Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Light half-believers of our casual creeds

From Sacred Causes by Michael Burleigh. Page 13.
Actually, the ensuing fragmentation was evident well before the war. In a series of lectures on 'Civilization at the Cross-roads', delivered at Harvard in 1911, the Anglican monk John Neville Figgis said:
amid the Babel of the world's religions and moralities, it is not possible to state what are the governing ideals of the triumphant classes at the moment, and it is ten to one that if you met two dozen at dinner, you would hear a dozen different faiths asserted, with all that voluble enthusiasm that befits 'the light half-believers of our casual creeds . . . if we judge by their conduct, we may ask with Archbishop Benson, when he arrived in London, 'What do the people believe?"
Figgis is quoting Matthew Arnold's The Scholar-Gypsy which contains this stanza:
Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,
Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will'd,
Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill'd;
For whom each year we see
Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
Who hesitate and falter life away,
And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day—
Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?
Scholar-Gypsy was written decade or so before Dover Beach, my favorite Arnold poem. There is a linking idea of causal faith and loss of faith. Dover Beach includes this stanza regarding the loss of religious faith in European civilization.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Half-believers, casual creeds, and the long withdrawing roar.

No comments:

Post a Comment