Forgot earlier this month to link to my article for the Davenant Institute’s Ad Fontes journal, ‘Whose Classical Education? Which Canon War?’ I contend for a cultural specificity in classical education, to bring out in each tradition the truths about the one God of all. Check it out.
‘Can it be good, from the age of 10 to the age of 23, to be always preparing for an exam, and always knowing that your whole worldly future depends on it: and not only knowing it, but perpetually reminded of it by your parents and masters [i.e., teachers]? Is this the way to breed a nation of people in psychological, moral, and spiritual health?’ – C. S. Lewis, letter to Warfield M. Firor, 3 December 1950
This is where I dissent from the typical East Asian expectation of high-stakes testing for students from late primary school to the end of university, or sometimes even beyond. Undoubtedly it yielded some kinds of results in China, but those fruits have not always been good. It was not the way of Confucius, and it has, over a millennium, instead made the Chinese ready to subject themselves to the lives of bugmen, entombed alive, slaves to dead machines and not to the living Christ. In comparison, the tangping 躺平 (‘lying flat’) movement, in which people check out of the rat race and do only the bare minimum they are required to do, problematic as this movement may be, is actually a sensible response to the insanity of the current system.
One reason, I believe, that 18th-century England’s neglect of the Holy Communion service’s Ornaments Rubric ought not to be interpreted as a norm for Anglican practice today, a reason implied by Charles J. Abbey and John H. Overton in The English Church in the Eighteenth Century:
There were some special reasons for disquietude in those who feared to diverge a hand-breadth from the established rule. Although since the Restoration, the Church of England was undoubtedly popular, and had acquired, out of the very troubles through which she had passed, a venerable and well-tried aspect, there was, in the earlier part of the eighteenth century, a wide-spread feeling of instability both in ecclesiastical and political matters, to an extent no longer easy to be realised. No one felt sure what Romish and Jacobite machinations might not yet effect. For if the Stuarts remounted the throne, Rome might yet recover ascendancy. The Protestantism of the country was not yet absolutely secure. And therefore many Churchmen who, if they consulted their feelings only, would have been thoroughly in accord with the Laudean divines in their love of a more ornate ritual, were content to stand fast by such simple ceremonies as were everywhere acknowledged to be the rule. However much they might have a right to claim as their legitimate due usages which their rubrics seemed to authorise, and which were scarcely unfrequent even in the days of Heylyn and Cosin, they were not disposed to insist upon what would in their day be considered as innovations in the direction of Rome. Better to widen that breach rather than in any way to lessen it.
Abbey and Overton later note that high churchmen of the time were fully aware that the Ornaments Rubric was still legally valid, despite its disuse in practice:
John Johnson, writing in 1709, said he was by no means single in his belief that this order was still legally enjoined. Archbishop Sharp appears to have been of the same opinion, and used to say that he preferred the Communion office as it was in King Edward’s Book. Nicholls, in his edition (1710) of Bishop Cosin’s annotated Prayer-book, insisted upon the continuous legality of the vestments prescribed in the old rubric, which was ‘the existing law’, he said, ‘still in force at this day’. Bishop Gibson, the learned author of the ‘Codex Juris Ecclesiastici’ (1711), although he marked the rubric as practically obsolete, steadily maintained that legally the ornaments of ministers in performing Divine Service were the same as they had been in the earlier Liturgy.
I also note, in passing, that some Anglicans today seem to be in the same fear of a takeover by Rome as Englishmen were in the 18th century, when there existed an actual geopolitical threat of a return of popery under the auspices of the ousted Stuart dynasty. It ought to be obvious today that the chief antichrist in the Church today is not the Bishop of Rome, execrable as his doctrines and policies may be. St Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome in his own time, was right to say that anyone claiming to be universal bishop (as the office of the papacy does today) breathed the spirit of Antichrist. Nevertheless, if we constantly turn our eyes to a Romish threat abroad, which we then imagine to be in our own churches, we blind ourselves to the threat actually within our doors. The poison is in Rome, but also in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and in many of our own Anglican churches.
at The North American Anglican, ‘Ash Wednesday and the Day of Atonement’, reading Ash Wednesday and the Anglican service of Commination through the lens of the ancient Israelite observance called the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
May the Lord bless you with faith and lead your heart to repentance as we enter the fasting of Lent to reflect on our need for the Saviour who came to be crucified for our sins and on the third day was raised for our justification.
