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By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion;
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“Why is it that we use the language of love to describe the beautiful?”[1]

Gilbert Chesterton once remarked of a garden: “A place is lovely only because someone has first loved it.”  The truth is so obvious we may wonder why it has never occurred to us.  If there is no gardener to conceive and to bring to perfection what is in his mind, a rugged waste will never become a place of beauty.

Now, a garden is a local and particular effect but the principle applies equally at the more universal level.  If there is an effect, there must be a cause.  If there is beauty to be found in the world, there must necessarily be a cause of it.

More than thirty years ago an English woman, blind from birth, was interviewed on radio.  Through the great skill of surgeons the impediment preventing her exercising the power of sight had been removed[2].  She told her interviewer that she was continually surprised by two things: the first, how ravishingly beautiful the world is; and the second, how humanity seemed not to notice its beauty—people took it all for granted.

We have remarked in an earlier paper the great service Sir David Attenborough has done in drawing to our attention, through cinematography, the majesty of creation.  How beautiful the world is!  How intricate is its ordination, and subordination.  How infinitessimal is its detail; how majestic its conception.

Yet nothing comes from nothing.  If the world is beautiful, there must be a cause of its beauty—just as there must be a cause of its ordination, and subordination, and of its intricate detail.  If the world is majestic in its conception, there must be one who has first conceived it—as the garden was conceived by the gardener—and brought that conception to execution.

The world is a lovely place, indeed, because Someone has first loved it.

*                                                  *

The influence of an idea is so subtle we can find ourselves embracing it unthinkingly.  Take the idea that this world had none but a material cause; that it evolved blindly; that it runs mechanically (if wonderfully); that there is no overarching mind to guide and order it; that no such mind created its infinite variety of forms, nor keeps them in existence; that no such mind ensures, moment by moment, the intricate ordination and cooperation of these forms midst all this infinity.  This is the secular view of the natural world.

To counter such nonsense, Holy Mother Church puts before us in the Office of Readings today, these words Pope St Clement I addressed to the Corinthians in the first century Anno Domini.

“Let us turn our eyes to the Father and Creator of the universe, and when we consider how precious and peerless are his gifts of peace, let us embrace them eagerly for ourselves.  Let us contemplate him with understanding, noting with the eyes of the spirit the patient forbearance that is everywhere willed by him, and the total absence of any friction that marks the ordering of his whole creation.

“The heavens, as they revolve beneath his government, do so in quiet submission to him.  The day and the night run the course he has laid down for them, and neither of them interferes with the other.  Sun, moon and the starry choirs roll on in harmony at his command, none swerving from its appointed orbit.  Season by season the teeming earth, obedient to his will, causes a wealth of nourishment to spring forth for man and beast and every living thing upon its surface, making no demur and no attempt to alter even the least of his decrees.

“Laws of the same kind sustain the fathomless deeps of the abyss and the untold regions of the underworld.  Nor does the illimitable basin of the sea, gathered by the operations of his hand into its various different centres, overflow at any time the barriers encircling it, but does as he has bidden it—for his word was, ‘Thus far you shall come; at this point shall your waves be broken within you.’  The impassable Ocean and all the worlds that lie beyond it are themselves ruled by the like ordinances of the Lord.

“Spring, summer, autumn and winter succeed one another peaceably; the winds fulfil their punctual duties, each from its own quarter, and give no offence; the ever-flowing streams, created for our well-being and enjoyment, offer their breasts unfailingly for the life of man; and even the minutest of living creatures mingle together in peaceful accord.

“Upon all of these the great Architect and Lord of the universe has enjoined peace and harmony, for the good of all alike, but pre-eminently for the good of ourselves who have sought refuge in his mercies through Our Lord Jesus Christ.  To him be glory and majesty for ever and ever, amen.”


Michael Baker
29th October 2006—Thirtieth Sunday of the Year

[1]  Austin Woodbury Ph.D, S.T.D. to his students in the course of lectures at Sydney’s Aquinas Academy in the 1960s.

[2]  There is an important principle here little understood by a world besotted with subjectivism.  Every nature has its proper powers.  So is sight a power proper to the nature of man.  That some man may not be able to exercise one or other of those powers does not mean that he was not born with them.  The lack argues only to some defect preventing the exercise of that power.  This has important ramifications in our dealings with those born with mental or physical defects.  They are no less men, no less deserving of our respect as creatures made in the image and likeness of God—something to be insisted on against the intellectual delusions of the Nazi ideologues in the twentieth century, and those of the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, in the twenty first.