Thursday, December 18, 2014

Puritans Ban Christmas; Royalists Rebel Against Rebels

In this Christmas 2011 issue of the BBC History Magazine, Mark Stoyle, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Southampton, describes how and why the Puritans banned Christmas once they had control of Parliament and how Royalists and others fought the ban:

As the year 1645 limped towards its weary close, a war-torn England shivered beneath a thick blanket of snow. A few months earlier, parliament’s New Model Army, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, had routed the forces of Charles I at the battle of Naseby. Although that defeat had struck the king’s cause a mortal blow, the royalists still refused to surrender, and the bloody Civil War which had divided the country ever since 1642 continued to rage.

Under constant pressure from the armies of both sides to supply them with money, clothing and food, few Englishmen and women can have been anticipating a particularly merry Christmas. Yet, for those who lived in the extensive territories which were controlled by the king’s enemies, there was to be no Christmas this year at all – because the traditional festivities had been abolished by order of the two Houses of Parliament sitting at Westminster.

From Charles’s beleaguered wartime capital in Oxford, the royalist satirist John Taylor – by now in his mid-60s, but nevertheless one of the king’s most indefatigable literary champions – issued a cry of anguish at this assault on England’s time-honoured customs. All of the “harmless sports” with which people had long celebrated Christ’s nativity “are now extinct and put out of use… as if they had never been,” Taylor lamented in his pamphlet The Complaint of Christmas, and “thus are the merry lords of misrule suppressed by the mad lords of bad rule at Westminster”.

So why had the parliamentarians decided to wage war on Christmas – and how did those, like Taylor, who were determined to defend the traditional celebrations, fight back?

The attack on the feast of Christmas had deep roots. Long before the Civil War began, many zealous Protestants, or ‘Puritans’, had been troubled both by the boisterous nature of the festivities which took place at Christmas and by the perceived association of those festivities with the old Catholic faith. During the early 1600s, most English Puritans had been prepared to tolerate Christmas. Following the rebellion of the Presbyterian Scots against Charles I in 1637, however, all this was to change.


Read the rest here. There were even riots in protest against the Puritan ban:

Worse was to follow in 1647 – despite the fact that, on 10 June that year, parliament has passed an ordinance which declared the celebration of Christmas to be a punishable offence. On 25 December 1647, there was further trouble at Bury, while pro-Christmas riots also took place at Norwich and Ipswich. During the course of the Ipswich riot, a protestor named ‘Christmas’ was reported to have been slain – a fatality which could be regarded as richly symbolic, of course, of the way that parliament had ‘killed’ Christmas itself.

In London, a crowd of apprentices assembled at Cornhill on Christmas Day, and there “in despite of authority, they set up Holly and Ivy” on the pinnacles of the public water conduit. When the lord mayor despatched some officers “to pull down these gawds,” the apprentices resisted them, forcing the mayor to rush to the scene with a party of soldiers and to break up the demonstration by force.

The worst disturbances of all took place at Canterbury, where a crowd of protestors first smashed up the shops which had been opened on Christmas Day and then went on to seize control of the entire city. This riot helped to pave the way for a major insurrection in Kent in 1648 that itself formed part of the ‘Second Civil War’ – a scattered series of risings against the parliament and in favour of the king, which Fairfax and Cromwell only managed to suppress with great difficulty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

O Antiphons Start Tonight


I experienced a little thrill yesterday when both the Choir of Westminster Cathedral and the Cathedral Twitter accounts retweeted my tweet about Macmillan's Tu es Petrus.

Westminster Cathedral publishes a monthly magazine, Oremus, and the December issue features a great cover for the great O Antiphons which begin tonight as the antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers/Evening Prayer.

As this site summarizes this great devotion:

December 17 marks the beginning of the "O" Antiphons, the seven jewels of our liturgy, dating back to the fourth century, one for each day until Christmas Eve. These antiphons address Christ with seven magnificent Messianic titles, based on the Old Testament prophecies and types of Christ. The Church recalls the variety of the ills of man before the coming of the Redeemer.