Alain de Benoist says in his essay ‘L’Idée d’Empire’ (English translation at Gornahoor) that empire has a spiritual aspect to its authority, distinct from territorial definition. In consequence, in his judgement, ‘the decline of the empire throughout the centuries is consistent with the decline of the central role played by its principle and, correspondingly, with its movement toward a purely territorial definition’.
In the civilizational ‘great space’ that in English we call China, the anti-Qing movement of Sun Yat-sen was at first a Han ethnic-national movement against Manchu rule; upon the Qing empire’s collapse, however, it became clear to Sun and the rest of the movement that Han ethnonationalism could not hold the territory of the former Qing empire (1644–1912), nor even hold together the various Han peoples inhabiting mostly the territories that had made up the Ming empire (1368–1644). As soon as the anti-Qing revolution had succeeded in destroying Qing rule, it found that classical nationalism was a nonstarter in its own cultural and political context: it could not be the foundation of a Chinese state.
It is tempting, especially from a Chinese ethnocentric perspective, to speak of the former Ming territories as the core of the Qing empire, but even this is a mistake. As de Benoist says of the Holy Roman Empire, ‘L’empire romain germanique ne répond déjà plus à sa vocation quand on tente, en Italie comme en Allemagne, de le lier à un territoire privilégié.’ That is, the Germanic Roman empire no longer answered to its imperial vocation when it tried, as well in Italy as in Germany, to link it to a privileged territory. This idea, de Benoist invites us to note, ‘is still absent in the thought of Dante, for whom the emperor is neither Germanic nor Italic, but “Roman” in the spiritual sense, that is to say, a successor of Cæsar and Augustus’. De Benoist explains about the logic of empire,
L’empire au sens vrai ne peut se transformer sans déchoir en « grande nation », pour la simple raison que, selon le principe qui l’anime, aucune nation ne peut assumer et exercer une fonction supérieure si elle ne s’élève pas aussi au-dessus de ses allégeances et de ses intérêts particuliers. « L’empire, au sens vrai, conclut Evola, ne peut exister que s’il est animé par une ferveur spirituelle […] Si cela fait défaut, on n’aura jamais qu’une création forgée par la violence – l’impérialisme –, simple superstructure mécanique et sans âme ».
In other words, the empire cannot transform itself into a ‘great nation’ without collapsing because, in terms of the principle which animates it, no nation can assume and exercise a superior ruling function if it does not rise above its allegiances and its particular interests. ‘The empire in the true sense’, Evola concludes, ‘can only exist it animated by a spiritual fervor […] If this is lacking, one will only have a creation forged by violence – imperialism – a simple mechanical superstructure without a soul.’
The Qing empire was neither a Han régime nor a Manchu régime, but a unity above both. The most important official documents of the empire were produced in three languages: ‘the Qing language’ (Manchu), Chinese, and Mongolian. In the Forbidden City, the names of buildings were written out in both Manchu and Chinese, and sometimes Mongolian. Within the former Ming lands, Qing ruled in a ‘Chinese’ way, with substantially the same system of provincial governors and mandarins as the Ming empire it had succeeded; in Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet, and Turkestan, with military governors and vassal rulers.
This is also why, though generally supportive of nationalists in the West in opposition to the common enemy of globalism, I sit lightly on the label for myself. Nation-states are not the only way, and in the case of China with its imperial history – remaining an empire even today, though defectively – I expect the nation-state model will never work.
While I’m not going to be any civilization’s next Horace or Vergil, it’s important to me that every generation write new poems and not just read the greats of times past. As German composer Gustav Mahler said, ‘Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.’ For Christians, to honour the saints in ritual and in words is nothing unless we imitate and strive to surpass their deeds by the Holy Spirit we share with them; likewise, to pay homage to long-dead poets by reading them, even with our tongues and voices and not just with our eyes, is merely looking at something past unless we partake of the same human spirit that drove them to create after the works of God. We live in a world made very grey, full of drab and androgynous fashions; the least we can do, I feel, is to find anew the beauty of the world God has made, over which he intends for us to rule wisely as his vicegerents.
