Epistle to Ansgar: Letter 02

17 December AD 2023, Gaudete Sunday

Dear Godson,

This day is “Gaudete” Sunday, which is the third Sunday in Advent. Church candles and churchmen are garbed in vestments of rose-red, but everyone calls it pink. It is the Sunday of Joy, for Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoicing.

Advent includes four weeks leading up to Christmas, which is the nativity of Our Lord. On this day the Lord God Almighty came to earth as a helpless baby, small enough to hold in your arms, cradling his little head in your hand. He was prophet, priest and prince from the moment of his birth, and the worldly kings sought his life both then and thereafter. There is nothing worldly powers hate more than heavenly powers.

But a description of the mystery of Christmas should wait for a later letter.

During Advent, we prepare for the coming of our prince, as you might expect, by cleaning ourselves up and making ourselves presentable: almsgiving, acts of charity, and prayers of penance are due. It is traditional to renounce some self-indulgence, chocolate or soda pop, bacon or eggs, during this period. Such acts of self-discipline are meant to render the usurping appetites of man humble and obedient to the reason of man.

Advent is called “advent” because it is the season when God is introduced to Earth in the flesh and dwelling among us. It is perhaps a propitious time to introduce God to you, beloved godson.

There are certain things, like true love, like life, like beauty, which all men know and crave and no man can clearly put into words. A babe in arms knows of the warmth, the milk, and the love of his mother, even if he cannot defend the definition of the word “mama” in debate. Likewise, there are many things all men know, but few or none can put into words. Few things in life are as sharply defined as an equilateral triangle.

These are things we recognize as if we knew them from forever. To doubt them is folly, but sometimes hope dies and doubts come.

God is one such a thing. All men know who and what God is.

They see the order, beauty and wonder of the cosmos and recognize this as the handiwork of a creator. This creator set time in motion, defined light and darkness, day and night, matter and spirit, heaven and earth, solid and moving, sea and land, and brought forth life. He set the stars in their courses and ordained the orbits of the planets, organized tides and seasons, set the course of rivers and glaciers. He wove the intricate folds of the rose and painted the argent lily. He commanded how the humble grass would grow, the towering cedar, and the evergreen. Sunfish and swordfish, crab and eel, dolphin and ray, goshawk and penguin and puffin and bumblebee filled sea and sky. The creator designed the microbe and brontosaur, worm and whale, behemoth and leviathan, crooked snake and antic monkey; and the creator breathed life in to man.

The wisdom needed to do this is supreme, the power is absolute. The creator cannot be ignorant of his creation, hence is called All-knowing; nor is anything he makes mightier than he, hence is called All-powerful. Setting time in motion, he is outside time, and sees the beginning and the end of all things, hence he is called Providence.

What he made is good, hence he is known to be benevolent.

All men look in their own heart to see that we all have a sense of right and wrong, sometimes clear, sometimes unclear, but which holds us to a standard we did not concoct, but which we know binds us. All men know the conscience is the voice of God.

If God were not the source of right and wrong, we would not know right and wrong, nor can he instill in us a yearning for the good, without himself being the good for which we yearn. Common sense says you cannot get grapes except from a grapevine, nor thorns except from a thornbush.

We all know we all have language, even if words and concepts differ from tongue to tongue, and we have numbers, even if not everyone knows Euclid. Hence, we can draw distinctions and deductions and conclusions about the order and regularity we see in the universe, both concrete things we can see, and abstract things we can name. This is the tool of reason, which cannot arise within us save it was designed by a rational designer.

Reason cannot be a tool without a tool-maker. Objects like rocks merely are rocks. But a hammer is designed to hammer; there can be no hammers without a hammer-maker. Likewise, there can be no reason, without a reason-maker who make man reasonable.

All men have a notion of beauty, either clear or unclear, and we stand in awe beholding nature in all her terror and glory.  This is art, and art implies an artist.

All men see that sun, moon, stars, tides and trees, rivers and seasons, wild animals and domestic act by repeating cycles. Fire warms and water wets, and, when handled unwisely, fire scalds and water drowns. All men know effects come from causes, and that coincidences occur by coincidence.

All things are caused. Nothing comes from nothing. The cosmos cannot come from nothing, nor can it beginningless, for then it would never have started, nor can it arise naturally, because that would mean the cosmos created itself from itself by itself, which is nonsense. Nature arose from the supernatural, time arose from eternity. There is no other meaningful option.

Nonetheless, some are plagued by doubts, or protect themselves with doubts, hiding from knowledge like a toad beneath a stone shunning the sun. They know what the word means, but they say the word has no meaning, like a four-sided triangle, or refers to mere fancy, like a unicorn.

The order of the cosmos is not merely its regularity, but its purposefulness. Bird’s wing or rabbit’s foot, cat’s eye or dog’s nose are clearly designed with a purpose in mind, whether it be to fly, to leap, to see in the night, to track by scent.

The barnswallow never drew a blueprint for a swallow’s nest before thatching it, nor does the silk weave its cocoon after consulting a pattern in a dress catalogue. The cat does not know enough optics to design an eye, nor does the dog know enough about dog breeding to produce bloodhounds by crossbreeding.

But these things cannot be understood, or even described, without reference to their blueprints, patterns, designs, or breeds. Creation implies creator.

To say these things arose by some unintentional natural process is to say that the selective breeding was unselected, or that purpose arose spontaneously from pointlessness. It is to say something comes from nothing, that effects come without cause. It is to say life is meaningless.

Imagine finding a one-page typed letter of five hundred words, all with correct spelling and grammar, addressed to you, correctly composed, and clearly giving you not merely advise and instruction, but sound advise and wise instructions, and, as years passed, more wisdom was found in rereading this letter.

Then someone tells you that this letter was produced by chaining ten thousand monkeys to ten thousand typewriters for ten thousand years, all of whom banged the keys blindly, and that this was the letter produced.

What if he then told you that this was the first letter of the ten thousand times ten thousand produced by the monkeys? It just so happened to be the one that came out right the first time.

Would you believe him?

I would not.

If this letter reads as if it were typed at random my a monkey, that is not because words arose on the page at random for no reason. It merely means my reason was not reasonable enough to hit the mark at which I aimed.

Likewise, if the cosmos does not seem as fair and orderly, as well-designed and benevolent as what I here describe, this is not because the cosmos arose at random. It merely means that something went wrong, some evil entered the universe at a fundamental step, so that the world were wrong from where it was meant … or man did.

But that is matter for another letter.

Your godfather

John Charles Justinmartyr Wright