Thursday, February 8, 2018

Chesterton and Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, the former Queen of Scotland, was executed on February 8, 1587. Tomorrow night, our Greater Wichita American Chesterton Society local society will meet to discuss two essays by Chesterton from the Ignatius Press edition of Lepanto: one on Cervantes and the other on Mary, Queen of Scots. The second essay is titled "If Don John of Austria Had Married Mary, Queen of Scots".

Chesterton wrote more about Mary of Scotland: in a 1931 book of biographies called Revaluations and in an article in the Illustrated London News about the Casket Letters, those letters that allegedly implicated Mary in the murder of her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. The biographical essay is in the volume In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton, also from Ignatius Press, edited by Joseph Pearce, Aidan Mackay, and Dale Ahlquist.

In the essay we'll discuss tomorrow, Chesterton picks up on the notion that the hero of Lepanto, Don John of Austria, wanted to rescue Mary, marry her, and restore her to the throne of Scotland--and of course, reign with her there and in England after Elizabeth I died. Chesterton thinks marriage would have been good for both Mary and John and for Scotland, England, Europe, and the Catholic Church:

For Don John: And to the career of Don John it would have given a climax and a clue of meaning which its merely military successes could not give; and handed his name down in history and (what is much more important) in legend and literature, as a happier Antony married to a nobler Cleopatra. And when he looked into her eyes he would not have seen only bright chaos and the catastrophe of Actium, the ruin of his ships and his hopes of an imperial throne; but rather the flying curve and crescent of the Christian ships, sweeping to the rescue of the Christian captives, and blazed upon their golden sails the sunburst of Lepanto. . . . 

For Mary: If ever there was a woman who was manifestly meant, destined, created, and as it were crying aloud to be carried off by Don John of Austria, or some such person, it was Mary Queen of Scots. If ever there was a woman who went to seed for want of meeting any sort of man who was anything like her equal, it was she. . . . She never met a complete man; and Don John was very complete. . . .

For Europe and Christendom: There was a moment when all Christendom might have clustered together and crystallised anew, under the chemistry of the new culture; and yet have remained a Christendom that was entirely Christian. There was a moment when Humanism had the road straight before it; but, what is even more important, the road also straight behind it. It might have been a real progress, not losing anything of what was good in the past. The significance of two people like Mary Stuart and Don John of Austria is that in them Religion and the Renaissance had not quarrelled; and they kept the faith of their fathers while full of the idea of handing on new conquests and discoveries to their sons. They drew their deep instincts from medieval chivalry without refusing to feed their intellects on the sixteenth-century learning; and there was a moment when this spirit might have pervaded the whole world and the whole Church. There was a moment when religion could have digested Plato as it had once digested Aristotle. For that matter, it might have digested all that is soundest in Rabelais and Montaigne and many others; it might have condemned some things in these thinkers; as it did in Aristotle. Only the shock of the new discoveries could have been absorbed (to a great extent indeed it was absorbed) by the central Christian tradition. What darkened that dawn was the dust and smoke from the struggles of the dogmatising sectaries in Scotland, in Holland, and eventually in England. But for that, on the Continent, the heresy of Jansenism had never so much over-shadowed the splendour of the Counter-Reformation. And England would have gone the way of Shakespeare rather than the way of Milton; which latter degenerated rapidly into the way of Muggleton.

If this sounds interesting, and you are in the Wichita area, we will meet on the second floor of Eighth Day Books at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow (February 9) to discuss. Refreshments will be served.

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