Open the pages of the Atlantic, and what you find is boring drivel, more concerned with ideological conformity and a thousand contrived ‘identities’ than with spirit and skillful wordsmithing that stirs the hearts of ordinary people. Elsewhere, in Asia, I have seen a line that says, ‘We are in a deadlocked situation.’ That is not the poetry my heart, and my ear, longs to hear. I think you too are looking for something else. Perhaps your heart is listening for what Arthur Powell, editor of Atop the Cliffs and judge of the current Passage Prize, is listening for: truly good and worthy poetry. If so, I hope you will find my poems to be real contributions, moving your heart and adding something real to the tradition.
Arthur Powell is working to make good new poetry to happen, at Atop the Cliffs and elsewhere, and I want to be part of it. Check it out, and see if you want to help by sharing poems and buying a good book of them. And if the poetry bug has bit you, maybe write some, too.
Gunpowder for ever changed the social relations of Europe over the course of six centuries by gradually rendering irrelevant the traditional reciprocal obligation between knights and peasants, and the natural moral basis for the rule of the knightly aristocracy; with the First World War came the death knell of the warrior aristocracy. We cannot intelligibly return to the particular arrangements of the old system, but on the other hand no adæquate replacement has yet been found.
The process began earlier in China, during the early Song dynasty, when the replacement of the traditional aristocracy with an exam-selected bureaucracy happened to align with the loss of Tang dynasty horse-rearing lands and the replacement of cavalry tactics with massed crossbows and eventually gunpowder arms. The reduction of the warrior aristocracy’s political power was intended to avoid repeating the fall of the Tang dynasty by denying generals the use of local power bases, but it reoriented even the education system. The massive use of an examination system to populate the imperial civil service, replacing the traditional aristocratic recommendation system, oriented Confucian classical education toward success in examinations. For the last thousand years, therefore, to meet the needs of the imperial bureaucracy, Chinese classical education has increasingly stressed memorization and model answers over the dialogue seen in the Analects and the Mencius, despite some countervailing tendencies in the Qing dynasty’s (1644–1912) bannerman military aristocracy. In a process parallel to that experienced by Europe, then, one may see in China a sea change in social structure over the course of the last thousand years.
What kind of system is to replace, by translation for new material conditions, the system that upheld traditional ideals and cultivated virtue in the age before gunpowder?
It would be interesting to see the Arabic muwashshaḥ strophic form used in the context of Hong Kong to write songs in classical Chinese with a kharja (‘exit’) in either colloquial Cantonese or English (or both).
The great mediæval schoolman Peter Lombard, in Distinction 18.6 in his Sentences, may surprise papists with his understanding of the priest’s power to bind and loose. He says,
But he [i.e., God] did not grant this power [i.e., of remitting sin] to priests although he did grant them the power of binding and loosing, that is, of showing that men are bound or loosed – wherefore the Lord himself first restored the leper to health, and then sent him to the priests, by whose decision he was shown to be cleansed; so also after Lazarus was brought to life he gave him to the disciples to be loosed – because even if anyone is loosed by God, he is not on that account held to be loosed in the sight of the Church, except through the judgment of the priest. Therefore in loosing or retaining guilt, the priest of the Gospel so works and judges as the priest of the law in times past for those who were contaminated with leprosy, which signifies sin. Wherefore Jerome in his commentary on Matthew, where the Lord says to Peter: ‘I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound also in heaven and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven’: ‘Some persons who do not understand this passage’, he says, ‘assume something of the superciliousness of the Pharisees, so that they think they are to condemn the harmless and loose the harmful, when it is not the opinion of the priests, but the life of the doers, which is regarded by God. In Leviticus the lepers are commanded to show themselves to the priests, not that they make them lepers or clean, but that they distinguish who are clean or unclean; so also here.’ – It is here clearly shown that God does not always follow the judgment of the Church which judges sometimes dishonestly and ignorantly; but God always judges according to truth. And in remitting or retaining sins the priests of the Gospel have the power and office, which formerly the priests of the Law had under the Law in curing lepers. They therefore remit or retain sins, in so far as they judge and declare them to be remitted or retained by God. For the priests invoke ‘the name of the Lord on the sons of Israel, but he himself blesses,’ as we read in Numbers. This way of binding and loosing Jerome indicated above.
