Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Dogma is the Drama: Dorothy Sayers

I've been a bit busy with classes, but I took the time tonight to share a bit of Dorothy Sayers wit.

Dorothy Sayers essay: “The Dogma is the Drama” from the book the Whimsical Christian (1979, Boston, G.K. Hall & Co.)

“Any Stigma,” said a witty tongue, “will do to beat a dogma”; and the flails of ridicule have been brandished with such energy of late on the threshing floor of controversy that the true seed of the Word has become well-nigh lost amid the whirling of chaff. Christ, in His divine innocence, said to the woman of Samaria, “Ye worship ye know not what” –being apparently under the impression that it might be desirable, on the whole, to know what one was worshiping.  He thus showed himself sadly out of touch with the twentieth-century mind, for the cry today is: “Away with the tedious complexities of dogma—let us have the simple spirit of worship: just worship, no matter of what!”The only drawback to this demand for a generalized and undirected worship is the practical difficulty of arousing any sort of enthusiasm for the worship of nothing in particular.

          It would not perhaps be altogether surprising if, in this nominally Christian country[1], where the Creeds are daily recited, there were a number of people who know all about Christian doctrine and disliked it. It is more startling to discover how many people there are who heartily dislike and despise Christianity without having the faintest notion what it is. If you tell them, they cannot believe you. I do not mean that they cannot believe the doctrine; that would be understandable enough since it takes some believing. I mean that they simply cannot believe that anything so interesting, so exciting, and so dramatic can be the orthodox creed of the Church.

          That this is really the case was made plain to me by the questions asked me, mostly by young men, about my Canterbury play, The Zeal of Thy House. The action of the play involves a dramatic presentation of a few fundamental Christian dogmas – in particular, the application to human affairs of the doctrine of the Incarnation.  That the Church believed Christ to be in any real sense God, or that the eternal word was supposed to be associated in any way with the word of creation; that Christ was held to be at the same time man in any real sense of the word; that the doctrine of the Trinity could be considered to have any relation to fact or any bearing on psychological truth; that the Church considered pride to be sinful, or indeed took notice of any sin beyond the more disreputable sins of the flesh: —all these things were looked upon as astonishing and revolutionary novelties, imported into the faith by the feverish imagination of a playwright.  I protested in vain against this flattering tribute to my powers of invention, referring my inquirers to the creeds, to the gospels, and to the offices of the Church; in insisted that if my play were dramatic it was so, not in spite of the dogma, but because of it—that, in short, the dogma was the drama. The explanation was however, not well received; it was felt that if there were anything attractive in Christian philosophy I must have put it there myself.

          Judging by what my young friends tell me, and also by what is said on the subject in anti-Christian literature written by people who ought to have taken a little trouble to find out what they are attacking before attacking it, I have come to the conclusion that a short examination paper on the Christian religion might be very generally answered as follows:

Q: What does the Church think of God the Father?
A: He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfillment; he is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometime interferes by means of arbitrary judgments and miracles, distributed with a good deal of favoritism.  He likes to be truckled to and is always ready to pounce on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the law or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary.
Q: What does the Church think of God the Son?
A: He is in some way to be identified with Jesus of Nazareth.  It was not his fault that the world was made like this, and, unlike God the Father, he is friendly to man and did his best to reconcile man to God (see atonement). He has a good deal of influence with God, and if you want anything done, it is best to apply to him.
Q: What does the Church think of God the Holy Ghost?
A: I don’t know exactly. He was never seen or heard of till Whitsunday [Pentecost]. There is a sin against him that damns you forever, but nobody knows what it is.
Q: What is the doctrine of the trinity?
A: “The Father in incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole thing incomprehensible.” Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult—nothing to do with daily life or ethics.
Q: What was Jesus Christ like in real life?
A: he was a good man—so good as to be called the Son of God.  He is to be identified in some way with God the Son (q.v.). He was meek and mild and preached a simple religion of love and pacifism. He had no sense of humor. Anything in the Bible that suggests another side to his character must be an interpolation, or a paradox invented by G.K. Chesterton. If we try to live like him, God the Father will let us off being damned hereafter and only have us tortured in this life instead.
Q: What is meant by the atonement?
A: God wanted to damn everybody, but his vindictive sadism was sated by the crucifixion of his own Son, who was quite innocent, and therefore, a particularly attractive victim.  He now only damns people who don’t follow Christ or who never heard of him.
Q: What does the Church think of sex?
A: God made it necessary to the machinery of the world, and tolerates it, provided the parties (a) are married, and (b) get no pleasure out of it.
Q: What does the Church call sin?
A: Sex (otherwise than as excepted above); getting drunk; saying “damn”; murder; and cruelty to dumb animals; not going to church; most kinds of amusement. “Original sin” means that anything we enjoy doing is wrong.
Q: What is faith?
A: Resolutely shutting your eyes to scientific fact.
Q: What is the human intellect?
A: A barrier to faith.
Q: What are the seven Christian virtues?
A: Respectability; childishness; mental timidity; dullness; sentimentality; censoriousness; and depression of spirits.
Q: Wilt thou be baptized in this faith?
A: No fear!
I cannot help feeling that as statement of Christian orthodoxy, these replies are inadequate, if not misleading. But I also cannot help feeling that they do fairly accurately represent what many people take Christian orthodoxy to be.  Whenever an average Christian is represented in a novel or a play, he is pretty sure to be shown practicing one or all of the Seven Deadly Virtues just enumerated, and I am afraid that this is the impression made by the average Christian upon the world at large.  Perhaps we are not following Christ all the way or in quite the right spirit. We are likely, for example, to be a little sparing of the palms and hosannas.  We are chary of wielding the scourge of small cords, lest we should offend somebody or interfere with trade.  We do not furnish up our wits to disentangle knotty questions about Sunday observance and tribute money, nor hasten to sit at the feet of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. We pass hastily over disquieting jest about making friends with the mammon of unrighteousness and alarming observations about bringing not peace but a sword; nor do we distinguish ourselves by the graciousness with which we sit at meat with publicans and sinners. Somehow or other, and with the best intentions, we  have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill–natured bore—and this in the name of one who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty–three years during which he passed through the world like a flame.

          Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much worse for the pious—others will pass into the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like him? We do him singularly little honor by watering down his personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.

          It is the dogma that is the drama—not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving–kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death—but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realize that here is something that a man might be glad to believe.


[1] To clarify, Dorothy Sayers is speaking of England ca: 1947.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thomson

The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson (1859-1907)
Prints by Jeff Hill

Here is Richard Burton reading this poem: You can follow along with his reading.

I fled Him, down the nights
and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine
Of my own mind; and in the mist
of tears
I his form Him, and under running

Up visaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed
From those strong Feet that followed,
followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—

“All things betray thee,
Who betrayest Me.”

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement,
curtained red,
Trellised with interwinning
(For, though I know His love
Who followed,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have
naught beside)
But, if one little casement parted
The gust of His approach would
clash it to:
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist
to pursue.
Across the margent of the world
I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways
of the stars,
Smiting for shelter of their
 clanged bars:
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports
o’ the moon.

I said to Dawn: Be sudden—
To Eve: Be soon;
With thy young skiey blossoms
heap me over
From this tremendous Lover—
Float thy vague veil about me,
Lest He see!
I tempted all His servitors, but to
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to
Their traitorous trueness, and their
 loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did
I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of
Every wind.

But whether they swept, smoothly
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot ‘thwart a
Plashy with flying lightnings round
the spurn o’ their feet:—
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist
to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following feet,
And a voice above their beat—

“Naught shelters thee,
Who wilt not shelter Me.”

I sought no more that after which
          I strayed
          In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s
          Seems something,
          Something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for

I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew
          sudden fair
          With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me
          by the hair.

“Come then, ye other children,
          Nature’s –share
With me” (said I) “your delicate
          Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,
With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured daȉs,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
          From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the
          so it was done”
I in their delicate fellowship was
Drew the bold of Nature’s secrecies.
I knew all the swift importing
On the willful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
          All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with; made them
Of mine own moods, or wailful or
With them joyed and was bereaven.

I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.

I laughed in the morning’s eyes.

I triumphed and I saddened with all
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased
          my human smart.

In vain my tears were wet
          on Heaven’s grey cheek.

For ah! we know not what each
          other says,
          These things and I;
          In sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir,
          They speak by silences.         

Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake
          my drouth;
          Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky,
          and show me
The breasts o’her tenderness:
Never did any mild of hers
          Once bless
My thirsting mouth.

Nigh and nigh
Draws the chase,
With unpeterbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
          And past those noised Feet
          A Voice comes yet more fleet—
“Lo! Naught contents thee,
          Who content’st not me.”      

Naked I wait Thy Love’s uplifted

My harness piece by piece
          Thou hast hewn from me,
          And smittenme to my knee;
          I am defenceless utterly.

          I slept, methihks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me
          Stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young
          I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me;
          Grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’the
mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead
          Beneath the heap.

My days have crackled and gone up
          in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-stars
          on a stream.
          Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the
Even the linked fantasies,
          In whose blossomy twist
I swing the earth a trinket at my
Are yielding; cords of all to weak
For earth with heavy griefs
          so overplussed.
          Ah! is Thy love indeed
A wee, albeit an amaranthine
Suffering no flowers except its own
          to mount?
Ah! must—
Designer infinite!—
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere
          Thou canst limn with it?

My freshness spent ist wavering
          shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate,
          spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my

          Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste
          the rind?

I dimly guess what Time in mists
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements
          of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle,
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets
          Slowly wash again.
          But not ere him who
          I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal,
His name I know, and what his
          trumpet saith.

