touchstone archives


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

Issue: May/June 2024

[Our farm] is a witness against the world. By deliberately choosing this life of hardship and immense satisfaction, we say in effect: The modern world has nothing better than this to give us. Its vision of comfort without effort, pleasure without the pain of creation, life sterilized against even the thought of death, rationalized so that every intrusion of mystery is felt as a betrayal of the mind, life mechanized and standardized—that is not for us. We do not believe that it makes for happiness from day to day. We fear that it means catastrophe in the end. We fear it if only because standardization leads to regimentation, and because the regimentation that men distrust in their politics is a reflection of the regimentation that they welcome unwittingly in their daily living.

Whittaker Chambers
Witness (1952)

Politics Commonplaces #201 May/June 2024

It needs more than intelligence to understand holiness, more than sensibility to recognize it, more than a nicely balanced judgement to criticize it: a whole lifetime can be spent in the study of the Church’s wonders, of spiritual books, and of the manifestations of sanctity without coming anywhere near its hidden reality. Indeed, to look at it in that way, from the point of view of a research-worker or of a dilettante, is a sign of complete blindness in its regard.

Henri Ghéon
Secrets of the Saints (1944)

Religion Commonplaces #202 May/June 2024

George MacDonald did not exaggerate the power of the imagination. Imagination is a power of discovery, not a power to create. The latter capacity he reserved to God alone. Nor did MacDonald equate imagination with mere fancy, what we used to call “vain imaginings.” Rather, for him, imagination is a power of perception, a light that illumines the mystery that is hidden beneath visible reality; it is a power to help [us] “see” into the very nature of things. Reason alone, MacDonald argued, is not able to recognize mystery or grasp the moral quiddity of the world. As the sensible mind needs eyes to see, so reason needs the imagination in order to behold mystery and to perceive the true quality of things. Imagination takes reason to the threshold of mystery and moral truth and reveals them as such. Reason may then approve or submit. But it remains for the heart of courage with the will to believe and the vision of imagination to embrace the beauty of goodness and the strength of truth as the foundation of virtuous living.

Vigen Guroian
Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Moral Imagination, 2nd edition (2023)

Nature Commonplaces #203 May/June 2024

A “God of surprises” is one thing. A God of reversals is something else altogether.

Aidan Nichols
Apologia, A Memoir (2023)

Religion Commonplaces #204 May/June 2024

Reformers remained attached to many aspects of the past: a Christian state and society, parish structures, church patronage, infant baptism, a set liturgy with traditional features, adult communion, and many calendar observances. Churches could only be adapted, not rebuilt, for Reformed worship. It was unwise to push congregations too far: there had to be some concession to popular usages, notably seating. People’s habits and preferences continued to determine the extent to which change would happen locally. The Reformation may be likened to a tide washing over a reef. At the upper level the tide carries all before it, but underneath the reef remains: in historical terms, the resistant compound of customs, vested interests, and stubborn human nature.

Nicholas Orme
Going to Church in Medieval England (Yale Univ. Press, 2021), p. 399

Christianity Commonplaces #205 May/June 2024

Is it possible to believe that when we now wear polo shirts, khakis, and hyper-designed athletic shoes to weddings, funerals, and graduations, it’s a sign that we have forgotten how to enjoy the events by which we measure life?

G. Bruce Boyer
former fashion editor, Town & Country magazine

Culture Commonplaces #206 May/June 2024

Unless you expect, you won’t discover the unexpected.

(c. 500 BC)

Education Commonplaces #207 May/June 2024

Yet to establish the fact of decadence is the most pressing duty of our time because until we have demonstrated that. . . modern man has about squandered his estate, we cannot combat those who have fallen prey to hysterical optimism. . . .

We approach a condition in which we shall be amoral without the capacity to perceive it and degraded without the means to measure our descent . . . we have the feeling of watching actors who do not comprehend their roles.

Hysterical optimism will prevail until the world again admits the existence of tragedy, until it again distinguishes between good and evil. . . .

We must consider that we are in effect asking for a confession of guilt and an acceptance of sterner obligations.

Richard Weaver
from the introduction to Ideas Have Consequences (1948)

Culture Commonplaces #208 May/June 2024

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