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.

Friday, January 1, 2010

"Ode to Duty": Wordsworth on Law's Call

IN THIS ODE BY POET WILLIAM WORDSWORTH (1770-1850), the sentiments of a man tired of the anomie associated with individualism that rejects any claim of the universal or the common, tired of the excessive autonomy of modern man that has rejected the voice of God in his heart, prays for men to return to "duty," in fact, the natural law, the "stern daughter of the voice of God," our "light to guide," and a "rod to check the erring, and reprove."

It provides us an end, and so allows us to measure "victory," for without a bourne, without goal, there is no meaning to life, and "empty terrors overawe." We are freed from the vacuous lies, the apparent, but false, goods behind the siren calls of temptation. It brings men together in their common nature, and so reduces the "weary strife" of moral cacophony, where right is not based upon reason, but upon better access to the public media, marketing glitz, or the reigns of power. Our mores are fed by talking, if vacuous, heads; the gospel according to vacuous Brangelina hype. Pretty faces, however, do not necessarily mean good morals.

There are men of good will--those identified in the Gloria we have prayed in Christmas, Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis--who knowing not the God behind the natural law's voice, who in "love and truth" rely on the "genial sense of youth" associated with reason unguilded by grace. But with reason alone we dare not attend to the moral life. We fail, we sin, in thought, word, and deed--Confiteor Deo omnipotenti et vobis, fratres, quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo, opere, et omissióne: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa--let us therefore flee to that "dread Power" that already has his arms around us cast.

What shall we then obtain? The fruits of serenity, happiness, satisfaction, of a conscience well and hale, bound by love to that unerring light, strengthened by the "spirit of this creed" that God has a course for us, a "blissful course" that leads to the eternal life with God in the fullness of his Glory.

It is time, as St. Paul might remind us, to put aside the childish, jejune, sophomoric philosophies and epistemologies and critiques, which rent asunder the bonds that united us to God and to our neighbor. All these based upon a false love of freedom which is slavery to self, a moral implosion caused by moral self-abuse, self-fornication of "being to myself a guide." Our modern theories of right are besot with the stain of what the prophet Hosea would call fornication against God. Obedience to that voice of God,that "mandate" which calls us to a law outside our self-law, ought no more to be deferred.

What mandate? The Lord's own! Mandatum novum do vobis: ut diligatis invicem, sicut dilexi vos! A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another, as I also have loved you! It is time for a social, philosophical, and moral Maundy Thursday.

"Me this unchartered freedom tires." I am tired of abortion's plague, divorces, the acceptance of serial polygamy, and the utter demise of family life. I am tired of a tax structure that penalizes traditional families, and fails to account for the raising and education of children. I am tired of homosexual marriage, and the incessant demands of legal recognition of perversion as if by right. I am tired of pornography, both subtle and not. I am tired of contraception, of in vitro fertilization, of the abuse of embryonic stem cell research. I am tired of scandal. I am tired of torture. I am tired of war. I am tired of terrorism. I am tired of those who kill for Allah, but are really followers of the devil. I repeat: "Me this unchartered freedom tires. I feel the weight of chance desires. . . . I long for repose that ever is the same."

Whence and how does our guidance come? The "stern daughter of the voice of God," that stern law from the "stern Lawgiver." But how stern are you, O God! You are benignant, good, kind. Powerful enough indeed to hold the stars in their courses. Gentle enough to inform the delicate folds of the daffodil, the tulip, the daisy: These and all flowers beside, "laugh before thee on their beds / And fragrance in thy footing treads." Flowers laugh as they bloom, flourish, languish, even seasonally die following your law. Ought we not laugh gently with them? Nay, this is not a stern lawgiver, but a loving father, who beckons his prodigal son. Let us join our voices not only with the laughing of the flowers, but with the simple joy of Brother Francis:
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
all praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through all you have made,
and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
and through whom you give us light.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor;
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars; in the heavens you have made them,
bright, and precious, and fair.
All praise be yours, my Lord,
through Brothers wind and air, and fair and stormy,
all the weather's moods,
by which you cherish all that you have made.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten up the night.
How beautiful is he, how cheerful!
Full of power and strength.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through our Sister
Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
All praise be yours, my Lord,
through those who grant pardon for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy are those who endure in peace,
By You, Most High, they will be crowned.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your will!
The second death can do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks
And serve him with great humility.

St. Francis and his Sermon to the Birds

Let us then, in this 2010, order ourselves to fall under God's guidance, under his Eternal Law, as it is made manifest to us in the Natural Law. Let us shed our weakness, make us "lowly wise." Engender in us a "spirit of self-sacrifice." Batter our hearts O God! Turn us back from our non serviam. Would that we had never uttered the words of the devil. Let us now say thrice for every time we uttered oppositely: Serviam! serviam! serviam! I will serve, I will serve, I will serve! Except you enthrall us, Lord, we shall never be free. We place ourselves in your thrall, we want to become your slaves, so that we may be free. In the words of the Book of Common Prayer, let us know that it is to God "in whose service is perfect freedom" that we must turn. Or in the words of St. Augustine, let us know that we speak of a God that cui servire, regnare est, whom to serve is to rule.

May our prayers be those of the poet John Donne:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp'd town to'another due,

Labor to'admit you, but oh, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly'I love you, and would be lov'd fain,

But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me,'untie or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

English Poet John Donne
Relying, then, on God, let us join in unison with Wordsworth's closing stanzas:

I call thee: I myself command
Unto thy guidance from this hour;
Oh! let my weakness have an end!
Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
The confidence of reason give;
And, in the light of truth, thy Bondman let me live!

William Wordsworth

"Ode to Duty" by William Wordsworth

STERN Daughter of the Voice of God!
O Duty! if that name thou love
Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring, and reprove;
Thou, who art victory and law
When empty terrors overawe;
From vain temptations dost set free;
And clam'st the weary strife of frail humanity!

There are who ask not if thine eye
Be on them; who, in love and truth,
Where no misgiving is, rely
Upon the genial sense of youth:
Glad Hearts! without reproach or blot;
Who do thy work, and know it not:
Oh! if through confidence misplaced
They fail, thy saving arms, dread Power! around them cast.

Serene will be our days and bright,
And happy will our nature be,
When love is an unerring light,
And joy its own security.
And they a blissful course may hold
Even now, who, not unwisely bold,
Live in the spirit of this creed;
Yet seek thy firm support, according to their need.

I, loving freedom, and untried:
No sport of every random gust,
Yet being to myself a guide,
Too blindly have reposed my trust:
And oft, when in my heart was heard
Thy timely mandate, I deferred
The task, in smoother walks to stray;
But thee I now would serve more strictly, if I may.

Through no disturbance of my soul,
Or strong compunction in me wrought,
I supplicate for thy control;
But in the quietness of thought:
Me this unchartered freedom tires;
I feel the weight of chance desires:
My hopes no more must change their name,
I long for a repose that ever is the same.

Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds
And fragrance in thy footing treads
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens, through Thee, are fresh and strong.

To humbler functions, awful Power!
I call thee: I myself command
Unto thy guidance from this hour;
Oh! let my weakness have an end!
Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
The confidence of reason give;
And, in the light of truth, thy Bondman let me live!

No comments:

Post a Comment