All posts by Brendan King

“Tolerating Other Religions” by G.K. Chesterton

“Tolerating Other Religions”
By G.K. Chesterton
“Illustrated London News” May 31, 1913
When I was a boy, in the old indescribable days which I can only describe as the great days of Stead, a thing met that was called the Parliament of Religions. It had all the evils of a Parliament. It had the narrow novelty, the deaf dignity, the profound isolation and unpopularity that a Parliament so often commands. A Member of Parliament must be a man who comes to think more of the men he argues with than of the men he argues for. The club is mightier than the constituency. This can be seen in all political Parliament’s; it is notorious that in all such assemblies … The back benches fight, while the front benches make peace.
All this, which is true of political Parliament’s, was a little true even of the poor old Parliament of Religions. Every man was a very cultured representative of a very distant constituency. If it is hard to make a man represent Surrey, or even Surbiton, it is harder still to make him represent the Central plains of Asia or the ultimate islands of Japan. Thus, I say, the Parliament of Religions seemed almost as useless as the Parliament at Westminster.
Men did not come there to explain their religion. They came to explain it away. At that gathering, everyone had to have a silky manner just as (at some social gathering) everyone has to have a silk hat. It would be improper in the Parliament at Westminster to knock off another man’s hat. It would be improper in the Parliament of Religions to knock off another man’s head. Yet the whole object of theology and philosophy and pure reason is to knock off another man’s head. As the philosophical world goes, just now, it is rather a compliment. One can pass through crowds of earnest modern thinkers without finding a head to knock off.
Yet only the other day I came across a little book by a man who was really defending one of the great philosophies of the earth, and not merely excusing it. His book is really an apologia and not an apology. It is concerned with the Creed of Zoroaster, the great Persian mystic who has left behind him the sect of the Parsees. It is published by Mr. Dent, and the name of the author on the title page is Ardasir Scrabjee N. Wadia. I intend no flippancy about this highly intelligent author if I do not know what part of this is his name. I only intend to indicate of the subject — of all such subjects as Persia and the Parsees. “Wadia” at the end of his name may be something like Esquire, for all I know. N. may be his telephone number for all I know. I know nothing about his nation; I know nothing about his civilisation; I know nothing about him. But I do know something about his religion. I did not know it five hours ago, and I owe what I know to him. His book is one of the very few books about the religions of the world of which this can be said.
Generally, the difficulty is not to tolerate other people’s religion. The trouble is to tolerate our own religion. Or rather (to speak more strictly), to get our own religion to tolerate us. Comparatively few modern religious people are intolerant. But a great many modern religious people are intolerable. Nor are these specially those that are called bigots; it is rather I think, the other way. The person we find really exasperating is he who does not understand our beliefs, and yet also does not agree with his own. Now, the author of this book does agree with his own. His philosophy is not in the least like mine, but it seems to me to be one of the two or three intelligent alternatives to mine. It is a philosophy which is roughly, perhaps too roughly, describes as Dualism: the theory that good and evil are, in one sense at least, exactly balanced in the universe: that, in one sense, at least, their balance creates the universe. The very pattern of the cosmos, so to speak, is a pattern of crossed swords. Life and death are fencing forever; and ( I say again in one sense, at least) the issue is always doubtful. With a movement of iron self control, I here refrain from making a pun about a Dualist and a duellist.
The author writes like a man who really has ideas; for ideas are always most original when they are grown from the old religious origins. It is not a paradox; but a very common fact of human nature. A man’s ideas are much more his own if they come out of his father’s Creed than if he had got them out of a book: just as a man’s cabbages are much more his own if they come from his father’s field than if he had got them out of a shop. There is something convincing even in a sort of weird simplicity which the writer shows, and which is often shown by men writing in the language of another civilisation: as where he speaks of “our revered Master — RUSKIN, to whom I belong so entirely and so devotedly that I invariably that I invariably use his words, expressions, and even paragraphs as if they were my own.” I feel myself on delicate ground; and I do not know whether I shall be considered as clearing him of the charge of imitation, or insulting him with the charge of bad imitation, if I say that I do not think there are any solid chunks of Ruskin embedded in his prose. But there really are solid chunks of what is more fresh and interesting for English readers; the real ideas of a real and able believer in the Creed of Zoroaster.
The great principle of the Zoroastrian philosophy seems to be that the thorn is essential to the rose. Or, to put it more correctly, that the life of man is a chess-board, because chess is a royal game — the great game for the human intellect. And in chess it is necessary, not only that there should be black and white, but that black and white should be equal. There must be a pattern f black and white, and the pattern must be exact.
To all this view of life I should only answer that the chess-board is only a pattern, and therefore cannot be a picture. A black-and-white artist always treats one or the other color as the background. The artist may be scrawling black on white,when he is a illustrator in pen and ink. He may be scrawling white on black, when he is a schoolboy chalking the school master’s nose on the blackboard. But the pen and ink artist knows that the page is white prior to the arrival of the pen and ink. The wicked schoolboy knows that the blackboard is black. So we, as Christians, should always believe that this is a white world with black spots, not a black world with white spots. I should always believe that the good in it was its primary plan. Also, I should remember that chess came from Persia.