And this site provides the Latin original and English translation of each of the antiphons, beginning with Sapientia (Wisdom) tonight: O Sapientia, quƦ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiƦ.

Here is a video of William Byrd's Magnificat in English from the Choir of Magdalen College in Oxford:

Renovation or Wreckovation at Chartres?

We last visited the Cathedrale de Notre Dame in Chartres in 2010 and noted the reconstruction going on, which seemed to me to be cleaning the walls of the ages of incense and candle smoke. Turns out that more drastic changes were being made and there is some controversy about it: from The New York Times Book Review blog, Martin Filler reports:

In 2009, amid a rising wave of other refurbishments of medieval buildings, the French Ministry of Culture’s Monuments Historiques division embarked on a drastic, $18.5 million overhaul of the eight-hundred-year-old cathedral. Though little is specifically known about the church’s original appearance—despite small traces of pigment at many points throughout the interior stonework—the project’s leaders, apparently with the full support of the French state, have set out to do no less than repaint the entire interior in bright whites and garish colors that are intended to return the sanctuary to its medieval state. This sweeping program to “reclaim” Chartres from its allegedly anachronistic gloom is supposed to be completed in 2017.

He describes his first views of Chartres and his latest:

Over a lifetime of looking at buildings, a few have stood out as soul-stirring experiences. High among them is Chartres Cathedral, which I first saw some thirty years ago. Though I had long been acquainted with this renowned Gothic landmark through photographs, I was quite unprepared for the visceral impact of its dark, soaring interior, especially the famous stained glass windows that glowed like precious gems set into the intricately carved stone walls. I began to understand how this overwhelming creation could be perceived as heaven on earth.

During a recent trip to Paris I decided it was time for a return visit, and on an autumn Sunday morning my wife, our friends, and I traveled sixty miles southwest of the French capital to take in this architectural wonder. It was crisp and sunny, perfect weather for viewing the celebrated vitraux, widely considered the finest in the world. As we entered the great church, which was largely constructed between 1194 and 1230, High Mass was in full swing—the scene heightened by the combination of majestic organ music, chanted liturgy, clouds of incense, and banks of votive candles.

Carried away by the splendors of the moment, I did not initially realize that something was very wrong. I had noticed the floor-to-ceiling scrim-covered scaffolding near the crossing of the nave and transepts, but had assumed it was routine maintenance. But my more attentive wife, the architectural historian Rosemarie Haag Bletter—who as a Columbia doctoral candidate took courses on Romanesque sculpture with the legendary Meyer Schapiro and Gothic architecture with the great medievalist Robert Branner—immediately noticed that large areas of the sanctuary’s deep gray limestone surface had been painted.


The first portion she pointed out was a pale ochre wall patterned with thin, perpendicular white lines mimicking mortar between masonry blocks. Looking upward we then saw panels of blue faux marbre, high above them gilded column capitals and bosses (the ornamental knobs where vault ribs intersect), and, nearby, floor-to-ceiling piers covered in glossy yellow trompe l’oeil marbling, like some funeral parlor in Little Italy.

You can see more recent pictures of the changes on NYTBR blog. The pictures above and below were taken by my husband in 2010 and are copyright (c) 2010 by Mark U. Mann (not to be used without permission).


Another pilgrim to Chartres noticed the changes, especially to the statue of Our Lady of the Pillar. And here is yet another view. The organizer of the restoration expected some negative response, according to this article from 2009 in The Independent:

Mr Fresson expects some visitors to Chartres to be taken aback – maybe even angered – by the transformation. "There is no doubt that we will lose something, even if we gain a great deal," he said. "The sense of mystery, the sense of the passing ages, which you receive when you enter the dark interior of today will be replaced by something fresher and much more dynamic."

Concerns have been expressed, in particular, about the effect of the restoration on Chartre's exquisite stained-glass windows: the most complete, and to many people the most beautiful anywhere in the world. The glass is also being gradually restored, largely with money raised by charitable appeals.

