Waugh on Unexamined Faith

July 18, 2004 | one comment
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The really terrific discussion in the comments on Jim’s “Unexamined Faith” post puts me in mind of a favorite passage from Evelyn Waugh. I was saving it for Epiphany, but it fits here. It’s from an early (bad!) novel, _Helena_, and it’s a bit overwritten and treacly, but, well, some of us like that sort of thing!

“The low vault was full of lamps and the air close and still. Silver bells announced the coming of the three vested, bearded monks, who like the kings of old now prostrated themselves before the altar. So the long liturgy began.

Helena knew little Greek, and her thoughts were not in the words nor anywhere in the immediate scene. She forgot even her quest and was dead to everything except the swaddled child long ago and those three royal sages who had come from so far to adore him.

‘Like me,’ she said to them, ‘you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before; even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed, and a new, defiant light blazed amid the disconcerted stars.

‘How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts!

‘You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you. What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments in which there began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent! Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass.

‘You are my especial patrons, and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.

‘Dear cousins, pray for me,’ said Helena, and for my poor overloaded son [Constantine]. May he,too, before the end, find kneeling space in the straw. Pray for the great, lest they perish utterly.

‘For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.’”

One Response to Waugh on Unexamined Faith

  1. Ben Huff on July 19, 2004 at 2:53 am

    i love it kristine : )
    there is room in the straw for me too, i think, though i don’t even have kingship going for me.

WELCOME

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