Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Summus Hythlodaeus

RAPHAEL HYTHLODAEUS is the protagonist in St. Thomas More's Utopia, and his discussions with More in this hard-to-place work fits in with the notion of Lyotard's notion of "differend." In Book 1 of More's Utopia, the groundwork is set for the philosophical discourse in Book 2. Book 1 is largely composed of a dialogue between Morus (the Latin name for "More") and his friend Peter Giles and a traveler named Raphael Hythlodaeus. The name Hythlodaeus is derived from Greek, from a combination of hythlos (idle talk or nonsense) and daiein (distributor). Hythlodaeus is therefore a sower of nonsense, a buffoon. Hythlodaeus' first name, Raphael, is obviously refers to the Biblical archangel, Raphael (רָפָאֵל), the meaning of which is "It is God (El) who heals." Raphael is "one of the seven, who stand before the Lord," Tobit 12:15, and he is regarded as the angelicus medicus, the healing angel. It is Raphael who, in the deuterocanonical book of Tobit, advises Tobias to catch a fish and use its liver to cure his father Tobit of his blindness.

In More's Utopia, Hythlodaeus, a man just returned from travels that took him to Utopia, and Morus and his friend Peter Giles who find themselves in Antwerp, engage in dialogue with him. Entertained by this man's experiences and knowledge of other societies and their political and economic systems and their laws, they suggest that he ought to become counselor to the king. Hythlodaeus rejects such overtures.

During this conversation two world-views confront each other: Morus and Giles represent the conventional European 16th century view, while Hythlodaeus represents the Natural Law view that prevails in the Island of Utopia. (See R.S. White, "More's Utopia," in Natural Law in English Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 109.) "The debate" between Hythlodaeus and Giles and Morus "really takes us right into the heart of the clash between Natural Law and positive law in the sixteenth century ...."

What is striking about this debate is the fact that while Giles and Morus and Hythlodaeus engage in a superficial factual dialogue, they seem unable to understand each other, much less communicate or persuade each other. True engagement is prohibited by Giles and Morus's ideology, which deafens them to Hytholodaeus, though they are entirely oblivious to their deafness. They are deaf twice over. "The real problem [Hythlodaeus] faces in his attempts to persuade 'More' [Morus], or at least enlighten him, is that 'More' and Giles are victims of this ideological blinkering, through an upbringing which immerses and infects them so thoroughly with certain values, that they take these to be truth itself and can see no further outside their constructs." (White, 114.) They are shackled by what Blake called "mind-forged manacles." (White, 115. quoting Blake's poem "London"). What is true for Morus and Giles is true for the entire citizenry:

"Now don't you suppose if I get these ideas and others like them before men strongly inclined to the contrary, they would 'turn deaf ears' to me?

'Stone deaf, indeed, there's no doubt about it, I said, 'and no wonder! To tell you the truth, I don't think you should offer advice or thrust forward ideas of this sort that you know will not be listened to. What good will it do? When your listeners are already prepossessed against you and firmly convinced of opposite opinions, what can you accomplish with your out-of-the-way notions? This academic philosophy is pleasant enough in the private conversation of close friends, but in the councils of kings, where grave matters are being authoritatively decided, there's no room for it.'

'That is just what I was saying,' Raphael replied. 'There's no place for philosophy in the councils of kings.'

'Yes, there is,' I said, 'but not for this school philosophy which supposes that every topic is suitable for every occasion.'"
"This exchange," White suggests, "brings to a crescendo the debate as an exemplification of ideological misunderstanding, the impossibility of a meeting of minds." (White, 114.) Hythlodaeus is resigned that he "cannot cure others of madness by raving himself," and recognizes that his interlocutor Morus is bound, even imprisoned, by his attachment to convention and a failure of imagination. The mental chains are so stiff that Morus cannot even hypothesize a way of life that is "antithetical to his own ingrained fiction." (White, 115.)

The Catholic Christian faces the same conundrum that Hythlodaeus faced in his dialogue with Morus and Giles. The witness of a Christian, informed by the Scriptures and the Church's Magisterium, is foreign, impractical, utopian to the modern Moruses and Gileses around us that have absorbed the secular and neo-pagan conventions of the day. The body politic is, as a whole, vehemently inclined against the Gospel. "Stone deaf"--surdissimis are the institutions of our government--our legislatures, our courts, or public media--to the principles of Christianity and the Natural Law. We speak a language, an idiom that is no longer understood. It is as if we speak in a pitch outside the range of our contemporaries' range of hearing. And their deafness is a serious impediment to reform, to real change, as it is they who are in power and they who cannot be challenged. They cannot be persuaded, they must repent. And that is no longer our work. That is the task of the Holy Spirit. Veni Sancte Spiritus ...

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