Whether man’s heart or life it be
          Which yields
          Thee harvest,
          Must Thy harvest-fields
          Be dunged with rotten death?

Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me
          Like a bursting sea:
          “And is thy earth so marred,
          Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee,
          For thou fliest Me!
          Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Where fore should any set thee love
Seeing none but I makes much
          of naught”
          (He said),
“And human love needs human
          How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest

          “Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love
          thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love
          ignoble thee,
          Save Me, save only me?

All which I took from thee
          I did but take,
          Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in
          My arms,
          All with thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee
          at home:
Rise, clasp My hand,
          and come!”

Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched

“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
          I am He Whom thou sleekest!
Thou dravest love from thee,
          Who dravest Me.”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Un-leavened or Leavened: Matzo and Burnt Pizza

I’ve been thinking about “leavened” and “Unleavened” bread most of today, since a friend who is not Christian asked about a passage I jokingly passed on to him after he burned some pizza in the oven.  I related the law of the grain offering in Leviticus, as a soothing aroma to God, and then kidded him that his offering wouldn’t be accepted because of the leaven. Well his question back to me in an email was about whether matzo would be OK.

 So I began to meditate on this idea of Matzo,  or  מַצָּה Matstsah, as some would say “the bread of affliction” eaten at Passover/ Pasch, leaven, and the grain offering of Torah.

You can watch a video about matzo it here: http://www.history.com/topics/passover/videos#passover-matzo

Interesting enough, Gesenius’s Lexicon in Blue-Letter Bible.org states that the word “Matstsah” transliterates as”… what is sweet; i.e. un-fermented bread.”   The normally eaten bread from Ancient Egypt was leavened by a sour-dough starter and made from barley, or emmer wheat, which would have taken hours to cause the dense, low-gluten bread to rise at all, and which would have had a sour taste.  But from references to dipping grain or bread in vinegar, that would have been a pleasant taste at the time.

But what was difficult for me to understand is why the grain offering to God would have been un-leavened, for if Matzo was the bread of affliction, to remind the Jew’s of God’s deliverance from Egypt, why would you offer that to God?  A cut and dried “well because leaven equals sin” just wasn’t quite answering this for me.   So I went to the closest old source I could find, the Targums of the Pentateuch

This is from Leviticus 2:4-11 (or so…Targums are not numbered like our Bibles)
And when thou wilt offer the oblation of a mincha [grain offering] of that which is baked in the oven, it shall be cakes of flour, unleavened and mixed with oil, and wafers unleavened, which are anointed with oil… And if thy oblation of a mincha be from the pan, it shall be of flour mingled with oil, unleavened shall it be. He shall break it in pieces, and pour oil thereupon. It is a mincha… And if thy oblation be a mincha from the gridiron, it shall be made of flour broiled with oil... And the priest shall separate from the mincha a memorial of praise, and burn it at the altar, an oblation to be accepted with grace before the Lord...But no mincha which thou offerest to the Lord shalt thou make with leaven; for neither leaven nor honey mayest thou offer as an oblation before the Lord.

Well first leaven, now honey? So I dug around a bit more on the Internet, and I think I found the most plausible explanation from an article by Douglas Aronin, titled “A Rosh Hashana Reflection” here: http://www.jewishfederations.org/page.aspx?id=47170

Aronin writes:
The Jewish people were commanded to distinguish themselves from those nations by not offering to God those substances that pagans most frequently offered to their idols.
The distinction that the Torah is commanding us to make between Israel and the pagan nations of antiquity is not merely an aesthetic or symbolic one. Rather, that distinction goes to the heart of what distinguishes Judaism from pagan nations.  Pagans brought honey and leavened bread to their altars as part of what was essentially an effort to bribe their gods. They believed that by offering delicious food to their gods, they could earn their gratitude and thus obtain from them whatever favors they were seeking.

The Torah commands us to stay far away from that pagan attitude. Our service of God, whether by offerings when the Temple stood or by prayer today, are not bribes that will earn God's gratitude and favor. Rather, they are symbolic acts through which we deepen our understanding of our utter dependence on God and further our life's work of seeking to come closer to Him. Introducing into the divine service any element that might create confusion on that point -- that might suggest that God needs our offerings and prayers for His pleasure -- is prohibited.

Although there are analogies in the Old Testament and New Testament that equate “leaven” to sin, because we all realize that “a little leaven, leaven’s the whole lump,” when it comes to the Torah, and offerings, the idea originally seems to be another separation of the “Children of Israel” from the cultures around them; for them not to think they could bribe the Lord God. This idea tends to get lost in translation, and we forget that God does not need anything, and to never lose sight that we give offerings out of gratitude to God, not to try and influence Him.

Burnt offering pizza
So I’ll have to tell my friend that no, you cannot bribe God with a pizza burnt offering, even if made from scratch and ultra thin crust!