An Uncommon Dozen: Commonplace Quotes from October-March 2018-19

Well, it’s been entirely too long since I posted commonplace quotes! And it appears that I have read entirely too many good books since then: I have collected one hundred and twenty-eight quotes since that post. So, let’s see what if I can pick a favorite dozen… which is like to be a hard task, considering that I picked those hundred and twenty-two as just so many gems of writing, the best things I encountered while reading. First, though, I’d like to share what my physical commonplace book looks like. October’s quotes, as it happens, are not copied into it—I am a hundred and forty-one quotes behind in it—but I’ve been having fun with writing in it, which makes catching up more enjoyable. Instead of page after page of none-too-elegant printing, it now looks more like this:

While the hand-lettering here is very imperfect, I enjoyed doing it. Maybe someday I’ll be good enough that I can write directly with a pen without making mistakes… but on to more recently captured quotes!

As we did last time, let’s start with a little common sense:

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”  That’s William Shakespeare, right?  Correct.  And also, of course, radical relativism. But what I failed to recognize (even as I and my classmates were embracing this relativistic phrase as our personal motto) was that Shakespeare never said that.  He wrote it, yes, but Polonius said it.  And Polonius is a blithering idiot.

Professor Joseph Pearce in a WCC commencement speech for the class of 2018

Reading Chesterton is almost as perilous as misinterpreting Shakespeare: I have twenty-one quotes from The Ball and the Cross alone! This is, I think, my favorite of Chesterton’s novels, and this may be one of my favorite quotes from it:

“Oh!” said the monk, a wrinkle coming into his forehead, “so you think that in a rationalistic scheme of symbolism the ball should be on top of the cross?”
“It sums up my whole allegory,” said the professor.
“Well, that is really very interesting,” resumed Michael slowly, “because I think in that case you would see a most singular effect, an effect that has generally been achieved by all those able and powerful systems which rationalism, or the religion of the ball, has produced to lead or teach mankind. You would see, I think, that thing happen which is always the ultimate embodiment and logical outcome of your logical scheme.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Lucifer. “What would happen?”
“I mean it would fall down,” said the monk, looking wistfully into the void.

G. K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross

St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine both drew heavily from the great Greek philosophers, as did other saints and Fathers of the Church, and here is a beautiful description from Origen of just why this is a good thing:

I wish to ask you to extract from Greek philosophy what may serve as a course of study or a preparation for Christianity, and from geometry and astronomy what will serve to explain the sacred Scriptures, so that all the sons of the philosophers say about geometry and music, grammar, rhetoric, and astronomy, as fellow-helpers to philosphy, we may say about philosophy itself in relation to Christianity.
Perhaps something of this kind is foreshadowed in what is written in Exodus.  From the mouth of God, the Children of Israel were commanded to ask from their neighbors, and those who dwelt with them, vessels of silver and gold, and raiment, in order that, by depriving the Egyptians, they might have material to fasion things pertaining to the service of God.  For from all the things the children of Israel took from the Egyptians, the vessels in the holy of holies were made—the ark with its lid, and the cherubim, and the mercy seat, and the golden coffer, where was the manna, the angels’ bread.  These things were probably made from the best of the Egyptian gold.

Origen to St. Gregory of Pontus

And then I read Lewis’ Space Trilogy. Oh, the wondrousness of these books! The clear beauty of the language, the deepness of the ideas, the glory of the whole! Perelandra, I think, is now my favorite book, but I liked the other two very much as well… so let’s begin with a quote from Out of the Silent Planet.

It was only many days later that Ransom discovered how to deal with these sudden losses of confidence. They arose when the rationality of the hross tempted you to think of it as a man. Then it became abominable—a man seven feet high, with a snaky body, covered, face and all, with thick black animal hair, and whiskered like a cat. But starting from the other end you had an animal with everything an animal ought to have—glossy coat, liquid eye, sweet breath and whitest teeth—and added to all these, as though Paradise had never been lost and earliest dreams were true, the charm of speech and reason. Nothing could be more disgusting than the one impression; nothing more delightful than the other. It all depended on the point of view.

