Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Certitude of Father Brown

“I wish we could have all Devonshire here to see you do it.”
“To see me do what?” asked the Duke, arching his eyebrows.
“To see you take off your wig,” said Father Brown.

The Duke’s face did not move; but he looked at his petitioner with a glassy stare which was the most awful expression I have ever seen on a human face. I could see the librarian’s great legs wavering under him like the shadows of stems in a pool; and I could not banish from my own brain the fancy that the trees all around us were filling softly in the silence with devils instead of birds.

“I spare you,” said the Duke in a voice of inhuman pity. “I refuse. If I gave you the faintest hint of the load of horror I have to bear alone, you would lie shrieking at these feet of mine and begging to know no more. I will spare you the hint. You shall not spell the first letter of what is written on the altar of the Unknown God.”

“I know the Unknown God,” said the little priest, with an unconscious grandeur of certitude that stood up like a granite tower. “I know his name; it is Satan. The true God was made flesh and dwelt among us. And I say to you, wherever you find men ruled merely by mystery, it is the mystery of iniquity. If the devil tells you something is too fearful to look at, look at it. If he says something is too terrible to hear, hear it. If you think some truth unbearable, bear it. I entreat your Grace to end this nightmare now and here at this table.”

“If I did,” said the Duke in a low voice, “you and all you believe, and all by which alone you live, would be the first to shrivel and perish. You would have an instant to know the great Nothing before you died.”

“The Cross of Christ be between me and harm,” said Father Brown. “Take off your wig.”
GK Chesterton, The Purple Wig
Reflection – Happy Feast of Christ the King! It is by happenstance that I include this rather absurd bit of a Fr. Brown story on this feast where it actually fits quite nicely into the mystery of the Kingship of Christ.

First, the absurdity—this is, of all the Fr. Brown stories, one of the most strictly comical ones. No one is murdered; in fact, if memory serves no crime is actually committed. There is simply this nobleman and his ridiculous purple wig supposedly hiding a monstrous accursed Ear, the sight of which will drive men man. There are few authors who can get away with writing a thoroughly entertaining story in which the dramatic action revolves around whether the duke will or will not take off his wig, but GKC manages it, and in pulling off the wig, pulls off some deft social criticism at the same time (but I won’t spoil the story for you).

But as always in the midst of the rather goofy story, Fr. Brown lets fly with profound stuff, and it happens to work in nicely with Christ the King. Namely, that in Christ and by the power of his victory over all sin, evil, and death through the Cross, there is nothing whatsoever to be afraid of. We are not to be foolhardy in our engagement with evil—‘lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’ remains foundational in our prayer—but when we are plunged into the thick of the battle, we are to do so without any fear or need for fear. This is the certain and sure truth of the matter.

This is the Kingship of Christ in our world, one expression of it anyhow. This is one reason why horror movies are not, perhaps, the most spiritually wholesome thing to watch. It’s not so much the violence and gore, although this is not so great, either. It is the sense, so prevalent in contemporary horror cinema, that evil is in fact stronger than good, that the real structure of reality is in fact too terrible to behold and destroys us once it is ‘unwigged’, so to speak. That a deformed ear is in fact a greater evil than the Paschal Mystery is a great good—this is the conceit of modern horror narrative, and Chesterton does a lovely job taking the wig off of it in this story and showing it for the silly empty boast that it is.

So, Happy feast day to you. Jesus Christ is the King of the Universe. He is king over all the vampires, the zombies, the werewolves, the krakens and aliens and boogey men. He is king over you and me, and anything in us that is ‘deformed’, that we would prefer to hide under a purple wig. He is king over everything that we don’t want to bring under his lordship, and He is king over the whole world, even as it seems to be a kingdom in something of a state of civil insurrection right now.

He is King, and so the world is actually a much better place, more full of goodness and light than it sometimes seems to be. He is king, and we have nothing to fear, and everything to be glad about, and great cause to be brave and bold and eager to go out into the world bearing his Gospel and working to make his kingdom more and more visible by lives of charity and works of justice and mercy. Happy feast day.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! This is exactly what I needed to read today, here in St. Louis where we are anticipating civil insurrection. I will remember the purple wig.


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