touchstone archives

Commonplaces

Piquant excerpts lifted from Touchstone editors' own reading & listening.

Issue: Sept/Oct 2021



When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn't become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness. Social media serve as crack for moralists: there's no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors. But like every addiction, this one suffers from the inexorable law of diminishing returns. The mania for punishment will therefore get worse before it gets better.

Alan Jacobs
Snakes and Ladders blog (June 26, 2017)


Society Commonplaces #96 Sept/Oct 2021


A man who has never had that experience [of the Prodigal Son], be it only very briefly, who has never felt that he is exiled from God and from real life, will never understand what Christianity is about. And the one who is perfectly "at home" in this world and its life, who has never been wounded by the nostalgic desire for another Reality, will not understand what is repentance.

Alexander Schmemann
"The Sunday of the Prodigal Son," Great Lent (1974)


Christianity Commonplaces #97 Sept/Oct 2021


What made the traditional family remarkable, a work of high religious art, is what it brought together: sexual drive, physical desire, friendship, companionship, emotional kinship and love, the begetting of children and their protection and care, their early education and induction into an identity and a history. Seldom has any institution woven together so many different drives and desires, roles and responsibilities. It made sense of the world and gave it a human face, the face of love.

For a whole variety of reasons, some to do with medical developments like birth control, in vitro fertilization, and other genetic interventions, some to do with moral change, like the idea that we are free to do whatever we like so long as it does not harm others, some to do with a transfer of responsibilities from the individual to the state, and other and more profound changes in the culture of the West, almost everything that marriage once brought together has now been split apart. Sex has been divorced from love, love from commitment, marriage from having children, and having children from responsibility for their care.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
from the keynote address at "The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Interreligious Colloquium," convened by the Vatican, November 17, 2014


Family Commonplaces #98 Sept/Oct 2021


Where Communism has been able to assert its power . . . it has striven by every possible means, as its champions openly boast, to destroy Christian civilization and the Christian religion by banishing every remembrance of them from the hearts of men, especially of the young. . . .

Pope Pius XI
Divini Redemptoris (1937)


Politics Commonplaces #99 Sept/Oct 2021


I have known a vast quantity of nonsense talked about bad men not looking you in the face. Don't trust that conventional idea. Dishonesty will stare honesty out of countenance, any day in the week, if there is anything to be got by it.

Charles Dickens
"Hunted Down" (short story), 1860


Culture Commonplaces #100 Sept/Oct 2021


[T]here are many misteries contained in Poetrie, which of purpose were written darkly, lest by prophane wits it should be abused.

Sir Philip Sidney
(circa 1582)


Education Commonplaces #101 Sept/Oct 2021


Half of our standards come from our first master, and the other half from our first loves. Never being so deeply stirred again, we remain persuaded that no objects save those we then discovered can have a true sublimity. . . . Thus the volume and intensity of some appreciations, especially when nothing of the kind has preceded, makes them authoritative over our subsequent judgements. On those warm moments hang all our cold systematic opinions; and while the latter fill our days and shape our careers, it is only the former that are crucial and alive.

George Santayana
(quoted in Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction, 1928)


Education Commonplaces #102 Sept/Oct 2021


In the . . . Bread of Life discourse, its metaphysical character takes us to the heart of what we now know as the eucharistic mystery, so grotesque an imagination for Jesus' early followers that many of them said, "This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" and turned back (John 6:60). But Jesus does not deter them from leaving by making his saying more prosaic and user-friendly; his purpose is to teach a deeper truth, one that perhaps cannot be perceived without the poetry.

David Lyle Jeffrey
Scripture and the English Poetic Imagination (2019)


Education Commonplaces #103 Sept/Oct 2021

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