In Aeternum: The England that Never Changes

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Recent posts about the United States and England, and especially those concerned with the decline, decay and ultimate disintegration of England have prompted my musings on the mutability of nations and cultures. Is everything subject to change? If so, is there any permanent value attached to these mutable things? Why bother about the USA or England if they are doomed to die?

Christians will agree that God is immutable. He is the eternally same, unchanging Thing. Christians will also agree that everything else is contingent upon God’s will. This being so, everything in our affections and our philosophy should be subject to our understanding of God. As such, putting our patriotic feelings towards our country before our fidelity to God is a perverse inversion of the correct ordering of things. St. Thomas More provides us with the timeless example of the correct way of seeing this relationship in his assertion that he was the King’s good servant, but God’s first. My country right or wrong is never permissible; when my country is wrong I owe it to my country to put it right.

But let’s return to the problem of mutability. It is a paradox that even the mutable things are in one sense immutable. It is, for instance, true to say that a thing both is and was at the same time. We can take almost any example to illustrate this point but let’s take the case of Napoleon, for no other reason than that he has just popped into my head. Napoleon both is and was. He was a great general and emperor of France, but it is also true to say that he is a great general and emperor of France. Napoleon is a fact. He lived and did things. In this sense he not only was but is. You cannot look at the history of France without looking at Napoleon. He is staring you in the face because his presence is real – and his presence is present. He is as well as was.

In order to understand what I am trying to say, we need to understand the relationship of Time to Eternity. With our finite perception, we can perceive only the past. Even the present, by the time that we perceive it, has become the immediate past. The future, on the other hand, can only be a figment of our imagination. It is what might happen. The nearer the future is to us, the more predictable it might be. I might intend to go to a café for a coffee this morning and in all probability I shall do so. The further the future is from us the less predictable it becomes. I can’t even be sure of the place in which I’ll be living five years from now.

For God, however, there is no past and there is no future. For God everything is Present. This is the deeper meaning of Divine omnipresence; not that God is present everywhere, though He is, but that everything is present to God. For God, therefore, we cannot say that Napoleon was but only that he is.

Where is all this leading? Well, in the case of England, we must insist that England is eternally greater than those who happen to be wandering around today on the geographical stage on which the drama of England has been performed. Most people walking around on the “English stage” today have no idea what England is, or who they are. Thankfully, however, England is not dependent on them. Like the souls in C. S. Lewis’ Great Divorce they are pathetic shadows of who they are meant to be. They are relatively insubstantial. They are certainly less real as Englishmen than Alfred the Great, Bede the Venerable, St. Edward the Confessor, Chaucer, the aforementioned St. Thomas More, the hundreds of English Martyrs, Shakespeare, Austen, Newman, or Tolkien. All of these people are England. Please note: they are England.

Seeing true England through the perspective of the Triune splendor of the Good, the True and the Beautiful, we know that such an England can never die, not because it lingers like a fading coal in the memory of mortal men, but because it exists as a beautiful flower in the Gardens of Eternity. This is the England to which, under God, I owe my allegiance. Deo gratias!

This essay was published in the St. Austin Review  www.staustinreview.com

Joseph Pearce

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Joseph Pearce is Writer-in-Residence and Visiting Fellow at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire and Visiting Scholar at Mt. Royal Academy in Sunapee, New Hampshire. He is also the co-editor of the St. Austin Review , executive director of Catholic Courses and series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. His book on Alexander Solzhenitsyn received the prestigious Pollock Award for Christian Biography.

  • Matthew Arnold

    Ergo?

    Great books of England over Bradford?  Teach Chaucer to Muslims?

    An England of the mind?

    England like the rest of Europe is not repopulating itself except for places, I understand, like Bradford.  David Cameron publicly berates the ‘Anglican Communion’ in England for not embracing gay ‘marriage.’  Shall we teach C. S. Lewis to David Cameron?  