“Art Poetique” by Paul Verlaine

“Art Poetique”.
By Paul Verlaine (1844-1896).
Translated by Norman R. Shapiro.
Music first and foremost! In your verse,
Choose those meters odd of syllable,
Supple in the air, vague, flexible,
Free of pounding beat, heavy or terse.
Choose the words you use – now right now wrong –
With abandon; when the poet’s vision
Couples the precise with imprecision,
Best the giddy shadows of his song.
Eyes veiled, hidden, dark with mystery,
Sunshine trembling in the noonday glare
Starlight in the tepid autumn air,
Shimmering in night-blue filigree!
For Nuance, not color absolute,
Is your goal; subtle and shaded hue!
Nuance! It alone is what lets you
Marry dream to dream, and horn to flute!
Shun all cruel and ruthless railleries:
Hurtful quip, cruel laughter that spall
Heaven, azure eyed, to tears; and all
Garlic-stench scullery recipes!
Take vain eloquence and wring it’s neck!
Best you keep your rhyme sober and sound,
Lest it wander, rimless and unbound –
How far? Who can say – if not in check!
Rhyme! Who will it’s infamies revile?
What deaf child, what Black of little wit
Forged this useless bauble, fashioned it
False and hollow-sounding to the file?
Music first and foremost and forever!
Let your verse be what goes soaring, sighing,
Set free, fleeing from the soul gone flying
Off to other skies and loves wherever.
Let your verse be aimless chance, delighting
In good opened fortune, sprinkled over
Dawn’s wind, bristling scents of mint, thyme, clover…
All the rest is nothing more than writing.

Sir John Gielgud on Acting

“In playing Shakespeare one is bound to be conscious of the audience. The compromise between a declamatory and a naturalistic style is extremely subtle, and needs tremendous technical skill in its achievement. In Chekhov, provided one can be heard and seen distinctly, it is possible, even advisable, to ignore the audience altogether and this was another reason why I suddenly felt so much more at ease in playing Trofimov than I had in Romeo.
“I have extremely good eyesight and am very observant. From the stage, if I am not careful, I can recognize people I know eight or ten rows back in the stalls, even on a first night when I am shaking with nervousness: latecomers – people who whisper or rustle chocolates or fall asleep – I have an eye for every one of them, and my performance suffers accordingly. I once asked Marion Terry about this difficulty and she said, ‘Hold your eyes level with the front of the dress circle when you are looking out into the front.’ It has taken me years to learn how to follow her advice. But in Chekhov, whose plays are written to be acted, as Komisarjevsky used to say, ‘with the fourth wall down’, I have always been able to shut out the faces in the front, even when I look in their direction and am conscious of no one but the other characters.”
~From “Actors on Acting”, pages 398-399

Long-hidden Holy Week music

The following email was sent by my good friend Father Christopher Zugger, a Byzantine Catholic priest and historian from Albuquerque, New Mexico:

Titled Passion Week, this oratorio in Slavonic was composed in secret by Maximilian Steinberg, son-in-law of the composer N. Rimsky-Korsakov, in the 1920s. The Soviets banned the composition and performance of all sacred music outside of churches, and no new compositions could be sung in church. This was the most intense period of imposing atheism and destroying churches, shrines, and sacred objects, 1920-1940.


This contains all the main chants of the Byzantine Holy Week, from Alleluia and Behold the Bridegroom of Holy Monday to the solemn burial of the Lord on Good Friday night. one hour long.
This performance was sung in a Latin rite church in Russia, perhaps the cathedral in Moscow but not positive.

