Monday, December 24, 2012

Chesterton on Christmas

GKC’s thoughts (from The Everlasting Man) on the high Holy Day of the 'bleak midwinter when frosty wind made moan':
"Christmas for us in Christendom has become one thing, and in one sense even a simple thing. But like all the truths of that tradition, it is in another sense a very complex thing. Its unique note is the simultaneous striking of many notes; of humility, or gaiety, of gratitude, of mystical fear, but also of vigilance and drama. There is something defiant in it also; something that makes the abrupt bells at midnight sound like the great guns of a battle that has just been won. All this indescribable thing that we call the Christmas atmosphere only hangs in the air as something like a lingering fragrance or fading vapour from the exultant explosion of that one hour in the Judean hills nearly two thousand years ago. But the savour is still unmistakable, and it is something too subtle or too solitary to be covered by our use of the word peace. By the very nature of the story the rejoicings in the cavern were rejoicings in a fortress or an outlaw’s den; properly understood it is not unduly flippant to say they were rejoicings in a dug-out. It is not only true that such a subterranean chamber was a hiding-place from enemies; and that the enemies were already scouring the stony plain that lay above it like a sky. 
"There is in this buried divinity an idea of undermining the world; of shaking the towers and palaces from below; even as Herod the great king felt that earthquake under him and swayed with his swaying palace. This is perhaps the mightiest of the mysteries of the cave. Indeed the Church from its beginnings, and perhaps especially in its beginnings, was not so much a principality as a revolution against the prince of the world. It was in truth against a huge unconscious usurpation that it raised a revolt. Olympus still occupied the sky like a motionless cloud moulded into many mighty forms; philosophy still sat in the high places and even on the thrones of the kings, when Christ was born in the cave and Christianity in the catacombs."

Recently, Dale Ahlquist wrote of Chesterton’s answer to those who criticize Christmas as being artificial:
“ ‘It is natural to man to be artificial.’  Everything about art and culture and custom is technically artificial.  But it is also exactly what separates man from every other creature.  The artificial things we do are not merely practical, but elaborate.  We make not only clothes, but purple robes and golden capes.  We build not only roofs over our heads, but cathedrals and temples… And in breaking away from the mere cycles of nature, ‘the rhythm by which all the other unconscious creatures live,’ we have made a rhythm of our own, ‘with special crises and high moments of festival.’ ”

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