Wednesday, August 31, 2005 +

The End

Communio 9

Of course, one may believe that this isn’t the era of the saints, that the era of the saints has passed. But as I once wrote, it is always the era of the saints.

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Notes 141

Many write, few do.

You did not suffer custodians but pupils to come to you.

At a funeral Mass the deceased’s eldest son, who has not been to Mass in years, gets up to receive Communion. At a Holy Day Mass, two visibly bored teenagers, dragooned to church by their mother, get up to receive Communion. What priest, knowing that, observing this, would deny the three the Eucharist?

We, whose teacher said, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God (Matthew 19:17)—why are we so free and easy with the word “great”?

In future we shall hear less of America as the exception.

Soon true religion will be sought as people ask, To Whom shall we go?

Art, too, can be ascetic.

One prays, not to go back, but to go forward.

A Brace of Letters by Jacques Barzun

These letters refer to the original version of Gospel Scenes.

Charles Scribner’s Sons, Publishers
597 Fifth Avenue
New York, N. Y. 10017
June 26, 1980

Dear Leo,

Despite your injunction, I read the first portion of your Gospel Mosaic immediately and in one sitting, and I am moved to write—

—to write, because I am moved. You have done a beautiful job of condensation and re-wording. Your prose is limpid and strong and you translate into the vernacular without once vulgarizing or being clever. The two or three marginal queries I permitted myself have to to do with what are most likely slips of the pen.

But what is your intention for the whole? You speak rather bitterly of addressing those who don’t heed, or can’t. Did you hope for a pamphlet or very small book giving the entire story and wisdom in an hour’s reading? By whom? That’s the diagnostic question.

There’s no doubt in my mind that anybody would be the better for reading your elegant, eloquent resume and anybody would want to read it who knows how the effort would be repaid. But how do you catch your fish?—to use a symbol drawn from your very story.

Give me some idea of the total length and of the intended public and I’ll think further of how to get your work into print.

Meanwhile, best regards.


Charles Scribner’s Sons, Publishers
597 Fifth Avenue
New York, N. Y. 10017
July 22, 1980

Dear Leo,

I have reread your entire script and find it very good indeed. It is moving and also fresh—new, not solely because of your diction, which is colloquial without being smart-aleck, but rather because of the juxtapositions you make, which produce the effect of a fifth gospel. I think you should publish, and I shall begin by finding out whether this firm would consider the work salable. Not every publisher has the same access to the various parts of the public and it is important to match any given work with the proper means of access.

Meantime I return the typescript to you for one more re-viewing and revising. I have marked a few things in the margins and have a question or two. When you have Jesus quote Isaiah or Elijah or the Psalms, you use the language of the familiar Bible— A.V. or A.V.R. Is that the best thing to do? You want to show, of course, that Jesus is speaking an ancient text, i.e., archaic to him and his hearers. But can’t you make it archaic enough in syntax and possibly diction, without using thee and thou and the corresponding forms, which to us bring back the atmosphere that the rest of your book avoids? I would strongly urge your creating all your effects de novo and bring Isaiah et al nearer to us also.

Again, here and there in your text are inversions and other constructions that do not go well with the judicious vernacular you have adopted as your tone. Try to catch every jarring note and remove it. I do not include in this stricture the few passages where Jesus utters a long, oratorical homily or invective. There tone can rise to poetry without spoiling your scheme.

All good wishes,


P.S. One thing more—you repeat parables (e.g. the man who invited the wedding guests who begged off) and other, smaller bits. Do you intend this or not?

See also Barzun 100.

It Seemed Good at the Time

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
—Genesis 3:6


Evangelization 6

Evangelization aims at making people Jews (outward conversion); they still need to be made Christians (inward conversion).

For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praises not of men, but of God.
—Romans 2:28–29

See also Why is Layo Lieva Not Celebrating 40 Years of Ministry?

Communio 8

A hero gives the illusion of surpassing humanity. The saint doesn’t surpass it, he assumes it, he strives to realize it in the best possible way. Do you see the difference? He strives to approach as nearly as possible his model, Jesus Christ; that is, to come as close as possible to Him who was perfect man, with a simplicity so perfect that in reassuring others He disconcerts the hero, for Christ did not die only for heroes—he died for cowards too. . . . The man with a firm and fearless hand can at the last moment look for support on His shoulder, while the man with a trembling hand can be sure of finding His trembling hand. . . .

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Why Love God?