Paul Scofield on Playing St. Thomas More

Paul Scofield on how he created his Award-winning stage and screen role as Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons”.
From “Actors on Acting: The Theories, Techniques, and Practices of the World’s Great Actors Told in their Own Words”, pages 421-422.
“What matters to me is whether I like the play, for one thing, and for another, whether I can recognize and identify myself with the character I’m to play. My intuition for a part has failed me only once – for the part of Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s ‘A Man for All Seasons’, which opened in London in July of 1960.
“I felt a tremendous warmth toward the character. Then I came to play him and I didn’t know how. As the play is written, it gives nothing more than the bare lines of what the man is saying. Its all in the lines. There is no opportunity for embroidery.
“I had to start from scratch, making myself totally faithful to what was on the page: More was a lawyer, a man of tremendous faith, a complex and subtle character. Everything in him led inevitably toward a kind of forensic point of view. It was a rather cold-blooded way of ordering one’s mind.
“I found that the part had what seemed like dogmatic exposition. Simply saying the lines for what they were worth would make More sound like a very pompous and noisy man. If I said the lines with all the intensity they seemed to require, he would seem like an aggressive man. And he was not an aggressive man. So I had to find a way of making the man sound not pompous and not aggressive. And yet he had to sound strong. If you can see it, then you can do it.
“First, I had to find the way the man would feel; then I was able to find the way that he would sound. Eventually, I discovered that if I used a specific range of my voice and characteristics of my voice that I had never used before, I might make him sound mild, even though what the lines themselves said was not mild… I used an accent for More that was absolutely a … thing of my own. My parents are Midlands people, with a very regional accent, and I drew somewhat on this accent and mixed it with some others.
“The way More sounded came out of my characterization of him as a lawyer. His dryness of mind, I found, led him to use a sort of dryness of speech. It evolved as I evolved the character. I would flatten or elongate a vowel in a certain way to get a certain effect I wanted. Not too much happened to the voice as a result of More’s being a man of faith and spirituality.
“One of the great traps in playing a man of spiritual depth is that one is given only a certain number of lines, and if they’re not made to sound absolutely true they are likely to sound very self-satisfied and sentimental. The false note is so often struck.
“Next I discovered More’s humor, and knew that that would be the thing to make him not smug. Then, More was a flesh-and-blood man, with strong family affections. His spiritual attitudes did not put him in the backwater of life… He used his senses. He enjoyed the things of life – food and wine and the rest. He didn’t relish physical discomfort. And he wouldn’t want to be hurt. At one point in the play, he says, ‘This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.’
“Because you are thinking and feeling all these things, the voice comes out in a certain way. Its constant communication between thinking and feeling. Otherwise the muscles don’t work, don’t take the right shape. One’s voice follows the rest. It somehow becomes a willing instrument… That is the kind of professional knowledge one has.”

The Anne Frank of Stalin’s Russia

Nina Lugovskaya, a teenaged girl whose recently rediscovered diary caused the arrest of her entire family, is sometimes called “The Anne Frank of Stalin’s Russia.”
My friend Fr. Christopher Zugger recommends this documentary about her life and legacy. He calls it a stark contrast to the Pro-Putin propaganda usually put out by “Russia Today”. Be forewarned, it is powerful, but deeply depressing. In English.

The Edith Stein of Stalin’s Russia

As today is the 80th anniversary of her martyrdom in Joseph Stalin’s concentration camps, I strongly recommend watching the following documentary, which relates the life and martyrdom of Mother Catherine Abrikosova, a Byzantine Catholic Dominican nun, a former Marxist, and, since 2003, a candidate for Catholic Sainthood. In Russian with English subtitles.

If Jeff Foxworthy were an Eastern Christian

  1. If you recognize the liturgical chanting in “The Deer Hunter”, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If your Church’s fasting laws FORBID you to eat fish on Fridays, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If you consider a 2 1/2 hour church service to be short, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If at the end of Great Lent your forehead is covered with rug burns, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If your Bishop has ever answered the telephone himself, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If your parish has a recent convert named Barsanuphius and you think nothing of it, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If your priest has legitimate offspring, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If you are still in church for 20 minutes after the priest says, “Let us depart in peace”, you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If you are ever tempted to ask shopping mall Santas for their blessing,  you might be an Eastern Christian.


  1. If the problem in your Church is nationalism rather than rationalism, you might be an Eastern Christian.


And the final reason…


  1. If you have ever wondered why the Pope makes the Sign of the Cross backwards, you might be an Eastern Christian.


“I Saw Santa Punching Arius”

This video based on the legend that at the first Ecumenical Council, at Nicaea in 325 AD, St Nicholas was so angry at Arius’ heresy about Jesus not being fully divine and human at the same time, that he punched him right in the face.
For this he is thrown into chains in a cell, and the Fathers threaten to depose him as a bishop.
Later, Our Lady and Our Lord both appear to him in his cell, and restore to him the Gospel Book and his episcopal pallium, thus restoring him as  Bishop of Myra.
This Council gave us the main part of the Nicene Creed, which is included in the film.