Hidden, overlooked signs and stories take shape if you glint your eyes just right at the glimmer. This is an old-fashioned talent of ours, us men at the Flying Inn, anyone can do it for it’s in the blood. Nothing magical: just the low-grade prophecy of looking around, sniffing at the hickory and apple wood burn, the aromas of the last Inn.
Breathe deep now: all the others have been prohibited, or turned into the congregations of boorish alcoholics and sodden priapists.
We talk of anniversaries. Barzun is turning one hundred this month. Bloom’s book has been out now for twenty years, imagine that. What did their books achieve? we ask each other. And I tell you that they did a lot for me, especially the old Frenchman’s, who singlehandedly led me into the true liberal arts after my desultory performance in college (I think, Professor King, I still owe you an essay on Joyce).
Bloom said that the American Mind has been closed since the fifties (or the thirties, or the sixties). No one likes classical music anymore, he said. No one reads Plato or Aristotle, Shakespeare or Dante, for the sake of liberal arts. They might read them for political deconstruction in master’s level seminars, but they don’t read them for constructive reasons.
And because of this, the Mind of America and the West has been shut down. The lamps are out, the curtains are drawn. Entertainments have replaced the arts. Celebrity has supplanted the hero. Opinion has eclipsed reason.
I tell you that I disagree with Bloom – not with his survey of the problem, but with his etiology. I tell you that the American Mind is not closed for want of Plato and Shakespeare (despite my awed gratitude to them both).
I tell you that it is closed for want of knowledge of the Trinity.
And then I begin to complain, man to man. I don’t want to sound shrill or trite, because the Cassandra channel is blaring incessant portents of asteroid collisions, global warming extinctions, bloodthirsty jihadists, forest fires, droughts and hurricanes.
But I complain, sotto voce, that these days, the Trinitarian community has lately taken a lot of hits.
There are leaderships who squander money then obfuscate the figures and process.
There are laities who jump at any failure of leadership to exploit their own protestant aims.
There are clerics who gossip ad nauseum on the phone like a vignette from Hee Haw.
There are external groups who seek out our Nicene people and promise them better friendships, more attention to their “felt” needs, childcare and exciting youth programs, and draw them into their easier brands of sans-eucharistic alternative gospels, who tell me (not caring about perdition) that “sheep stealing is sheep feeding.”
There are schools who schedule athletic events on Sunday mornings and play directors who demand perfect attendance at rehearsals during Holy Week.
There are demands that the Church “prove itself” with articles and pictures in the paper, on TV, trumpeting a charitable endeavor, because “we need to show that we care and that we're there.” But I thought, I tell you, that we are to care without showing, without PR.
There are statements that call into question Bible and Creed, dogma and catechism. One can count on an immediate and impolite argument should he quote the words “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” as if they were true. Some say, even within the precincts of the Church, that Mormons are Christians, that Jehovah’s Witnesses are within our “orbit,” that the Muslims worship the same God, that Christianity represents “all nice people.”
There is an antagonism to dogma: many do not like to be told what to believe. They must be convinced by an appealing dialectic, especially if it is accompanied by glossy four colors and catchy jingles. They must be cajoled into intellectual assent, which is not enough for faith in the first place.
There is an anti-culture that cannot tolerate signs of the transcendent, or any delay of gratification. It is a therapeutic society that is allergic to the sacred order. There is a rigorous denial that someone might be better than I.
I calm down, remembering the Peace, and I tell you, brother, by the firelight, that you are my better.
How smart is that fiend in Hell's block of Cocytus ice, wafting his cold grim winds across the fires of heat without warmth, consciousness without memory, passion without attainment, flame-rained desert that burns the soles!
The Voice of Wisdom, Whose job it is to call out "Come eat of my Bread and drink of the Wine I have mixed ... leave foolishness and live, and walk in the way!" ... She, Wisdom, who is to call, has been nearly shut up in her own internal intra-psychic quarrels. Orthodox struggle over jurisdictionality ... post-Romans struggle over who is the New Rome ... monastics cut off patriarchs from their diptych lists of approved Christians ... ecumenicists sidle up to vacuous mainliners, who all look like a duck with a secret sorrow, and they are roundly excoriated by anti-ecumenicists as if they were Luther and Altizer themselves ... and of course, Orthodox and Romans fire patristic broadsides at each other, being so very well practiced after five hundred years ...
... and meanwhile, during this Animal House food fight, we teeter at the lip of the Abyss: listen, you can hear the echo of our silly wrangling from the cosmic walls, where there should be instead the songs of "Alleluia," "Holy God," and "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner."
The voice of Wisdom is the proclamation of the Church. The Church is the Pillar and Ground of Truth. She is the Lady who calls. There is no other source of Wisdom.
Bloom was dead wrong. The closing of the American mind happened long before his precious Europeans came over and made our universities respectable. It happened even before there was an America.
The true closing of the mind is what initiated the course of decline that now obtains in American/Western society: it is called decadence, and it is the inevitable product of the denial of the Trinity, the deity of the Son, and the possibility of the deification of man.
I tell you that it is the Doctrine of the Trinity, the witness of the Church, that keeps the mind of the West together. At Pascha, all paganisms, including “secular” philosophy, came to an end, and their good was subsumed into the Apostolic Proclamation.
Since that Great Day, the only way to see the Truth, and the Totality, is in the synopticon of the Church’s vision, articulated in her dogma.
I am a Trinitarian not because I want to be right, to get a correct score on my catechetical exam at Judgment. That sort of thing does not move me. Doctrine is not an object of intellectual assessment: it is itself a devotion, a love, an existential condition called "peace." Thus, I am a Trinitarian because I want you, brother, to be okay at the End.
And before that Day, I am a Trinitarian because that doctrine is the secret life-giving stream not just for the Church, but for the epistemology of the West.
Without this truth, and its meditation, there is no West, for without the Trinity there is no Peaceful thought, and all consciousness is fractured.
We watch the tendrils and sparks rise up with the steam, and the wisping curls of carbon and flame.
“As the sparks fly upward,” you murmur.
“Let our prayers arise,” I rejoin, “as incense.”