Friday 12 January 2018

Redditor Lucis Aeternae

I am currently reading The Anathemata by David Jones, a book-length poem, published in 1952, exploring the cultural and spiritual history of Britain. Here is a brief extract. The speaker is 'The Lady of the Pool', a kind of Medieval tutelary spirit of London:

    And then, as if he perceived a body - coming
as if he hails a personage
                          where was but insentience
and baulk of stone
                          he sings out and clear:
These, captain, were his precisive words - what sentiments I
can't construe - but at which, captain, I cried: Enough!
                          Let's to terrestrial flesh, or
bid good-night, I thought.

And here is a footnote provided by the poet to illuminate the Latin phrase:

REDDITOR LUCIS AETERNAE - 'Restorer of the Eternal Light'; this is inscribed on a gold medallion found at Beauvains near Arras, struck to commemorate the relief of London in AD 296 by  the Emperor, Constantius Chlorus, the husband of St. Helena (and father of Constantine the Great). He is mounted and with a lance, his horse stepping down from the gang-plank of a boat at a turreted gateway inscribed LON, where a female figure kneels with welcoming arms. The words, 'Redditor, etc.' are inscribed above the figure of the Emperor. Although this may but commemorate a chance victory in a war of rival generals, none the less Constantius, at that moment, was the outward sign of something and was himself the implement of what he signified, namely: in the domain of accidental fact, the saving of London from immediate sack; in the domain of contemporary politics, the restoration of Britain to unity with the West, and in the domain of perennial ideas, the return to Britain of the light of civilisation. (p.134)

In AD 296, the Roman naval commander, Carausius, usurped control of Britain and northern Gaul and declared himself joint-Emperor. The Imperial government found him a difficult opponent and Britain remained under localised, independent rule until Constantius' expedition ten years later. The episode (known as the Carausian Revolt) is superbly dramatised in Rosemary Sutcliff's 1957 novel, The Silver Branch. Here, Carausius sets out his stall before the two young soldiers, Justin and Flavius:

'The Wolves gather,' Carausius said. 'Always, everywhere, the Wolves gather on the frontiers, waiting. It needs only that a man should lower his eye for a moment, and they will be in to strip the bones. Rome is failing, my children.'

Justin looked at him warily, but Flavius never moved; it was as though he had known what Carausius would say.

'Oh, she is not finished yet. I shall not see her fall. My Purple will last my life-time - and nor, I think, will you. Nevertheless, Rome is hollow rotten at the heart, and one day she will come crashing down. a hundred years ago, it must have seemed that all this was for ever; a hundred years hence - only the gods know ... If I can make this one province strong - strong enough to stand alone when Rome goes down, then something may be saved from the darkness. If not, then Dubris light and Limanis light and Rutupiae light will go out. The lights will go out everywhere.' 

He stepped back, dragging aside the hanging folds of the curtains, and stood framed in their darkness against the firelight and the lamplight behind him, his head yet turned to the scudding grey and silver of the stormy night. 'If I can steer clear of a knife in my back until the work is done, I will make Britain strong enough to stand alone,' he said. 'It is as simple as that.' (pp.36-37)

Unfortunately for Carausius, and perhaps for the country, he did not escape a knife in the back. He was assassinated in AD 293 by his finance minister, Allectus, who clung onto power until the Roman reconquest. 

The Carausian revolt erupted just a decade after the end of the so-called 'Gallic Empire', where, between AD 260 and 274, the usurper, Postumus, had assumed control of Britain and Gaul in an almost identical manner. It surprises me greatly that none of this history, so far as I can tell, has been referred to in the endless media commentary surrounding Brexit. Carausius, in many ways, can be seen as the first Euro-sceptic. His revolt shows that in some sense Britain is indeed 'set apart', as William Wildblood cogently argued in his post 'Albion Set Apart' on 18th November 2017. 

Britain, on this view, is temperamentally unsuited to life as one cog among many in a giant European power-bloc. Geographically, the UK stands at one remove from the continent and that needs to be reflected in the way the country is governed. Britain, as Carausius intuited, is a nation that needs to find her own way in the world. She is independent by nature and it would be going against the grain  to corral her into compliance with a supra-national, overseas authority, especially one perceived to be 'hollow rotten at the heart.'

So far, so straightforward. But there is more going on here. Jones talks about the 'restoration of Britain to unity with the West' and the 'return of Britain to the light of civilisation.' For him (and the designer of the Beauvains coin), the restoration of direct Roman rule is clearly a good thing. But that is because Constantius openly declares himself the representative and restorer of a higher principle - the 'eternal light' of civilisation, heaven and the gods. The contrast with the European Union, jumping to contemporary times, couldn't be more stark. One of the great misjudgements of the Remain campaign, in my view, was to conflate Europe with the EU. Europe is a civilisation - at least 3000 years old - and a vast physical space, stretching from the Mayo coastline to the Ural Mountains. The EU is an institution, no different in essence from any other institution - Barclays Bank, for instance, or Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. It exists to maintain and perpetuate itself. It is grey, bureaucratic and faceless, with little of the romance, glamour and rebel-chic some Remainers project onto it. It has no links with any higher principle, as symbolised by the EU flag, twelve yellow stars in a circle on a blue background with absolutely nothing in the centre. You would get extremely long odds on a functionary like Jean-Claude Juncker styling himself Redditor Lucis Aeternae. Juncker himself would be appalled at the thought, and that says everything, to my mind, about where his institution stands spiritually and philosophically. Nowhere at all, in brief.