"You could argue that the power of the windows has been increased by the cathedral's dark interior and that their beauty will therefore suffer," said Mr Fresson. "Our first impression, from the work so far, is that the effect will be different, but no less beautiful."


Finally, this architect notes that the restoration involves two different time periods:

the choir area has been restored to to how it looked in the 18th century while the remainder of the cathedral interior is being restored to how it looked in the 13th century, when it was first built.

Since the sanctuary of the Altar in the choir was already anachronistic, the renovation may be accentuated the differences! If we stay on track for a Paris visit every two years, perhaps we will go back to Chartres in 2016 and see nearly the finished product.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tu Es Petrus on September 18, 2010


Martin Baker, the Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, is featured in the monthly Rewind column in the Christmas issue of BBC Music Magazine, in which "Artists talk about their past recordings". He highlights "My finest moment": the recently released recording of William Byrd's Masses for three, four, and five voices; "I'd like another go at . . .": Victoria's Missa Ave Regina caelorum and other choral works, and "My fondest memory":

James Macmillan's Tenebrae Responsories & other choral works, in which he discusses the great liturgical event of Pope Benedict's visit to Westminster Cathedral for Mass on September 18, 2010. Macmillan's setting of the Introit, Tu es Petrus, was arranged to have maximum impact: the Choir singing from the East, the Organ from the West, "a wall of brass to the North and battery of percussion to the South", so that the "effect in the building was cataclysmic"! Indeed, the Gramaphone review of the subsequent recording highlighted Macmillan's Tu es Petrus: "The combination of Westminster Cathedral Choir and MacMillan is irresistible. We are drawn immediately into their complicity by the jaw-dropping Tu es Petrus … its simultaneous celebratory character and clear rootedness in liturgical tradition make it far more than a one-off firework."

You can hear the original performance at the beginning of Mass during the procession:


Pope Benedict also prepared a homily that reflected on the great occasion while reminding the congregation of eternal verities:

Dear Friends in Christ,

I greet all of you with joy in the Lord and I thank you for your warm reception. I am grateful to Archbishop Nichols for his words of welcome on your behalf. Truly, in this meeting of the Successor of Peter and the faithful of Britain, "heart speaks unto heart" as we rejoice in the love of Christ and in our common profession of the Catholic faith which comes to us from the Apostles. I am especially happy that our meeting takes place in this Cathedral dedicated to the Most Precious Blood, which is the sign of God’s redemptive mercy poured out upon the world through the passion, death and resurrection of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. In a particular way I greet the Archbishop of Canterbury, who honours us by his presence.

The visitor to this Cathedral cannot fail to be struck by the great crucifix dominating the nave, which portrays Christ’s body, crushed by suffering, overwhelmed by sorrow, the innocent victim whose death has reconciled us with the Father and given us a share in the very life of God. The Lord’s outstretched arms seem to embrace this entire church, lifting up to the Father all the ranks of the faithful who gather around the altar of the Eucharistic sacrifice and share in its fruits. The crucified Lord stands above and before us as the source of our life and salvation, "the high priest of the good things to come", as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews calls him in today’s first reading (Heb 9:11).

It is in the shadow, so to speak, of this striking image, that I would like to consider the word of God which has been proclaimed in our midst and reflect on the mystery of the Precious Blood. For that mystery leads us to see the unity between Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, the Eucharistic sacrifice which he has given to his Church, and his eternal priesthood, whereby, seated at the right hand of the Father, he makes unceasing intercession for us, the members of his mystical body.


Read the rest here.

Chesterton on A Christmas Carol on the Son Rise Morning Show


I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show this morning to talk about Chesterton and Dickens' A Christmas Carol, based on my blog posts last week leading up to our Chesterton Christmas at Eighth Day Books--which was a rousing success, by the way.  If you want to see those posts, search for "Chesterton Christmas" in the search window in the upper left hand corner and this is what you should get!

Matt Swaim and I will discuss how Dickens revived the celebration of Christmas--which certainly fell on hard times (!) in England during the Puritan Interregnum of the 17th century--and how Chesterton revived appreciation of Dickens!

