Among the pilgrims here for the Exaltation of the Cross on Sunday I was surprised to see Aelianus of Laodicea. I have been discussing the most abstract kind of armchair politics with Aelianus recently, but I thought that he was in far away Britain. We spoke after Mass, and he asked whether my classifying Laodicea under the Opalescent Parrot is some sort of elaborate insult. On the contrary, it is a complement. Alfred Noyes’s brilliant literary-criticism giving parrot is, one might say, the Platonic form of Catholic blogger; at least, if there were a Platonic form of Catholic blogger the Opalescent Parrot would participate in it to the highest degree (except that he didn’t have a blog…). The Parrot is the master of the sort dismissive, aphoristic take down of the children of this world that Catholic bloggers specialize in. Consider the son of the Orinoco on Francis Bacon:
‘The Worst thing of all,’ said Francis Bacon, ‘is the apotheosis of error’ It is on of those ‘apothegms’ which have been acclaimed as among the most glorious jewels in the crown of Philosophy; and whether the acclaim be deserved or not, the ‘apothegm’ has a special applicability to the tercentenary of Francis Bacon himself. […] For Francis Bacon is the supreme instance in English history of a figure crowned with error. Errors of every kind (from the hard, bright, shallow judgments of Macaulay to the pathetic futilities of those who believe that Bacon wrote the Faërie Queene and Hamlet), follies of every kind, fly to him like iron filings to a magnet.
Incidentally, I have used the “pathetic futilities of those who believe that Bacon wrote the Faërie Queene and Hamlet” to illustrate a point that Newman makes in the Grammar of Assent. A man who has read Spenser, Shakespeare, and Bacon closely for many years, and has attained a real apprehension of their literary style and color of mind, is absolutely certain that the author of the Faërie Queene did not write Hamlet, and that the author of the New Atlantis wrote neither. But, if he is asked to produce arguments he can only bring a number of probabilities, none of which justifies his absolute certitude. Why? The problem is that when he produces arguments he must abstract and enter the realm of what Newman calls the “notional,” but the concrete fact does not admit of universal demonstration. His certitude is based on the myriad complexity of a concrete fact really apprehended, and he cannot translate it into notions that do full justice to the reality. Thus the “accumulated probabilities” that Newman speaks of as giving him the certitude arrived at in his religious inquiry, are not a collection of probable, notional arguments added up till all together they prove what none of them separately can, but rather the quasi-infinity of probabilities following from the real apprehension of the concrete.