Monday, 3 October 2016

Toomas Karmo: Theological investigations continue: John Bradburne (1921-1979)

Quality assessment: 

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3'5 is "mediocre pass", 4.5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: Kmo has time to make the necessary points to adequate length. 

Revision history:

20161004T0002Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded base version. He reserved the right to upload minor (i.e., cosmetic, as opposed to substantive) tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.0.1, 1.0.2, 1.0.3, ... .

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some late points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears.]

The present note supplements last week's note regarding the Zimbabwe martyr - and friend of indigent leprous patients, and friend of honeybees, and joyously prolific poet - John Bradburne (1921-1979). 


In the northern-hemisphere summer of 2016, I was fortunate to make first a protracted two-night discovery visit, and some weeks later an afternoon visit, to our principal monastic outpost here in the "York Region" municipality abutting northern Toronto, the Marylake Shrine. 

One of the fruits of my discovery was the purchase, for next to nothing, of a book by Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990), his 1969 Fontana paperback Jesus Rediscovered. The work is specially valuable because it antedates Malcolm Muggeridge's 1982 reception into the Catholic Church, and so presents a theological snapshot from a significant way-station along his faith journey. 

Muggeridge's depth and subtlety are striking, running contrary to what one might despairingly expect of a television journalist. Indeed Muggeridge's example calls to mind another deep thinker, and Catholic convert, and nevertheless professional journalist, G.K.Chesterton (1874-1936). 

As evidence of depth, one might take from pp. 200 and 201 of this Fontana paperback  Muggeridge's assessment of contemporary culture - still truer now, in 2016, than it was at the time of publication, back in 1969: 

The basic condition for a civilisation is that there should be law and order. Obviously, this is coming to an end, the world is falling into chaos, even - perhaps especially - our Western world. Furthermore, I firmly believe that our civilisation began with the Christian religion, and has been sustained and fortified by the values of the Christian religion, by which admittedly most men have not lived, but to which they have assented, and by which the greatest of them have tried to live. The Christian religion and these values no longer prevail, they no longer mean anything at all to ordinary people. Some suppose that you can have a Christian civilization without Christian values. I disbelieve this. I think that the basis of order is a moral order; if there is no moral order there will be no political or social order, and we see this happening. This is how civilisations end. 

And then there is this insight, one page later: 

If one considers the nature and present objectives of our society, I think it's much more optimistic to suppose it's going to collapse than that it's going to succeed. Its success would be a nightmare beyond all thought or belief. If a place like, for instance, California really were viable, this would be the end of everything. 

Muggeridge sometimes comes across as a rather sour 1969 Augustine - although not really in the passages quoted, nevertheless elsewhere in his book, in the various spots at which he briefly allows himself an Augustinian grimace upon briefly calling to mind admittedly immoral phenomena of carnal lust. And yet there is also this on p. 181, sounding a note of joy less Augustinian than Fransiscan. I underline the part which is for the purposes of the present note on martyr John Bradburne the most important:

Misery is to be shut off and in darkness, and of course, alas, there is still no way of avoiding that. Suddenly it's gone; the light of awareness, gone; as you might suddenly lose your love for a person. It's gone, blotted out, and you are in darkness, confined in that terrible little dungeon of the ego, that little dark dungeon down there, tortured by fears, appetites, frustrations, ambitions, greed - all these things crowd in on you like invisible devils, and there you are - lost. That's hell. People ask what hell is. I say that is hell, and that's what it's going to be like. Then suddenly, equally unaccountably, through maybe a sight of nature, or of a loved face, or maybe a snatch of music, or just through thinking, being perceptive, it comes back - snap - almost like that - you are in tune, you are in communion; you are back in relationship with God and the moral nature of the universe, and everything is clear; there is nothing to be afraid of, and there is only joy, and only love; it's quite extraordinary. 

Muggeridge's joy is what I specially want to stress in today's note, as I continue to investigate John Bradburne. 


A moral sense is not, within our own terrestrial biosphere, the exclusive preserve of Homo sapiens. Somewhere I have read the bleak story of a wild dog pack, which two stray dogs, "A" and "B", were observed trying to join. The pack seemed uninterested in recruiting A and B. Stray dog A thereupon took a dramatic action, which she or he was sure would ingratiate herself or himself: she or he turned on her or his companion, B, and killer her or him, and then sat facing the pack, I imagine with a canine smirk, awaiting  admittance. The pack thereupon killed A, I presume in a noisy slaughter which saw blood on more than one muzzle. 