Please listen live here after the 7:45 a.m. Eastern news break on the Son Rise Morning--6:45 a.m. Central time!

God Bless Us, Everyone!!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Betty Smith, the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, was born on December 15, 1896. Along with Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was incredibly influential in my reading life. In a way more than the others, since the characters were Catholic and participated in the world of Sacraments and sacrifice. Otherwise, I did not know about living in Brooklyn in a family situation like Francie's which has been one element of its appeal over the years--the verisimilitude of tenement life in New York--as this article from The New York Times notes:

It is, tested by time, one of the most cherished of American novels, recording in its powerful fashion the first years of this century in a breeding place of American genius, Brooklyn's Williamsburg and Greenpoint. In the novel's period these neighborhoods were mostly populated by a poverty-level mix of the two great waves of immigrants, the Irish and the Germans of the mid-19th century and the East European Jews and Italians who followed. . . . The book is a social document with the power of Jacob Riis's photographs. It gives the detail that illuminates the past -- the coffee pot, the air shaft, the barber's cup, chalking strangers on Halloween.

While I enjoyed those passages, what I really liked about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was that Francie likes books and reading--she likes to escape into their worlds, she likes holding the books in her hands, reading the same books over and over again (If I Were King or Beverly of Graustark); she wants an education and to learn all the time--and she wants to be a writer.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

15th Century English Advent Carol


A Clerk of Oxford provides background and translation of this carol, "Behold and See":

from the manuscript of the Canterbury Franciscan James Ryman (Cambridge University Library MS. Ee 1.12), source of so many interesting fifteenth-century English carols. Its refrain is taken from the Latin Christmas hymn 'Ecce novum gaudium', but this is not a translation; only the first verse is really based on the hymn. The rest draws on traditional imagery of the incarnation - the Virgin as the fleece of Gideon and the miraculously flowering rod of Aaron - and on texts much used in Advent, such as the prophecies of Isaiah. Although simple in its language, it's a beautiful carol, weaving a wealth of images rich in poetry and meaning into its short English lines. . . .
Perhaps the carol's simple language only enhances its beauty, conveying complex theological ideas without obscuring them; it becomes transparent, you might say. The image in the last verse, of Christ entering the world through Mary like the sunbeam passing through the glass, is a very common simile in medieval literature, and one that I'm fond of . . .

The Clerk even found a performance of the Latin carol, performed by Anonymous 4 on their On Yoolis Night CD:


Saturday, December 13, 2014

"How English history used to be told": Marshall's OUR ISLAND STORY

Andrew M. Brown discusses bias in English History for The Catholic Herald:

What are you supposed to do when you’re reading the gripping history book Our Island Story, by H E Marshall, to your children and you stumble into a bit that is fervently anti-Catholic? These passages crop up with monotonous regularity. For example, in the section dealing with Edward the Confessor, Marshall sneers at King Edward’s medieval piety, observing that “he thought more about building churches and buying relics or bones of holy men, long since dead, than of strengthening his castles and trying to make the lives of his people peaceful and happy”. All the priests are “rich” and all the monks “wicked”. Generally the picture is of the Middle Ages as backward and unenlightened. (But how backward can a culture have been that produced buildings of the lightness and beauty of our great cathedrals?)

That is how English history used to be told. They were the received assumptions – at least, until the current generation of historians known as the revisionists came along, most prominently Eamon Duffy, but also Jack Scarisbrick, Richard Rex and Peter Marshall.

Anti-Catholicism persists in historians’ circles, as the reaction to the revisionists demonstrates. As Duffy has written, the work of these mostly Catholic scholars is wrongly characterised in some quarters as the “grinding of papistical axes”.


Yet no one batted an eyelid when, previously, nearly all histories of the Reformation were written by Protestants. There is a list as long as your arm of them, including John Foxe in the 16th century, Gilbert Burnet in the 17th, James Froude in the 19th and, in the 20th, Sir Keith Thomas, A G Dickens, G G Coulton, A F Pollard and the Methodist Luther scholar Gordon Rupp.