The EU's big problem is that it has no spiritual dimension whatsoever. It doesn't know how to connect with people on the level of spirit and imagination. It has no spark, no fire, and has, in recent years, become increasingly hostile to the Gospel despite the religious faith of its founders and its roots in post-war Christian Democracy. More sobering than the EU's shortcomings, however, is the sad fact that were a Restorer of the Eternal Light to turn up at a British port tomorrow he would most likely be deported straightaway. It is someone or something on this level, I believe, that 52% of the British people were, perhaps unconsciously, voting for in the 2016 referendum. Something essentially spiritual. But this has been not been understood, acknowledged or reflected in all the debate that has gone on since in Westminster and the media. Pro-Leave circles are perhaps the worst. A paper like The Daily Telegraph, for instance, views Brexit exclusively in terms of its potential for economic growth and increased global trade. It doesn't see it as an opportunity for spiritual and cultural renewal. It doesn't even go there, and this, I feel, is emblematic of a stunning lack of imagination and independent thought running right through the UK establishment.

The Brexiteers would be better advised to start forging links with the EU's Central and Eastern European members, particularly the 'Visegrad Four' of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These countries have displayed a fierce national pride and a feisty independence of spirit in their recent dealings with Brussels. Decades of communist tyranny havre taught them the value of their own national patrimony and also the preciousness and precariousness of European civilisation as a whole. They are also (with the possible exception of the Czech Republic) profoundly Christian in outlook and orientation. In November 2016, for example, the Polish government officially placed the nation under the patronage of Christ the King, while Hungary's President, Viktor Orban, recently said this:

'Ever more frequently nowadays I hear that sixty years ago the European Union's founding fathers marked out the route. Europe, as Robert Schuman said, will be Christian or it will be nothing. The year 2017 has presented European countries with a historic task. A new task has been given to the free nations of Europe and the national governments elected by free citizens. We must protect Christian culture. We must do this not to oppose others, but to defend ourselves, our families, our nation, our countries and Europe, "the homeland of homelands,"'

Now, I'm not naive enough to think that the V4 don't have challenges and temptations of their own, but they are at least facing in the right direction, which is probably more than can be said for the UK at this moment. The only thing that can reorient us, I believe, is something that will never happen because the world today is so addicted to restlessness and ceaseless change. Britain needs to step off the wheel, in short. She needs to take a break and gather her thoughts, pressing the pause button for as long as it takes, so her inhabitants can start to feel their way into the essence and soul of the country, beginning to think seriously about what British identity is and what kind of relationships we would like to have, first of all between the UK's four constituent parts, then towards Europe, and finally to the world beyond.

Such a space for quiet recollection will never be officially sanctioned, as I say, but there's nothing to stop us engaging in it ourselves as individuals or groups. We could read John Michell's The Traveller's Key to Sacred England, maybe, and visit some of the sites he mentions. For more on this, please see Bruce Charlton's post of 4th January 2018. Or, as Bruce also suggests, we could read Geoffrey of Monmouth's, History of the Kings of Britain, or immerse ourselves in any of the titles discussed in William's Albion Awakening Booklist post of 17th December 2017.

Whatever we choose to do, it is less opinion and debate that is required and more thought and reflection. We have become fixated, to a degree, on political procedures and solutions. But there is a pre-political level of myth and intuition which drives the direction a society takes at a more fundamental level. It's all about the kind of stories we tell ourselves and the stories we believe to be true or false. We need to return for a while to the primal, archetypal level of things, then tune back in to the land we have become alienated from, and listen to the story it's telling us. Where does it want to go? What does it want us to do? Then we can step forward into the future in confidence and clarity of mind.

Maybe what emerges from our time in the wilderness will appear strange and unsettling. The Russian Orthodox priest, Fr. Andrew Phillips, has proposed on his blog ( the dissolution of the UK and its replacement by another acronym, IONA - The Isles of the Northern Sea. He wants Westminster to become the site of a devolved English Parliament and for central government to relocate to the Isle of Man, an island rich in British mythological lore and within sight, as it were, of all four countries.

It could well be that such a radical reimagining of who we are is exactly what is needed to propel us out of the current impasse. But nothing authentic or original will come to the surface without contemplation and stillness. We have to get beyond the head level - into the heart, the imagination and the guts. Argument and counter argument will get us precisely nowhere. We'll be stuck at the level of cliché forever, more and more dependent on the market and the state (and increasingly technology) to provide us with answers to problems we don't have the imaginative capacity to deal with any more. 

