Tag Archives: Touchstone

Wooed by beauty and delight.

Just this morning I reread an old post in which I was musing on the Kasses’ research on young people who don’t fall in love the way previous generations did; I switched from there to my cup of tea and print copy of the current Touchstone Magazine, where Anthony Esolen happened to be exploring a related question in “Surprised by Delight: Divine Love and the Love of Man and Woman Surpass Mere Consent.” He skillfully brings together passages from Paradise Lost, John Donne, the Bible, and other sources to flesh out what he means by the delight of both types of love, and asks also, Why did our grandparents, in spite of hard lives full of suffering, retain a memory of delight in their relationships with the opposite sex? One excerpt, from a passage quoting Milton:

The “virgin majesty of Eve” needs no political program to protect or promote her. Virtue itself, embodied in distinctly feminine form, builds in her its lovely seat of authority, and guards her round about with awe. Eve, too, will acknowledge the superior power of Adam, when she describes her submission to his wooing, saying that from that moment on, she sees “how beauty is excelled by manly grace, / And wisdom, which alone is truly fair.”

So should we stress that each sex is for the other, raising boys and girls to be both separate from one another and destined to be united with one another; to use that separate development to endow each sex with peculiar gifts for the other, which the other will experience with surprise and gratitude. Common sense. Familiarity breeds contempt, and nobody ever said, “I love her, because I find nothing surprising in her.” We are swept away not by what we possess in ourselves, but by what we could never imagine in ourselves. If boys and girls are treated indifferently, should we expect them to treat one another as specifically members of the opposite sex with anything but indifference?

I’ve been wanting for a long time to post the poem below, trying and failing to find a painting to go with it. Maybe the descriptions from Esolen’s article (the whole article appears to be available: here) are better at placing the poem in a universal context of the delight of love and beauty and thankfulness, of which we all have our own concrete and sweet examples.


When she carries food to the table and stoops down
–Doing this out of love–and lays soup with its good
Tickling smell, or fry winking from the fire
And I look up, perhaps from a book I am reading
Or other work: there is an importance of beauty
Which can’t be accounted for by there and then,
And attacks me, but not separately from the welcome
Of the food, or the grace of her arms.
When she puts a sheaf of tulips in a jug
And pours in water and presses to one side
The upright stems and leaves that you hear creak,
Or loosens them, or holds them up to show me,
So that I see the tangle of their necks and cups
With the curls of her hair, and the body they are held
Against, and the stalk of the small waist rising
And flowering in the shape of breasts;
Whether in the bringing of the flowers or of the food
She offers plenty, and is part of plenty,
And whether I see her stooping, or leaning with the flowers,
What she does is ages old, and she is not simply,
No, but lovely in that way.

-Bernard Spencer

Not mathematics, but identity.

christ-pasa-pnoi-angels“…for modern students of religion—generally speaking—monotheism involves a fundamentally mathematical thesis, ‘There is one God,’ as distinct from ‘more or fewer’ than one God; start counting gods, and when you get to one, stop counting. Consequently, all those who believe in one God must logically believe in the same God.

“This approach to monotheism is what allows our contemporaries to speak of ‘the monotheistic religions.’ Their thesis is simple: ‘Since there is only one God, all those who believe in one God believe in the same God. Their differences are those of development and/or expression.’

“This thesis is not only simple; it is simply absurd. Biblical monotheism is not about mathematics; it is about God’s identity: Who is this one God? Who he is, is the essential question.”

Read the whole (short) article here: “The Only Lord We Know: On the Confession of the One True God” by James M. Kushiner and Patrick Henry Reardon, in Touchstone Magazine.

Gleanings – The Vocabulary of Artists

Fr Patrick pantocrator domeTo convey to our imagination an abiding sense of the world’s goodness and givenness, artists require a vocabulary capable of such representation. Many of the conventional aesthetic resources of the contemporary arts are well suited to expressing anxiety, alienation, chaos and violence, but are not as capable of evoking innocence, simple purity, or quiet delight. (I’m more and more convinced that the omnipresence of relentless rhythm sections, even in love songs, is an expression of the mechanistic and brutish presuppositions of a culture convinced that all life forms are the end-result of a mindlessly competitive process of mere survival.)

–Ken Myers

“From Heavenly Harmony” in Touchstone Nov/Dec 2014

Gleanings – Logos and Intelligibility

Once or twice a week I go to the gym and walk on the treadmill for an hour or so, and I read, either The New Yorker or Touchstone magazine. Worlds apart in perspective and subject matter, those two periodicals, but both having some content of interest to me, treated in enough depth to keep my attention away from the tedious treading.

I always keep a ball-point pen next to my water bottle on the little shelf of the machine, so that even while I hang on with one hand as I hike, all out of breath, my other hand is free to stab at the page trying to make marks that will help me find my way back later. It’s always my intention to return when I am in a more contemplative mood, to the words or sentences that piqued my interest because they remind me of something else in my life and philosophy. I love how everything is connected to everything else, even when I don’t have time to figure out exactly how, or to articulate it in my own words.

In the last few years that sort of time and ability seem especially lacking, yet I keep on reading and underlining and thinking at only an introductory level about one article at a time. Then I stash that magazine in my basket by the computer and the next time I start in on a fresh one. This kind of behavior has been going on for a long time, so I have a great store of “material,” as we writers call it, with new resources constantly arriving.

I’m going to try to post more frequently and without much comment — without much real writing! —  snippets from my readings, so that I don’t completely lose the benefit of the riches I’m enjoying every week. Maybe one or another of my readers will find a topic of interest now and then, but even if you don’t, copying some excerpts will give me more satisfaction than the usual procrastinations.

touchstone cover 10-14One article I read this month was from the September/October 2014 Issue of Touchstone, an introduction to metaphysics by Graeme Hunter titled “The Light of Everyman.” Hunter starts out by writing, “The hardest things to talk about are simple ones. My topic is the simplest thing of all: reality.”

He proceeds to explain how metaphysics is important because it “sees only the realities to which all people and all cultures have equal access,” and he also explores the question of how we can know that reality is intelligible to us. Some philosophers have concluded that in fact it is not intelligible, which leads them to nihilism; and some don’t want to go all the way there, and they end up making the whole issue more complicated than it has to be, even nonsensical.

Hunter proposes a solution to the question, which is the part that I wanted to share, as he explores the line from scripture that we know in English as, “In the beginning was the Word”:

“‘En arche en ho Logos’ are the first five words of John. No translation can do them justice. The word Logos is one of the most polysemous words in the Greek dictionary. Its meanings include ‘word,’ ‘speech,’ ‘argument,’ ‘theory,’ ‘account,’ ‘blueprint,’ the laying out of things and gathering them up. But underlying its many meanings is the simple idea we have just been talking about: the idea of intelligibility.”

“The intelligibility of things cannot be proven, as we have seen [earlier in the article]. And we have also seen that the natural sciences give us no right to assume it. But what if, as John proclaims, the intelligibility of things has been revealed, not just in the form of a divine pronouncement written in a holy book, but in the form of God made man, and dwelling among us, full of grace and truth? God as Intelligibility. The Maker who knows the worldchrist extreme-humility; the Knower who makes it; making and knowing as one thing; Maker and Knower taking human form.”


The Icon of Extreme Humility seems a good one to contemplate as we are talking about the Son of God who “humbled himself, taking the form of a man…”