Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Shire: Exemplar of Ordered Liberty

From the "Prologue" of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien:

Of the Ordering of the Shire

The Shire [where the Hobbits live] was divided into four quarters, the Farthings already referred to, North, South, East, and West; and these again each into a number of folklands, which still bore the names of some of the old leading families, although by the time of this history these names were no longer found only in their proper folklands.  Nearly all the Tooks still lived in the Tookland, but that was not true of many other families, such as the Bagginses or the Boffins.  Outside the Farthings were the East and West Marches:  the Buckland; and the Westmarch....

The Shire at this time had hardly any 'government'.  Families for the most part managed their own affairs.  Growing food and eating it occupied most of their time.  In other matters they were, as a rule, generous and not greedy, but contented and moderate, so that estates, farms, workshops, and small trades tended to remain unchanged for generations.

There remained, of course, the ancient tradition concerning the high king [of the race of Men] at Fornost, or Norbury as they called it, away north of the Shire.  But there had been no king for nearly a thousand years, and even the ruins of Kings' Norbury were covered with grass.  Yet the Hobbits still said of wild folk and wicked things (such as trolls) that they had not heard of the king.  For they attributed to the king of old all their essential laws; and usually they kept the laws of free will, because they were The Rules (as they said), both ancient and just.

It is true that the Took family had long been pre-eminent; for the office of Thain had passed to them (from the Oldbucks) some centuries before, and the chief Took had borne that title ever since.  The Thain was the master of Shire-moot, and captain of the Shire-muster and the Hobbitry-in-arms, but as muster and moot were only held in times of emergency, which no longer occurred, the Thainship had ceased to be more than a nominal dignity.  The Took family was still, indeed, accorded a special respect, for it remained both numerous and exceedingly wealthy, and was liable to produce in every generation strong characters of peculiar habits and even adventurous temperament.  The latter qualities, however, were now rather tolerated (in the rich) than generally approved.  The custom endured, nonetheless, of referring to the head of the family as The Took, and of adding to his name, if required, a number:  such as Isengrim the Second, for instance.

The only real official in the Shire at this date was the Mayor of Michel Delving (or of the Shire), who was elected every seven years at the Free Fair on the White Downs at the Lithe, that is at Midsummer.  As mayor almost his only duty was to preside at banquets, given on the Shire-holidays, which occurred at frequent intervals.  But the offices of Postmaster and First Shirriff were attached to the mayoralty, so that he managed both the Messenger Service and the Watch.  These were the only Shire-services, and the Messengers were the most numerous, and much busier of the two.  By no means all Hobbits were lettered, but those who were wrote constantly to all their friends (and a selection of their relations) who lived further off than an afternoon's walk.

The Shirriffs was the name that the Hobbits gave to their police, or the nearest equivalent that they possessed.  They had, of course, no uniforms (such things being quite unknown), only a feather in their caps; and they were in practice rather haywards than policemen, more concerned with the strayings of beasts than of people.  There were in all the Shire only twelve of them, three in each Farthing, for Inside Work.  A rather large body, varying at need, was employed to 'beat the bounds' ["Bounders"], and to see that Outsiders of any kind, great or small, did not make themselves a nuisance.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Originale philosophia

"Another Greek term whose ancient meaning is retained is philosophia.  The Greek Fathers had defined the monk's life as 'philosophy according to Christ' and 'the only true philosophy', or even simply as 'philosophy'.  This term, meaning the practical discernment of the value of things and of the vanity of the world which must be renounced, is applied to those whose whole existence manifests this renunciation.  In the same way, in the monastic Middle Ages as well as in antiquity, philosophia designates, not a theory or a way of knowing, but a lived wisdom, a way of living according to reason.  There are, in effect, two ways of living according to reason.  Either one lives according to worldly wisdom, as taught by the pagan philosophers, and that is the philosophia saecularis or mundialis, or one lives according to Christian wisdom which is not of this world but already of the world to come, and this is the philosophia caelestis or spiritualis or divina.  The philosopher par excellence, and philosophy itself, is Christ:  ipsa philosophia Christus.  He was the Wisdom itself of God incarnate; and the Virgin Mary, in whom was accomplished the mystery of the Incarnation, is called 'the philosophy of Christians'.  They must learn from her:  philosophari in Maria.  Those who had heralded the advent of the Lord Jesus or who have transmitted His message are the philosophers the Christians obey; they speak of philosophia Pauli, and of 'David the philosopher'.

"Now, this integral Christianity, this way of life entirely consecrated to God, this conuersatio caelestis, is indeed realized in monastic life.  That is why the lawgivers and the models of monasticism are considered masters of philosophy.  The cloisters are schools of philosophy, 'gymnasia' where the 'philosophy of St. Benedict' is learned.  St. Bernard is praised because he formed the monks of Clairvaux in the 'disciplines of celestial philosophy', and Adam of Perseigne declares he is committed to the 'Cistercian philosophy'.  To lead a monastic life is simply 'to philosophize'.  Du Cange gives no other medieval equivalent for the word philosophari than:  monachum agere.  The verb philosophari is applied to cenobites living in monasteries as well as to the solitary in his hermit's cell.  In monastic literature well into the twelfth century, the expression christiana philosophia when employed without commentary or explanation very often stands for monastic life itself."

+ Dom Jean Leclercq, O.S.B.
The Love of Learning & the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture [pp. 100-1]

Sunday, June 10, 2012

[untitled poem]

To this land we come
To fulfill the law
We come to die
To feed the hungry mouth of justice.
Into the cold light, Into the frozen silence,
We leave behind some life we knew
(We can't quite remember)
To achieve blessed satisfaction.

To die, to depart,
To be fondly remembered by
Old friends from old life,
New friends now with us, which serve us as adjuncts
To perform this one great task
On this journey toward absolution.

As we have journeyed to arid places
To fulfill the sacrificial duties of our religion,
As we have paced about the cloister in the tiny hours,
So come we to this place, the land where nothing happens,
Where in a single moment, in one instant,
The transcendent dictates are fulfilled,
The broken bone set, for once in all time.
Primordial command of righteousness
Here, among us, meets threshold of Hades,
The meeting point
The point of order which chaos surrounds.
This point is within us, enacted by us,
We who were chosen by our own choice,
By our own vices, which is also to say we were
Chosen by Virtues and Powers,
To fill the chasms our vices have dug.

The digging has been digging without respite since long ago.

Set bone restoring order to cosmos,
Chaos into cosmos the rite is enacted,
The duty fulfilled.

Land of endless cold

Land of endless light