Monthly Archives: April 2016

What is Law?

In our post-Edenic epoch, two things seem certain regarding Law: we have a hard time defining it, and a harder time following it. Auden does a great job of capturing this seemingly futile business of Law in one of his poems, which I’ve copied below. The final, italicized stanza, inspired by Bonhoeffer’s Ethics and Augustine’s Confessions, is my own.

Law Like Love
By W. C. H. Auden

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
Tomorrow, yesterday, today.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers shrilly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.


Law, said the Master from the hill,
Was given to break your broken will,
To beckon towards a unity
That now is only found in Me.
So that your darkness yet may shine,
I here unite your will to Mine.
He there assumed my handicap,
And spread his arms to bridge the gap.




Mowgli made leader of the Bandar Log by John Charles Dollman, 1903

I have been reading Kipling’s The Jungle Book for entertainment and moral enrichment, and came across this passage about a familiar type of people:


Mowgli looked at Bagheera to see if the Panther was angry too, and Bagheera’s eyes were as hard as jade stones.

“Thou hast been with the Monkey People–the gray apes–the people without a law–the eaters of everything. That is great shame.”

“When Baloo hurt my head,” said Mowgli (he was still on his back), “I went away, and the gray apes came down from the trees and had pity on me. No one else cared.” He snuffled a little.

Note, Baloo hurt Mowgli’s head because he was not learning his lessons.

“The pity of the Monkey People!” Baloo snorted. “The stillness of the mountain stream! The cool of the summer sun! And then, man-cub?”

“And then, and then, they gave me nuts and pleasant things to eat, and they–they carried me in their arms up to the top of the trees and said I was their blood brother except that I had no tail, and should be their leader some day.”

“They have no leader,” said Bagheera. “They lie. They have always lied.”

“They were very kind and bade me come again. Why have I never been taken among the Monkey People? They stand on their feet as I do. They do not hit me with their hard paws. They play all day. Let me get up! Bad Baloo, let me up! I will play with them again.”

“Listen, man-cub,” said the Bear, and his voice rumbled like thunder on a hot night. “I have taught thee all the Law of the Jungle for all the peoples of the jungle–except the Monkey-Folk who live in the trees. They have no law. They are outcasts. They have no speech of their own, but use the stolen words which they overhear when they listen, and peep, and wait up above in the branches. Their way is not our way. They are without leaders. They have no remembrance. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten. We of the jungle have no dealings with them. We do not drink where the monkeys drink; we do not go where the monkeys go; we do not hunt where they hunt; we do not die where they die. Hast thou ever heard me speak of the Bandar-log till today?”

“No,” said Mowgli in a whisper, for the forest was very still now Baloo had finished.

“The Jungle-People put them out of their mouths and out of their minds. They are very many, evil, dirty, shameless, and they desire, if they have any fixed desire, to be noticed by the Jungle People. But we do not notice them even when they throw nuts and filth on our heads.”

A good lesson, I think.

Schaeffer on Knowing Oneself

Francis Schaeffer hit the nail on the head years ago about the gender identity confusion going on:

Because man revolted against God and tried to stand autonomous, the great alienation is in the area of man’s separation from God. When that happened, then everything else went. This autonomy is carried over into the very basic area of epistemology, of knowing, so that knowing, he is divided from himself. If there are no common categories between the internal fantasy and the external world, man is divided and feels alienated from himself. He has no universals to cover the particulars in his own life. Then he begins to scream, “Who am I?” Does that sound familiar to any of you who do Christian work today? At L’Abri we have youngsters come from the ends of the earth and say, “I have come to try to find out who I am.” It is not just some psychological thing, as we usually think of psychological. It is basically epistemological. Man’s attempted autonomy has robbed him of any certain reality. He has nothing to be sure of when his imagination soars beyond the stars if there is nothing to make a distinction between reality and fantasy. But on the basis of the Christian epistemology, this confusion is ended, the alienation is healed. This is the heart of the problem of knowing, and it is not solved until our knowledge fits under the apex of the infinite-personal, triune God who is there and who is not silent. When it does, and only when it does, there simply is no problem in the area of epistemology.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, He Is There And He Is Not Silent

What’s the Use?

In matters of liturgical revision, there’s something to be said for the ordinary thing. If you’re Anglo-Catholic, that something might just be a funny poem.

What’s The Use?
by S.J. Forrest

(transcribed by Father James Siemens, AF. Originally accessed here.)