    England’s universities are, in the humanities, in steep decline.  Oxford and Cambridge cannot produce historians of Europe because its students are woefully underprepared in modern languages.  So reads the Times Literary Supplement.  

    I appreciate the writer’s idealism–which I share–but without a plan of action his ideals will fall not on deaf ears but on no ears at all.  I would love to see such a plan from Mr. Pearce.

    • poetcomic1

          I see only one plan of action. As the paragon of English Catholicism. Monsignor Gilbey said, first establish the Kingdom of God within YOU. This is what you are called on to do first and fully before anything else.

      • Matthew Arnold

        I am referring to something altogether different.  

    • SK

       I wouldn’t necessarily say this article is idealistic. You’re right, it does not include a plan of action (which I for one would love to hear in a future article), but it does offer an important foundation for understanding England’s identity. Having such sense that More and Shakespeare and Tolkien, et. al., ARE England, and not just WERE England is very important to keep in mind. It totally rethinks, and basically salvages, England’s identity today. From this article now many avenues open up for concrete, “practical” steps to be taken to renew England.

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  • Frodo

    Sorry, I just disagree with this perspective.

    Rev 1:4 describes Christ alone in the terms used in the article above. “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne.”

    In contrast, Rev 17:8 describes the only other human that is described in similar terms, but note the contrast. “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to perdition; and the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will marvel to behold the beast, because it was and is not and is to come”

    I think I understand the message of hope the article was trying to promote. I agree with that, but just disagree with the tack taken.

    Sorry.

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  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Nations are not mere agglomerates of people.  The nation exists in its members, its life and character pervades their natures and expresses itself in their actions, just as an individual’s personality expresses itself in his or her expression, posture, stance, gait and gestures.

    The nation’s life is a ceaseless, living flow that the human mind can only grasp by  making cuts across it, inserting artificial stops or gaps in what is really a continuous and indivisible process, with individual men and women appearing, like still photographs taken from a motion picture.

    This can, perhaps, be most clearly seen in the formation and development of the national language, which is both one and the product of countless individual speakers.  It is only a language at all, because it is shared

    • Theorist

       IMO to be is not equivalent to being perceived. For if a nation requires a national language, and if a language is just a relative habit, a communication of speech requiring two people, then to be a nation is the same as to be perceived. Wherefore if there was no communication then the nation would be destroyed.  But for a substance to be properly and truly a relation is impossible. So in what sense does a nation require a language?

       But just because a nation is not an agglomerate, it does not follow that it is a substance (I’m not saying you mean that). So perhaps it can be a “mixture” which is half-way between the “jumble” and the “self-sufficient” thing.

  • Paul

    Dr. Pearce’s writing of an England “eternally greater than those who happen to be wandering around today on the geographical stage” put me in mind of an important  theme in C.S. Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength”: Logres vs. Britain. (Lewis seems to have developed this theme under the influence of his friend Charles Williams. The term “Logres” at least is from Williams.)

    Logres is the eternal England and Britain is the fallen England: ”
    something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may
    call Logres. Haven’t you noticed that we are two countries? After every
    Arthur, a Mordred; behind every Milton, a Cromwell; a nation of poets, a
    nation of shopkeepers; the home of Sidney – and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it
    any wonder they call us hypocrites. But what they call hypocrisy is
    really the struggle between Logres and Britain.”  (See chapter 17, Venus at St. Anne’s, section 4) 

    @8e8820080ea08ceb84591c3d32ea0fdc:disqus , There is eternity itself and participated eternity. Read Daniel chapter 10 on the angelic archetypes of nations. Even the “”churches” referred to in Revelation are not merely historical realities. 

    “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!”

  • Thomasmellon

    “The Kings good servant and God’s first” were More’s words on the scaffold.These express a greater unity of life than the often misquoted “but God’s first”. Being a Scot living in England for the last 11 years,4 of my children being born here,I think it is essential that Enland regains it’s independence from the Union for its cultural identity to regain its authenticity.Thats the UK,not Europe.

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