Page 14, 6th June 2003

6th June 2003
Page 14
Page 14, 6th June 2003 — Traditions that keep us in touch with sacred truth

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People: Albert Camus, God


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Traditions that keep us in touch with sacred truth

so Wimbledon players are no longer to bow or curtsy to the Royal Box, unless the Queen or the Prince of Wales are attending. A minor matter no doubt, but traditions are symbolic: the ceremony of Black Rod reminds us of the separation between Monarch and Commons; U recalls the attempt by Charles I in 1642 to enter the Commons in order to arrest some members. I thought of this the other Sunday; we had the first Eucharistic Prayer and the celebrant included the, optional, bishops and martyrs dating back to the earliest centuries of the Church. It is important to remind ourselves, and others, that we have been going for two millennia, in an unbroken succession to the Apostles and Christ. This is in fact one of the four essential marks of the Church; it is a fundamental distinction.

I mused further. Why has the beautiful Lavabo shrivelled to a miserable, apologetic, parenthesis from being a sign of the sacrificing priest praying for the worthiness to do his sacred duty? On balance I approve of the vernacular at the ordinary parish Mass, but even in the Latin rite we retained the Kyrie which reminded us that Greek was a lingua franca of the Church. I would like to see it restored, together with one Latin prayer (perhaps the Agnus Del). Even a young child can be taught the meaning in five minutes.

Not all traditions are good: it was right to remove the prayer for the "perfidious Jews" from the Good Friday service, for instance. But I deplore the undiscriminating tendency to exorcise traditions in order to make us "relevant". It makes us dull, pedestrian, monochrome. And. far from attracting the young, it does the opposite. The young are all too ready to construct their ceremonies and mysteries to take the place of our grey offering. They know, by instinct, that these are elements in credible religion. Traditions are the symbols of the sacred, pointing beyond themselves to truths we cannot easily express.

T 4 he madman is not the man

who has lost his reason. The

madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason." wrote Chesterton in Orthodoxy. It is the key to Albert Camus' play Caligula, which has recently been running at the Donmar Warehouse. Of all the Existentialists, so fashionable in my youth, Camus seemed the most accessible. Instead of dense philosophy he communicated his ideas through art. I was never truly a disciple but 1 thought it intellectually sophisticated to be seen as one. Yet the movement left a footprint in my psyche. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that a man has only two choices: either to accept, and learn to live with, the total pointlessness of the human condition, or to accept a creating and infinite God as revealed to us by his son.

Camus' Caligula is Chesterton's kind of madman. He follows the unremitting logic which flows from the absence of meaning. He can live with the void, for a time at least, by seeking the freedom of unrestrained power; he is arbitrarily cruel, vicious and murderous because he has the power to be, and because he chooses to be.

His courtiers cannot dissuade him, for they have no alternative to offer. The most intelligent of them realises that the bourgeois virtues and aspirations are only illusions, preserved for comfort,s sake.

But deep within Caligula lies a vein of the spirit. He seeks to own the Moon, to make the impossible possible. And when he realises he cannot get his wish he invites his own assassination. Yet, though dead, he still lives on, and always will. The Cross is the only palisade which holds any of us back from the abyss. And the one truly meaningful spark we can strike is the act, however ordinary and pedestrian, which is motivated by divine charity. That act alone has one foot in time and one foot in eternity.

ou have been spared my maxims for too long.

To encounter another person requires an act of faith; all we can demonstrate are the mechanical messages of our five senses. We make such acts of faith several times a day.

Doctrines are only the incidentals of religious faith. Essentially, religious faith is an encounter with the divine. We can search for such an encounter but it takes two to tango.

We never know how someone stands with God. The most intransigent atheist may be closer than the most pious nun.

We cannot judge a man's virtues since we do not know his starting point. And the best we can do with our own is to make a crude judgment about whether we are progressing or regressing.

When Christ condemned the Pharisees, make sure he did not have you in mind.

Boundaried by space and time, none of us can know God except through metaphor and analogy.

From our perspective Christ's human nature is the best metaph, or for his divine nature.

We cannot describe God by his positive qualities but only by what he is not. He is without end, without time, without parts, without gender; he lacks no power that it is possible to have, he lacks no knowledge of anything that can be known. He who is the uncontin gent ground of all being cannot be grasped by the contingent mind.

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