Saturday, 15 March 2014

All Their Wars Are Merry

Chesterton had a remarkable gift for seeing people.  I mean really seeing them, at once, without the veils of ego, stereotype, and assumption.  Such a gift gained praise from the biographers of the greats, such as Thomas Aquinas and Charles Dickens.  In the case of the former, the aneqdote goes that GK had never read Aquinas before, so he had his secretary bring him a stack of books on and by the Church doctor.  He opened the cover of the first book on the top of the stack, read for a few hours, flourished his pen, and immediately began to write what is considered the most comprehensive work on Saint Thomas Aquinas.

His gift of perception not only applied to people but to peoples.  His straightforward way of communicating his clear-sightedness has won him lots of criticism from those sensitive to the persecuted races and ethnicities.  But in my reading (which, admittedly, is not exhaustive), I've never known Chesterton to speak of a person or people without genuine affection, and never with any layer of subterfuge.  It is his innocnecne and clarity, as if he were remarking, very fondly, about the weather, that makes it alarming--almost offensive.  All the more alarming, then, when you find that what he says is true.

Chesterton was a firm advocate of the Irish cause and inspired their leaders to aspire to independence.  In these brief lines from The Ballad of the White Horse, he strikes on that peculiar Irishness that otherwise is difficult to put into words, so I really shouldn't even try.  Suffice to say that as one familiar, through intimate study and some travel, with the Gaels (and their brethren, the Welsh Celts!), Chesterton is right on the money.

I think this attitude of the Gaels offers a glimpse into the mystery of what makes them so Catholic.  It took Saint Patrick a mere forty years to preach to and convert Ireland, a feat only matched (as far as I know) by Our Lady in Mexico.  There is something very Catholic about merry wars and sad songs; the knowledge of the victory already won and the cheerful soldier, the ballads of mourning for a paradise not-quite-remembered.  If the conversion of the Irish was steady and remarkably peaceful, I think it was because there was something in the Irish that was remarkably receptive to Catholicism.

And if the Irish were already, in a profound and unnameable sense, Catholic, then perhaps it's fair to say that every Catholic is a little bit Irish.  c;

Linking up with {Amongst Lovely Things} for Weekends with Chesterton.
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