C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, Ch. 9

Next come Perelandraand harder choices.

As he let the empty gourd fall from his hand and was about to pluck a second one, it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty. And yet to repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual seemed an obvious thing to do. His reason, or what we commonly take to be reason in our own world, was all in favor of tasting this miracle again; the childlike innocence of fruit, the labors he had undergone, the uncertainty of the future, all seemed to commend the action. Yet something seemed opposed to this “reason.” It is difficult to suppose that this opposition came from desire, for what desire would turn from so much deliciousness? But for whatever cause, it appeared to him better not to taste again. Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity—like asking to hear the same symphony twice in a day.

C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, Ch. 3

Since these quotes are short, close together in the book, and on the same theme, I’m just going to count them as one toward the dozen. (Don’t tell anyone!)

If the issue lay in Maleldil’s hands, Ransom and the Lady were those hands. The fate of a world really depended on how they behaved in the next few hours.

Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices. And if something, who could set bounds to it?

C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, Ch. 11

Last comes That Hideous Strength, and a point about the paucity of modern education at least as applicable now as in Lewis’ day:

It must be remembered that in Mark’s mind hardly one rag of noble thought, either Christian or Pagan, had a secure lodging. His education had been neither scientific nor classical—merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honor to help him.

C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Ch. 9

Then, part of what happens to another modernly-educated character:

…And mixed with this was the sense that she had been maneuvered into a false position. It ought to have been she who was saying these things to the Christians. Hers ought to have been the vivid, perilous world brought against their gray formalized one; hers the quick, vital movements and theirs the stained-glass attitudes. That was the antithesis she was used to. This time, in a sudden flash of purple and crimson, she remembered what stained glass was really like.

C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Ch. 14

Wendell Berry is a very different author than Lewis, yet enjoyable and very insightful in his own proper way.

But they were living in what Rebecca was learning fast to recognize as the human condition, in which things are most clearly known by their opposites. She and the others were most touchingly and dearly living because Galen Dawe and so many others were dead, because so many boys even as young as Rebecca had been killed in battle, cut down like weeds. They were most movingly, most consciously and thoughtfully free, because Thomas and so many others were in prison. They ate with relish their frugal meals because of the lively possibility that even they, before the coming winter would be over, could be hungry.

Wendell Berry, “The Girl in the Window”

Yes, I will confess it: I went and read more Chesterton.

The theory of the unmorality of art has established itself firmly in the strictly artistic classes. They are free to produce anything they like. They are free to write a “Paradise Lost” in which Satan shall conquer God. They are free to write a “Divine Comedy” in which heaven shall be under the floor of hell. And what have they done? Have they produced in their universality anything grander or more beautiful than the things uttered by the fierce Ghibbeline Catholic, by the rigid Puritan schoolmaster? We know that they have produced only a few roundels. Milton does not merely beat them at his piety, he beats them at their own irreverence. In all their little books of verse you will not find a finer defiance of God than Satan’s. Nor will you find the grandeur of paganism felt as that fiery Christian felt it who described Faranata lifting his head as in disdain of hell. And the reason is very obvious. Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it.

G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, Ch. I

My best habit, I think is the habit of memorization. (Certainly it is in far better shape than my habit of going to bed on time!) I enjoy reading poems, and memorizing them, and meditating on them, and the process of soaking-in which comes with this; but I loved this couplet from Coleridge’s “My Baptismal Birthday” so much that I put it in my commonplace as well as memorizing the sonnet.

Is that a deathbed where a Christian lies?
Yes! but not his—’tis Death itself that dies.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “My Baptismal Birthday”

All right. Just one more Chesterton:

If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Ch. II

And, having imposed a limit on myself by the title of this post, these are all the quotes I can inflict on you just now. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did, and that (if you haven’t already) you’re inspired to go read some of these wonderfull books… I’d love to hear about your own favorite quotes!

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