Silence is the key. As Cardinal Robert Sarah points out in his recent book, The Power of Silence:

Mankind must join in a sort of resistance movement. What will become of our world if it does not look for intervals of silence? Interior rest and harmony can flow only from silence. Without it, life does not exist. The greatest mysteries of the world are born and unfold in silence. How does nature develop? In the greatest silence. A tree grows in silence, and springs of water flow at first in the silence of the ground. The sun that rises over the earth in its splendour and grandeur warms us in silence. What is extraordinary is always silent. (p.34)

The still small voice that Elijah heard on Mount Horeb is there for nations just as much as it is for individuals. And it is that still small voice - more than any Emperor, military commander or  referendum result - which is the true Redditor Lucis Aeternae.


Bruce Charlton said...

@John - Excellent post!

I personally believe that the era of patriotic/ spiritual/ romantic nationalism was a brief one - and is several generations past - even in Ireland. The future is with a national patriotism which comes *from* Christ, and is dedicated to God's work.

I can't easily see this working from a level of the British Isles, and probably not even from the British mainland.

I believe that England now has a deeper and more powerful love of nation than the Scots or Welsh - whose romanticism has been very thoroughly subverted by leftism, economic dependence and manipulated anti-England resentments.

Although this current English romanticism is almost entirely invisible in public discourse, it can be seen in the kinds of books increasingly being produced and sold (in response to demand) in the National Trust shops and other similar 'heritage' sites. These are nostalgic, and perhaps sentimental - but the number and range of such books is remarkable. For example, I was browsing one the other day about some of the great trees of England.

Regional sentiments are are strong, and largely unspoken - especially strong, perhaps, in the North East where I live. Look at the range and number of books on this subject:

A surprisingly high proportion of cars in this area (including mine) have a discreet Northumbrian flag sticker on the back - and no other sticker.

What holds all this in check is a version of Owen Barfield's Residual Unresolved Positivism - which is an unthinking inculcated Leftism. English Leftism was populist (comapred to, say, the French or Russian versions), had deep roots, and was woven with a lot of good things. An appealing character such as William Cobbett was an example; the old Methodist church was another.

Now these good aspects of Leftism have created a residual sentimental affection which is easily manipulated (eg. by the dishonest and malignant Jeremy Corbyn), and which prevents the necessary Christian core from forming and growing in the hearts of Men.

The English feel guilty about their love of country; we can easily be diverted and have their motivations dispersed by claims of injustice, poverty, misery and the like.

But the sheer extremity of our distraction and short-termism is itself a potential brittleness - the colossal edifice of manipulation seems to rely on eternal growth; and may very suddenly crack and shatter.

If so, there are good seeds in buried deep the hearts of many English, which could grow.

Karl said...

About the symbolic emptiness of the EU: try an image search for "Europe many languages one voice". Apparently some European authority actually commissioned a poster having this title. On one of the submissions, the circle of twelve yellow stars shines in the blue sky over Bruegel's Tower of Babel, redrawn with the addition of a crane on one of the top levels to show that the work is still in progress.

William Wildblood said...

Great post, John, packed full of insights. It should be in a national newspaper rather than hidden away on a blog. It's much wiser than anything I've seen in the mainstream media.

I've often thought about the hollow symbolism of the EU flag with its absence of a centre. A celebration of nothing.

Bruce Charlton said...

" It should be in a national newspaper rather than hidden away on a blog."

To be honest, it will probably have as much/ more real impact here as if it was published in The Times - I have quite often published in the national press (Times, Independent, Guardian), and the pieces either sink without trace or are misunderstood; I have found a better (and bigger!) audience when blogging.

William Wildblood said...

What i really meant to point to was the absurdity of articles like this being tucked away rather than widely available. But I'm sure you're right that the audience here is more discerning!

David Stanley said...

As a confused "Christian perennialist" I find your website inspirational. I have no one I can talk to about this sort of thing.. Often feel disconnected from society but very connected to local landscape.

John Fitzgerald said...

@David - Yes, me too. I know what you mean. Thanks and all the best.

Bruce Charlton said...

David Llewellyn Dodds - A comment to John Fitgerald's 12 Jan. post, "Redditor Lucis Aeternae" at Albion Awakening, since that has a different, to me inaccessible, comment set-up!:

"If what I've read about the explicitly Marian original reference of the circle of stars (Rev./Apoc. 12) is true, there is terrible irony in their hijacking and emptying and 'revaluing' into something merely this-worldly and idolatrously self-regarding, rather than representing an aspiration to something like the choreae of Dante's Paradiso!

"By the way, have a look at Tolkien's rediscovered poem,'Noel', in this context - sadly unavailable officially, as far as I know, but lurking here an there online as a sort of samizdat!"

John Fitzgerald said...

I'll find that poem, David. Thank you very much. That's a very perceptive comment about the EU stars as well.