This is, I repeat, a bleak story - all the more bleak because, as I remember reading it in some now-forgotten place, its suggestion of Implacable Justice seems to record an actual field observation, i.e., to be no fiction. 

But there are also some things suggesting Love in our biosphere, outside Homo sapiens. I have read of a pair of mated fowl, I suspect Canada geese, C and D, facing their mutual tragedy as the best of married humans might. C, being injured (a broken wing, perhaps?) could not fly south to escape the winter freeze. C was reduced to paddling on the open, but now chilly and diminishing, surface of a watercourse or lake or pond. As the ice closed in, with just one outcome ultimately possible, D refused to abandon the doomed C.

There is also the story of the autistic boy, somewhere in Britain, and his wolf. The boy's father, having heard of an opportunity to encounter a wolf in some such place as a petting zoo, took the boy to meet the wolf. So profound was this boy's autism that he had never reacted to anything - I believe showing no joy, no sorrow, no curiosity, no irritation: showing nothing at all. The wolf started smothering the boy's face in great wolf-licks. To this the boy for his part responded, emerging from his seemingly permanent emotional imprisonment to cry profusely, his face now wet not with the wolf's saliva alone but with his own tears.

Indeed I have myself noted things with dogs:

  • the dog (I remember her name to be "Queenie") from the Canadian farm beside which I grew up, in the 1960s, protecting me quite insistently against attacks from another occasionally somewhat mean-spirited dog on that same farm;
  • the two dogs, "X" and "Y", in the 1990s or later,  neither of them seemingly gifted (intelligence among dogs varies, as it does in Homo sapiens), and one of whom did not even know me very well: both seemed to grasp when I was in a state of  special depression, even though my speech and basic body-language betrayed nothing; both responded by licking me extravagantly in times of depression, in the manner of the just-cited wolf.

This and similar observations - one might perhaps add, for instance, Ernest Thomson Seton's 1898 account of wolf Lobo, "King of Currumpaw" - suggest Love to operate in the universe in ways that evade the normal formalisms of science. 

In theology, certainly, love seems to be the one safe criterion by which we can assess things.

Why do we take Saint Paul seriously, as a theologian? Had we only his passages of analysis regarding Law and Redemption Despite Law, we would still acclaim him a deep thinker, a precursor of Augustine and Aquinas and Luther and Newman. What everyone reads most in Paul are, however, not the so-subtly-argued analyses, but rather the words from 1 Corinthians 13 - "If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong" (and so on). 


I have tried to convey the central importance of love -as Muggeridge put it in the part I have underlined from his 1969 writing, love is intrinsic to "the moral nature of the universe" -  in some small ways on this blog, through small past references to the contemporary Firenze (Toscana) hermit Sister Julia Bolton Holloway (or, as I like to call her informally, "Dame Julia"), in her work with the socially marginalized Roma (the "Gypsies"). 

One additionally senses the insistent pressure of love in Pope Francis's seeking out, a few days ago, in Mikheil Meshi Stadium in Tbilisi, an audience which he knew would not adulate him. His Mass was celebrated, by way of witness in humility, to a three-quarters-empty stadium. And he must have known weeks in advance, through the Vatican's excellent diplomatic-intelligence network, as well as through his decades of pastoral Jesuit experience in an unusually difficult South American country, that this public humiliation would be the probable consequence of his envisaged Tbilisi visit. 

One again senses the insistent pressure of love in the late Fr Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) and Jean Vanier (1928-), in their befriending the intellectually disadvantaged. 


It was this that I tried also to convey here last week in my first report on John Bradburne. 

On contemplating such teachers - the Dame Julias, the various Fransiscos down through the centuries, the Nouwens and the Jean Vaniers, and now John Bradburne - one senses a thinning of the veil. Here is perhaps an intimation of the way the universe actually works, a thing perhaps on occasion specially vivid to the poorest - notably to Dame Julia's, and the Holy Father's, and Jean Vanier's, and Fr Nouwen's, and John Bradburne's, varied friends, who have taught them even as they have in turn taught us. 

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