According to Lombard, then, the priest does have power from God to judge and speak for the Church on whether someone is bound or loosed; yet we must distinguish this judgement from that of God himself, who always judges according to truth and does not always agree with the Church.
John Calvin says in his Antidote to the Council of Trent 1.5,
We assert that the whole guilt of sin is taken away in baptism, so that the remains of sin still existing are not imputed. That this may be more clear, let my readers call to mind that there is a twofold grace in baptism, for therein both remission of sins and regeneration are offered to us. We teach that full remission is made, but that regeneration is only begun and goes on making progress during the whole of life.
Read Psalm 8 carefully, considering how God has ordained strength out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, God who has been mindful of frail man and visited the son of man and crowned him with glory and honour. And then look at this image and think about the psalm again:
To start off Advent a fortnight early like an old Hispanic of the Mozarabic Rite, I give you Peter Lombard, 12c. mediaeval schoolman and Bishop of Paris, the Master of the Sentences (as Aquinas calls him), on the self-offering of Christ:
Christ is the priest, as he is also the victim and the price of our reconciliation. He offered himself on the altar of the cross not to the devil, but to the triune God, and he did so for all with regard to the sufficiency of the price, but only for the elect with regard to its efficacy, because he brought about salvation only for the predestined.
This teaching, under the formula ‘sufficient for all, efficient for the elect’, became the standard teaching of the Occidental churches, and was maintained by English Reformed divine John Davenant at the Synod of Dort. Today, we can remember that we are able to offer salvation to all, upon condition of faith, because Jesus himself did so in offering himself to God for all, and saw to it that his elect would actually believe and be saved. And what God has offered, we are permitted to offer: God died for you, and therefore you can be saved.
Talking with a friend today, I recognized something consciously that had been only intuitive in feeling before: part of the appeal of Virginia to me, part of the reason I could identify with Virginia despite my much looser relation to America, was its familiarity to my Chinese blood. The aristocratic and localist agrarian culture of the Old Dominion bears a certain resemblance – even a ‘family resemblance’ – to the agrarian culture you can see in, say, a 1980 Hong Kong drama set in the countryside of Guangdong province.
Obvious differences between Anglo-Saxon and Chinese cultures notwithstanding, the culture of the Old Dominion is perhaps the most Chinese culture native to America. Common to rural Guangdong and the Old Dominion was a conservative power of local agrarian élites, and a respect for settled custom. Church vestries, dominated by plantation laymen, were socially powerful in colonial Virginia, and they wanted to keep it that way rather than having local bishops sent from England to interfere in local affairs. This would have been very familiar to a Chinese villager from Guangdong province. In rural Guangdong, villages had elders who led and advised villagers, but the local Confucian gentry dominated village politics. Rarely would anything change without the permission of the local landlord, and rarely would an actual official from the emperor show up. To have anything referred to the actual officials was a big deal, and villagers generally avoided such trouble even if the judgements of the landlord were not to their liking. Besides, the bribery that might be required for fair judgements from county magistrates was beyond the means of most common folk. Unsurprisingly, much about old Virginia was something my heart grasped, because of the place my own family had come from, the place where my family had lived for 700 years or more.
Needless to say, old China was a deeply flawed society, in need of reform and perhaps even social revolution in the early 20th century; in view of some of the injustices in this system’s last decadent period, it also is unsurprising that villagers during the Cultural Revolution rose up against long-resented landlords. Nevertheless, to an urban Hong Kong audience in the 1980s there could also be a measure of nostalgia for this old China in which everyone knew each other, and there was a known order. For all its flaws, it was also a deeply human order in which the drama of human struggle could be appreciated on the TV screens of Hongkongers 70 years later.
I believe that sympathetic appreciation of this old order, warts and all, is essential for the formation of America’s future, but that very thing is what America lacks today. The success in 1980s Hong Kong of a daily TV drama series told from the point of view of a peasant family, with sympathetic treatments of the landlord, the village gossip, and other characters, suggests the value of such literature even in a modern urban society. Dixie has had William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and others, but there seems to be a vacuum today. Virginia needs new prominent literary voices to show its human drama in a way that people today can understand and relate to, voices that love the South for what it is and sing out the dramas of the Virginian heart.