Our Island Story is a very popular children's book by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall. Civitas, "a community of researchers and supporters committed to discovering how best to strengthen democracy, uphold limited government, maintain personal freedom, achieve opportunity for all, and encourage free enterprise" has reissued the book with a foreword by Lady Antonia Fraser. Civitas provides some information about the author and her work:

Very little is known for certain about Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall. She was born in Scotland in 1867, the third daughter in a family of six children, and was warden of Queen Margaret Hall in Glasgow from 1901 to 1904. She was in Melbourne when Our Island Story was published in 1905, in Oxford from 1905 until 1908, and in Redlands, California, USA from 1913 until 1917.

All else about the author of Our Island Story remains shrouded in mystery, save for her abiding legacy to the world. This consists of a remarkable series of children’s books that she wrote, dealing for the most part with the history and literature of the British people at home and elsewhere in the world where they have settled in number.

Marshall never married and had no children. However, the subject matter of her books and the gentleness of their style suggest she may well have been a governess or private tutor to young children.

She died in London in 1941, having spent the last part of her life in straitened circumstances, but her genius as a storyteller and educator will live on for as long as boys and girls continue to be able to open the pages of her enchanting and informative books.

Her principal books, together with the dates each was first published, are:
Our Island Story: A History of England for Boys and Girls (1905); Stories of Robin Hood Told to Children (1905); Stories of Guy of Warwick Told to Children (1906); Stories of William Tell Told to Children (1906); Scotland’s Story: A History of Scotland for Boys and Girls (1906); Stories of Roland Told to the Children (1907); Our Empire Story: Stories of India and the Greater Colonies told to Boys and Girls (1908); Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children (1908); English Literature for Boys and Girls (1909); A History of France (1912); Through Great Britain and Ireland with Cromwell (1912); This Country of Ours (1917); and Kings and Things (1937).

Through Great Britain and Ireland with Cromwell? I wonder how she deals with Drogheda and Cromwell's stated anti-Catholicism AND anti-Anglicanism. 

Should a book like this, published with the express purpose of making history entertaining and easy to read, be accompanied by notes that provide greater context? If the books are not as informative as they are enchanting--or may even be deceiving when used in classrooms and schools, should they be corrected?

Brown suggests one method for a parent to use:

Without doubt, today’s revisionist historiography has acted as a necessary corrective to the dominant Protestant mode. And when reading Our Island Story, all I need to do is bowdlerise as I go along – skip or rewrite on the hoof when I come across an anti-papist belch about building churches and relics and all that murky medieval stuff. You can see how easily, if you were to give children a steady diet of this material unadulterated, an attitude of mind towards Catholicism would become ingrained. But it is very much a Victorian or Edwardian view that was carried over to the 20th century. Most importantly, it is wrong.

But again I wonder, especially when reading Civitas' explanation of why they wanted to republish the book:

But there was also a serious underlying purpose behind the decision to republish the book. Marshall knew all about the importance of the institutions of a free society, and explains thoroughly why we need to make sure the state cannot imprison people without trial, or force them to worship God in a particular way, or extract taxes without allowing people a say in the running of the country. Now that the teaching of institutional and political history is so weak in many schools, her message is of vital importance – and not only for the 7 to 11-year-olds the book is aimed at.

Does Marshall really make sure her readers know why "the state cannot imprison people without a trial" when the rights of Catholics were violated (Henry VIII having the Carthusians chained in prison, Edmund Campion and companions tortured in violation of English law during Elizabeth I's reign, etc) or why the state cannot "force them to worship God in a particular way" when it was the Catholic Mass that was outlawed (Edward VI and The Book of Common Prayer; Elizabeth I and the Act of Uniformity, recusancy laws, penal laws, etc)? I wonder.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Last Words: Blessed Thomas Holland, SJ


Executed at Tyburn on December 12, 1642 after a contentious trial, during the reign of Charles I, he spoke to a large crowd and sympathetic audience:

Fr Holland was dragged to Tyburn at mid-morning of the 12th and seeing a crowd had gathered in silence, he spoke: “I have been brought here to die a traitor, a priest and a Jesuit; but in truth none of these things has been proved.” Then mounting the cart, he placed the noose about his neck and told the people that he was truly a priest and a Jesuit and that he pardoned the judge and jury that had condemned him.. He recited his acts of faith, hope, charity and contrition and then prayed for King Charles I and the nation “for whose prosperity and conversion to the Catholic faith, if I had as many lives as there are hairs on my head, drops of water in the ocean, or stars in the firmament, I would most willingly sacrifice them all.” These words brought cheers from the crowd. He then forgave his executioner for what he is about to do and gave him the few coins he still had in his pocket.

