Tongued with Fire

                If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

T. S. Eliot. Little Gidding, ll. 39-53, from Four Quartets (Harvest/Harcourt Brace Javonovich, 1943/1971).


  1. Glad you liked it, Ben! In the Chryssavgis Way of the Fathers book I’m reading, he quotes an even shorter snippet, which sent me hunting for my Four Quartets copy. Here’s Chryssavgis’ passage:

    The absence of an historical sensitivity has at times led to an uncritical absorption of the Patristic heritage, or at other times to its unquestionable rejection. It has for some people meant a naive acceptance of the “canonical” authority of the Patristic past, while for others it has signified a sweeping denial of its importance. There is an urgent need today to rediscover and recover classical Christianity in its historical foundations. The Church Fathers must be—and they increasingly are—recognized as the priveleged witnesses to and the historical links with a culture so distant in time and perception from our world, and yet so significant in context and spirit for our period. It is in this perspective of the relevance—or rather the relatedness—of the Church Fathers to us, within the fellowship of the Church and the communion of the saints, that a study of the background and principles of Patristic theology is quintessential. For quite plainly, such a study renders us more aware of our Christian origins, more astute in our historical memory, and more alert to the past as a basic term of reference for understanding ourselves, our world, and our God. The poetry of T. S. Eliot comes to mind:

    You are not here to verify,
    Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
    Or carry report. You are here to kneel
    Where prayer has been valid . . .
    The communication
    Of the dead is tongued with fire
    Beyond the language of the living.

    This “communication” is the essence of our Patristic heritage and memory. For to re-member is more than simply to re-kindle a flame or re-present the past. It is to re-appropriate the sacred values and holy virtues of those who “walked in the same way in which Christ walked” (cf. I John 2:6), to realize that the “communion” of saints and we constitute members of the same Body (cf. Eph. 5:30). To become famili-arized with the Church Fathers and Mothers is to belong to the same family (cf. Matt. 12:49-50) in our own culture and age.
    (from pp 21-22 in chapter 1, “A Vision of History.” John Chryssavgis. The Way of the Fathers—Exploring the Patristic Mind. Αναλεκτα Βλαταδον 62. Θεσσαλονικη: Πατριαρχικον Ιδρυμα Πατερικον Μελετων, 1998.)

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