Thursday, October 02, 2008

To the Undying Memory

by Hilaire Belloc

It was long a commonplace that the world knew nothing of its greatest men. Now that saying was already current a life-time ago. It is emphatically true to-day, and its value and meaning affect us at the present moment more than ever they did in the past, for this is a moment when men are only publicly known by their names, and when the real personality for which the name stands is hidden under a mass of popular print.

Father Vincent McNabb, the Dominican, who has just passed to his reward, intensely illustrates all this. The greatness of his character, of his learning, his experience, and, above all, his judgement, was something altogether separate from the world about him. Those who knew him marvelled increasingly at every aspect of that personality. But the most remarkable aspect of all was the character of holiness. Everyone who met him, even superficially, discovered this. Those of us who had the honour and the rare advantage of knowing him intimately and well over many years find, upon looking back upon that vast experience, something unique, over and above the learning, over and above the application of that learning to Thomism, which is surely the very heart of the Dominican affair. To that testimony, which so many have the honour and privilege to present, I can add less than nothing. We know holiness just as we know courage or the unimportant particular of physical beauty and proportion. When we come across that quality of holiness permeating and proceeding from the whole Dominican world, we can only be silent as before some very rare and majestic presentation, wholly foreign to our common experience. It was not the learning, though it had been accumulated over so many years, nor the particular familiarity with the master text of St. Thomas, it was the fullness of being which, as we remember what we have lost, is on a scale that appals and dwarfs all general appreciation. It would have been astonishing in any man to have discovered so profound a simplicity united to so huge a spiritual experience. Finding it in this one man, experiencing it as we did, there seems little more to be said unless for the purpose of reitoration.

I can write here from intimate personal experience. Vincent McNabb was with me walking in our garden here in Sussex (which he knew so well!) on the chief occasion of my life, a moment, like all such moments, when the soul has in the presence of death and therefore of eternity.

I do not see how this testimony can be amplified. I have known, seen and felt holiness in person. In that presence all other qualities sink away into nothingness. I have seen holiness at its full in the very domestic paths of my life, and the memory of that experience, which is also a vision, fills me now as I write-so fills me that there is nothing more to say. Men of this calibre are better known in their absence than in their presence. With that absence the rest of my life will, I think, be filled. There are many indeed who can add, to this testimony, but I can only add to it by an astonished silence, contemplating holiness in person and all that was meant thereby. Of this he now has complete visions while we who write of him grope and are in darkness. Unclear the protection of that soul and its intelligence and virtue combined, I must fall back upon silence. Never have I seen or known anything on such a scale.

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