For The Road Of Joy

What follows is an excerpt from Kenelm Henry Digby’s Compitum: or, The Meeting of the Ways at the Catholic Church, published in 1869. Reading books like this is just another example of why I am Catholic.

Digby wanted to get to know his Anglican faith better. In the process, he fell in love with the history that left him no alternative but to become Catholic. Before G.K. Chesterton was even born, Digby had the same experience that prompted GKC to write,

I have discovered, not that they were not truths, but simply that they were not mine. When I fancied that I stood alone I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all Christendom.

Much like Chesterton’s description of  his discovering “orthodoxy” and thus Catholicism, Digby had the “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone” moment.

It rocked his world, man.

From Chapter VIII, The Road of Joy

Proceeding now through vines that skirt a new lightsome path, with yellow butterflies fluttering over them in gay profusion, we come to the great road which forms the first of those ways belonging to St. Bonaventura’s fourth journey, designated from the inebriating love of eternal things.

We seem to have almost left the wood, so wide are here the openings, and we overtake a great company, who all seem exhilarated like ourselves, as if there were even a pleasure in watching from a distance how the sunbeams chase the shadows over the grass.

As men, fatigued after riding many hours in the monotonous gloom of a thick forest, suddenly are cheered and gladdened thus on coming to a space cleared away by woodsmen, where again they feel the warm rays and hear the singing birds, and see the blue hills, the bosky acres, the unshrubb’d downs, and the rich scarf of slopes smiling with vineyards and villages, forming a beautiful horizon; so do I hail this issue from the shades of the dark mystic region, albeit for the last hour most majestic, through which we have lately passed.

The love of joy is that which impels us on this new way, true sons of Adam, “soon inclined to admit delight the bent of nature:”—

“All tend to perfect happiness, and urge
The restless wheels of being on their way,
Whose flashing spokes, instinct with infinite life,
Bicker and burn to gain their destined goal.”

—from Shelley’s “Queen Mab”

I said the love, but not the presence of, joy is the impression on this path; for till we have gained the center, that will be soon in view, all hope of realizing it is vain.

It is remarked by a Spanish writer, that “sadness is the dominant feature of the physiognomy of the savage man;” and infidelity, whatever form or modification it may assume, is attended with the same result, as may be witnessed in the sophists of France and the votaries of different sects in England, who all wear the same gloomy countenance, as if holding smiles in horror, like the fresh-caught savage.

The abbot Rupert and Pope Innocent III remind us that Alleluia is a foreign word of mystery to express joy. “For in the want of this present life, no one,” adds the former, “can rejoice excepting by hope, hungering and thirsting for what is reserved. Therefore this Hebrew word remains in the office, to signify that joy is a stranger in this life, and to indicate rather than express it by the word.”

“We look before and after,
And pine for what is not;
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those
that tell of saddest thought.”

—from Shelley’s “To a Skylark”

The best man without faith is like Tantalus ever thirsty— Or, like Pliny the elder, of whom his nephew says that he was at supper when in danger, Hilaris, aut, quod est asque magnum, similis hilarij. Therefore wisely does Spenser make proud Sansfoy the father of Sansjoy.

The philosopher in Faust who searches in the science of life and perceives only nothingness — the materialist who seeks happiness in the enjoyments of earth and finds only despair, may refuse to advance to the Catholic Church, which, as St. Bruno says, alone can lead us to the summum bonum; but their wretched state points to it no less significantly than the hand of those who recognize the source of their jubilation; for it shows, as St. Bruno proceeds to observe, that in this world the chief good cannot be found either in philosophy or in pleasure, since there has never been any one in this life so skilled in science, or so rich, and happy, and powerful, as to want nothing which he wished to have; but he to whom anything is wanting, to whom his own sufficeth not, hath not attained to the chief good.


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