‘Oh just the usual thing you know; the BCP all through,
Just pure and unadulterated 1662;
A minimum of wise interpolations from the Missal,
The Kyrie in Greek, the proper Collects and Epistles,
The Secret and the Canon and the Dominus Vobiscum,
(Three aves and a salve at the end would amiss come);
To the “militant” and “trudle” there is little need to cling,
But apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’


‘Oh, just the usual thing you know; we’re C of E of course,
But beautify the service from a mediaeval source,
With various processions, and in case you shouldn’t know,
There are tunicled assistants who will tell you where to go;
And should you in bewilderment liturgically falter,
Just make a little circumambulation of the altar.
The blessing, like a bishop, you majestically sing;
But apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

‘Oh, just the usual thing you know; but very up to date,
Our basis is the liturgy of 1928,
With lots of local colouring and topical appeal,
And much high-hearted happiness, to make the service real;
Our thoughts on high to sun and sky, to trees and birds and brooks,
Our altar nearly hidden in a library of books;
The Nunc Dimittis, finally “God Save The Queen” we sing;
But, apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’


‘Oh, just the usual thing you know, we trust that you’ll be able
To mingle with the reredos and stand behind the Table;
(For clergymen who celebrate and face the congregation,
Must pass a stringent glamour-test before their ordination!)
Patristic ceremonial; economy of gesture,
Though balanced by a certain superfluity of vesture;
With lots of flanking presbyters all gathered in a ring,
But, apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

“Religious liberty”, the LCMS, and the dear holy cross

Hermann Sasse offers his opinion on the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty, some sixty-sixty years before its creation:

lutherantheology.sasse_“The Lutheran Churches are sunning themselves right now under the illusion that they have something other to expect from the world than the dear holy cross, which all those have to bear who proclaim to mankind the Law of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But this illusion will soon be over. Our American brothers in the faith will also learn this in the setting of painful experience. Instead of establishing a church office in Washington, they would have done better to establish a place somewhere in the loneliness of their vast land, where prayer is offered day and night for their public authorities and for the peace of the world.”

Hermann Sasse, Ecclesia Orans,” April 1949; In Statu Confessionis II:57 (emphasis mine; HT lyletwain)

Wow. That is uncomfortably specific.

So that’s Hermann’s opinion. What is your opinion?

For my part, I tend to agree with what the Pseudepigraphus guy said four years ago, even though he seems not quite fully convinced that the vaunted “American Experiment”, as a liberal project, was doomed from the beginning. Still, I do concur with this:

Instead of a “stand up for religious liberty” day, how about a “stand up for Christian conviction even in the face of imminent martyrdom” day?

The context: Praeses Harrison had just testified before the House Committee on Religious Liberty along with a couple of Baptist pastors, a papist bishop, and a Rabbi. They were all demanding that Caesar Robespierre not violate their inalienable right to freedom of religion by forcing them to buy contraceptives for employees at their official church-run institutions. Dr. Harrison made it very clear, however, that the only contraceptives the LCMS officially opposes are abortifacients… so who knows? Perhaps the LCMS would have no qualms with an injunction demanding that churches buy condoms for their employees.

The whole thing was an eloquent and passionate stand and a great display of classical liberal rhetoric. I do not mean to sound at all slighting by putting it that way– from a classical liberal standpoint, it was admirably done. If, however, you don’t put much stock in classical liberalism– late dicta: republicanism, constitutionalism, liberal democracy, whatever America was/is, and the rest of the Enlightenment cousins– then it was mostly sad and distressing to watch.

Anyhow, that’s enough from me. What do you think about the Missouri Synod’s itch to get inside the Beltway, rub shoulders with Russell Moore, and get retweeted by enthusiastic ROFTers?

Joseph Wood Krutch: “What man knows is everywhere at war with what he wants”


From “The Genesis of a Mood,” introduction to The Modern Temper, by Joseph Wood Krutch (1929); emphases mine:

The structures which are variously known as mythology, religion, and philosophy, and which are alike in that each has as its function the interpretation of experience in terms which have human values, have collapsed under the force of successive attacks and shown themselves utterly incapable of assimilating the new stores of experience which have been dumped upon the world. With increasing completeness science maps out the pattern of nature, but the latter has no relation to the pattern of human needs and feelings.

Whole realms of human feeling, like the realm of ethics, find no place for themselves in the pattern of nature and generate needs for which no satisfaction is supplied. What man knows is everywhere at war with what he wants.

The world which his reason and his investigation reveal is a world which his emotions cannot comprehend…Casually he accepts the spiritual iconoclasm of science, and in the detachment of everyday life he learns to play with the cynical wisdom of biology and psychology, which explain away the awe of emotional experience just as earlier science explained away the awe of conventional piety

Try as he may, the two halves of his soul can hardly be made to coalesce, and he cannot either feel as his intelligence tells him that he should feel or think as his emotions would have him think, and thus he is reduced to mocking his torn and divided soul… Man qua thinker may delight in the intricacies of psychology, but man qua lover has not learned to feel in its terms; so that, though complexes and ductless glands may serve to explain the feelings of another, one’s own still demand all these symbols of the ineffable in which one has long ceased to believe.

Logged-in contributors to the Cellar Door can access a digital copy of the Modern Temper here.