With eyes closed in prayer, Fr Holland looked at a priest
[clearly, he had then opened his eyes!] in the crowd and received absolution. After he was hanged, his body was beheaded and quartered and exposed on London Bridge. Fr Holland was only forty-two years of age and a Jesuit for eighteen years. Pope Pius XI beatified him on December 15, 1929.

Father Tylenda profiled him in Jesuit Saints and Martyrs. According to his entry on today's martyr, the French Ambassador to England offered to intercede for Father Holland to Charles I--and Queen Henrietta Maria would have supported his cause--but Holland refused.

Chesterton on Scrooge's Conversion--and Ours

As Chesterton points out, A Christmas Carol is a conversion story. The first ghost, Jacob Marley, comes to save Ebenezer Scrooge from a fate like his, loaded in chains, unable to do what he should have done while alive:

Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face.

"Mercy!'' he said." Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?''

"Man of the worldly mind!'' replied the Ghost, "do you believe in me or not?''

"I do,'' said Scrooge. "I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?''

"It is required of every man,'' the Ghost returned, "that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world -- oh, woe is me! -- and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!''

Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain, and wrung its shadowy hands.

"You are fettered,'' said Scrooge, trembling. ``Tell me why?''

"I wear the chain I forged in life,'' replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?''

Scrooge trembled more and more.

"Or would you know,'' pursued the Ghost, "the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!''

Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.

"Jacob,'' he said, imploringly. "Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob.''

"I have none to give,'' the Ghost replied. "It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men. Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more, is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house -- mark me! -- in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!''


After Scrooge complains that Marley might have come sooner if he knew Scrooge was in trouble:

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.

"Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,'' cried the phantom, "not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunities misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!''

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,'' faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business!'' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!''

It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

"At this time of the rolling year,'' the spectre said, "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!''


And that's the purpose of the next three Spirits, to get Scrooge to look up, visit the poor, see the want and need around him, and even in himself. But he also sees the joy and love around him and in himself. Chesterton makes the point that Scrooge isn't all bad--but that we aren't all good either. We need conversion as much as Scrooge: we need to begin to apply this warning to ourselves:

Scrooge is not really inhuman at the beginning any more than he is at the end. There is a heartiness in his inhospitable sentiments that is akin to humour and therefore to humanity; he is only a crusty old bachelor, and had (I strongly suspect) given away turkeys secretly all his life. The beauty and the real blessing of the story do not lie in the mechanical plot of it, the repentance of Scrooge, probable or improbable; they lie in the great furnace of real happiness that glows through Scrooge and everything around him; that great furnace, the heart of Dickens. Whether the Christmas visions would or would not convert Scrooge, they convert us. Whether or no the visions were evoked by real Spirits of the Past, Present, and Future, they were evoked by that truly exalted order of angels who are correctly called High Spirits. They are impelled and sustained by a quality which our contemporary artists ignore or almost deny, but which in a life decently lived is as normal and attainable as sleep, positive, passionate, conscious joy. The story sings from end to end like a happy man going home; and, like a happy and good man, when it cannot sing it yells. It is lyric and exclamatory, from the first exclamatory words of it. It is strictly a Christmas carol.

A Final Reminder: the Greater Wichita local chapter of the American Chesterton Society will host A Chesterton Christmas at Eighth Day Books tonight from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Readings, carols, refreshments, gift ideas, and other Christmas preparations will be provided--and a visit, not by St. Nick, Jacob Marley or three other Spirits, but of G.K. Chesterton!