Several have been finding this too. These comings to old entries are mysterious.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005 +


And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.—Matthew 10:38

pilgrim image

Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.—1 Peter 2:11

Why Crosses?

I don’t know why people have been going to Crosses, but it seems somehow to witness compassion for the sufferers of Katrina.

But this verse is perhaps more appropriate:

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
—1 Kings 19:11–12

And lamentations.

Monday, August 29, 2005 +

Communio 7

When one thinks of the strict discipline which almost implacably maintains every member of this great ecclesiastical body in his place, from the modest curate right up to the Holy Father with his titles and privileges (one almost feels like saying, with his own vocabulary)—when one thinks of these things, don’t those sudden promotions really seem extravagances, those most sudden promotions of obscure nuns, of simple laymen and even of beggars, abruptly made patrons, protectors and sometimes even doctors of the Universal Church?

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After the Crash

From Caryl Johnston, After the Crash: An Essay-Novel of the Post-hydrocarbon Age:

The Science Controversy had taken place during the time when most people in society were going insane. It was very difficult in this period to ignore the growing numbers of unbalanced individuals. People would accost you on the street, for example, and tell you how they were feeling, or inform you that the government had moved to a new secret location, or that they were being shadowed by a difficult decision of destiny. Other people would stand in the street surrounded by little piles of household appliances that no longer worked, in the vain hope of trading them for something useful. One person might specialize in toasters, another in electric can-openers (p. 43).

So this is what I think: if you think about things but do not complete the whole cycle and return to re-internalization and participation-with, your thinking is basically nothing more than a refined form of egotism (p. 96–97).

If you have ever sat by the bedside of a person who is dying, you learn that it is not easy to die. . . (p. 166).

There was a lot of talk about ethics, but it mostly came down to the fact that ethics were fine as long as they didn’t involve any form of personal sacrifice. Where morality was concerned, the Hydrocarbon Era never abandoned its intellectual standpoint. The intellect was self-justifying. It had brought forth oil. What more needed to be said? (p. 168)

No one said anything for quite a few minutes. It was the intention of the mediator to hold this moment of emotional expressiveness for as long as possible, and not let it slip away into acts of interpretation, rationalization, judgment, pretence (p. 170).

I think it was this feeling of being in the dark, of being at a loss, that I remember so clearly of my Hydrocarbon-Age experience. You could turn on the lights, anytime day or night, but the light of knowing yourself, knowing how to cope with a situation—this kind of light was dim. Maybe it really always had been, in human experience, but the contrast of that inner dimness and uncertainty with the bright lights and the smoothly-functioning machines all around you was pretty overwhelming. I think this realization was one of the first things to strike us, when the oil and gas began to give out and people were worrying about the real difficulties of electrical generation in the face of declining resources. For the first time, it was as if knowledge (or ironically in this case lack of knowledge) actually corresponded to what was going on in the world. . . . What I am trying to say is that the Crash, the shortage of energy, caused a great many people to become connected to reality through not-knowing, through this feeling of lack. . . . And yet this not-knowing was not the same thing as ignorance (pp. 178–179).


Communio 6

Oh, nothing seems better ruled, more strictly ordered, more according to degree and better balanced than the external life of the Church. But its interior life overflows with the prodigious liberties, one almost wants to say with the divine extravagances, of the Spirit—the Spirit that bloweth where is listeth.

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Notes 140

If the East accepts Roman dogmas, will Rome accept Eastern saints?

The lesson—at least a lesson—of Job is that one cannot justify the ways of God to others. It may even be that one cannot justify the ways of God to oneself. Which is not to say that the ways of God are not justified. Bernanos said, “The scandal of the universe isn’t suffering but freedom.”

At present, some read the Bible to predict the future; in the future (not yet in future), many will read the Bible to understand the present.

Complaint now is wasteful.

Is Nietzsche vulgar, or only is translators, interpreters, and followers?

After the Crash, there is a chance that human beings will experience a more shared reality.

I was a writer, and ye read me. Cf. Matthew 25:31-46.

Prudence: the virtue most lacking.

Communio 5

The communion of saints. . . . Which of us is sure of belonging to it? And if we are granted that happiness, what rôle will we play in it? Who are the rich and who the poor in that astonishing community? Those who give and those who receive? What surprises! For example, doesn’t that venerable canon, piously deceased, who was pompously eulogized in the diocesan bulletin in the style peculiar to those publications—doesn’t he risk learning that he owed his vocation and his salvation to some notorious unbeliever, secretly tormented by religious anguish, to whom God incomprehensibly refused the consolations of the faith but not the rewards? (You wouldn’t look for Me if you didn’t already know Me.)

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About Ritual

It is a reproach to our civilization that in commemorating a great artist we must rely on the feelings and thoughts of the moment and the halting words that they provoke. Why are there not some ritual words to mark the passing of the artist as there are in the various churches to mourn the man? For the intention of ritual in rededicating the listeners through the Word is to remind them of certain permanent truths, and surely the conditions of art and more especially the tribulations of the greatest, most innovative, artists have not changed for five hundred years.
—Jacques Barzun, “To Praise Varèse” (1965), in A Jacques Barzun Reader (New York, HarperCollins, 2002), p 354.

Still, this change [in attitude toward Zionism] in Lionel never went far enough to induce him to arrange any form of Jewish education for his son, James, the Trillings’ only child, who at the time of Lionel’s final sickness [1975] was in his twenties. Nor, so far as I could tell, had Diana ever undergone even as mild a transformation as Lionel’s in her own attitudes toward Jewishness. Which is what made it so extraordinary that she should ask me as Lionel’s certain death approached whether I would be willing to teach Jim how to recite the Kaddish, the prayer that a Jewish son is obligated to read at his father’s funeral service. The enthusiasm with which I agreed to his request amazed me as much as the request itself. I simply had not realized that I cared so deeply about this, and I suppose now that the reason was that, when all was said and done, Lionel—just as Diana had maintained, much to my resentment at what I regarded as a piece of vulgar Freudian reductionism—had indeed been a surrogate father to me.

Jim could not read the Hebrew alphabet, and so I set about making an English transliteration and drilling him day after day in how to pronounce the words properly. Lionel died about a week after we had begun these tutorials, and by then Jim had mastered the whole text and could even translate it into English.

Yet for reasons I was never to unearth or to understand, Diana (possibly seconded by Jim) changed her mind about giving Lionel even a watered-down Jewish funeral. The service was held in St. Paul’s Chapel on the Columbia campus and was followed by a cremation. And neither in this Christian building nor in the crematorium did Jim recite the Kaddish. Distressed as I was by this, I was positively offended by Diana’s decision to omit even a eulogy from the funeral services. I knew as surely as I was sitting there that Diana had persuaded herself that this decision arose out of her infinite regard for Lionel: what could a eulogist, or ten eulogists, say in praise of him that would be adequate or commensurate with his greatness? But having so recently been soaked in the Kaddish, I remembered more vividly than I might otherwise have done the reference to God as l’ailah min kol birkhata v’shirata, tushbekhata v’nekhemata (beyond [or above] all blessings, and hymns, praises and consolations). And because I understood this passage to mean that only God was above or beyond them, I thought it a mark of impious and even blasphemous presumption to treat a mortal man as though he were beyond or above them too.

Perhaps out of cowardice, or perhaps because I was still not prepared for the almost certain break it would entail, I never said any of this to Diana. But it continued rankling, and when about eighteen years later, in 1993, she published a book about the early years of their marriage (The Beginning of the Journey), which I, and not I alone, read as a covert attack on Lionel, I found myself borrowing from her own Freudian arsenal and reinterpreting the funeral she had arrange not as a mark of hubris in relation to Lionel but as an unconscious slap at him.
—Norman Podhoretz, Ex-Friends: Falling Out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel & Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer (New York, The Free Press, 1999), pp. 93-95.

I was in St. Paul’s that day, and the service was indeed lacking—a reproach to secular civilization. Sometime later, in a fit of cultural criticism I have come to regret, I destroyed Lionel Trilling’s three letters to me.

Communio 4

In his recent book, Les problèmes de la vie, the distinguished University of Geneva professor, M. Guyénot, has gone back to the distinction between body, mind, soul. If one accepts this hypothesis, which Saint Thomas did not reject, one tells oneself, with horror, that innumerable men are born, live and die without even once making use of their souls, really making use of their souls, even if only to offend the good Lord. To what extent are we not of the same species? Won’t Damnation be the tardy discovery, the discovery much too late, after death, of a soul absolutely unused, still carefully folded together, and spoiled, the way certain precious silks are when they are not used? Anyone who makes use of his soul, however clumsily, participates in the life of the universe, becomes a part of its great rhythm, and at the same time enters on a level with the saints that communion of the saints that which is the communion of all the men of good will to whom Peace was promised, that Holy Invisible Church which we know includes pagans, heretics, schismatics or non-believers, whose name God alone knows.

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