Preparing the Next Rebirth.

The Good and Evil Angels 1795/?circa 1805 by William Blake 1757-1827

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The contemporary educated Christian will have much to say in response to the views here expressed, views reminiscent of John Addington Symonds and Nietzsche. But knowledge of Christian history is also not the forte of even the contemporary educated Christian. The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, in his masterpiece The Autumn of the Middle Ages, put the matter this way:

[Life’s enjoyments consist of] reading, music, fine arts, travel, the enjoyment of nature, sports, fashion, social vanity (knightly orders, honorary offices, gatherings) and the intoxication of the senses. For the majority, the border between higher and lower levels seems now to be located between the enjoyment of nature and sports. But this border is not firm. [E.g., the ancient Greeks treated sporting events as sacred occasions. — FRD] For medieval man the border lay, in the best of cases, right after reading; the enjoyment of reading could be sanctified through striving for virtue and wisdom. For music and the fine arts, it was their service to faith alone that was recognized as being good. Enjoyment per se was sinful.

Alfred’s devotion to “the fervor of life” implies an emphasis on procreation, and the new friendship is strained when Alfred reprimands Brian strongly for not having fathered children by the age of thirty-three. Brian eventually challenges Alfred on the same point, and the old man admits to being childless. It is this, he says, which makes him so emphatic about the importance of family when speaking with a younger man. The parent is an artist who works upon the spirit of his child.

“It is the mightiest endeavor, being handed a piece of clay or a blank piece of paper and bringing forth something from where previously there’d been nothing. From this seed, this rare quality of creativity possessed only by artists, springs all higher civilizations. It is that which whispers the infinite possibilities of what man might someday become. If those who possess this ability fail to have children…” His voice trailed off.

We may note that for all his jabs at modernity, the author assumes here an entirely modern understanding of art: it is creation ex nihilo rather than the imitation of natural forms. Modern “promethean” anti-Christians (Nietzsche) who claim to find this ideal realized in pre-Christian art are projecting: Christianity inherited the concept of art-as-mimesis from the pagan world without essential change.

(The Occidental Quarterly, June 18, 2009).

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