless youth was wing’d with vain desires;

My manhood long misled by wan’dring fires,

Follow’d false lights; and when their glimpse was gone

My pride struck out new sparkles of her own.

Such was I, such by nature still I am;

Be thine the glory, and be mine the shame.

Good life be now my task: my doubts are done;

What more could shock my faith than Three in One?

Oh, Gabriel

July 2nd, 2007

(What do you suppose Christina called him?  Dante is hardly an everyday name.)

Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Silent Noon from The House of Life, no.2

Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass,

The finger points look through like rosy blooms:

Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms

‘Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.

All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,

Are golden kingcup fields with silver edge,

Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn hedge.

‘Tis visible silence, still as the hour glass.

Deep in the sunsearch’d growth the dragonfly

Hangs like a blue thread loosen’d from the sky:

So this wing’d hour is dropt to us from above.

Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower,

This close companion’d inarticulate hour,

When twofold silence was the song of love.

Reason Not a Goddess

June 27th, 2007

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici

[Of the limitations of reason]

Dim, as the borrow’d beams of Moon and Stars

To lonely, weary, wandring Travellers,

Is Reason to the Soul: and as on high,

Those rowling Fires discover but the Sky

Not light us here; so Reason’s glimmering Ray

Was lent not to assure our doubtful way,

But guide us upward to a better Day.

And as those nightly Tapers disappear

When Day’s bright Lord ascend our Hemisphere

So pale grows Reason at Religions Sight:

So dyes, and so dissolves in Supernatural Light.

Some few, whose Lamp shone brighter, have been led

From Cause to Cause, to Natures secret Head;

And found that one first Principle must be:

But what, or who, that universal he;

Whether some Soul incompassing this Ball

Unmade, unmov’d; yet making, moving all;

Or various Atoms’ interfering Dance

Leapt into Form (the Noble work of Chance;)

Or this great All was from Eternity;

Not even the Stagirite himself could see;

And Epicurus Guess’d as well as He: