Monday, January 21, 2008

Wisdom from… [21 Jan.]

Maximus the Confessor** (580–662): The Word of God present to us today

Out of love for us the Word of God, born once for all in the flesh, wills continually to be born in a spiritual way in those who desire him. Becoming a little child, he fashions himself in them by their virtues and gives them as much knowledge of himself as he knows them to be capable of receiving. The revelation he gives them of his majesty is only partial, not because of any ill will on his part, but because he has regard for the capacity of those who long to see him. This is why the Word of God is always being manifested in the lives of those who share in him, yet remains for ever invisible to all in the transcendence of the mystery. Therefore, after profound reflection upon the meaning of the mystery, the holy apostle declares: Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and for ever. For the apostle knows that the mystery is always fresh and new, and that its freshness is never diminished by our understanding of it.
(Centuria 1, 1-13: PG 90, 1182-1186.)

[Hence, theology, and the Church, must always be open to the new beams of light cast upon the one depositum fidei, just as science, and all keen observers, must always be open to the whole and wholly real before them. Such realism is the methodological limit, and impetus, for both forms of inquiry; the former as an inquiry into Word of God as disclosed in Worship, the latter, into the world as disclosed in the intellect via the senses.]

** A Greek theologian and ascetic, was a monk of the monastery of Chrysopolis and also a prolific writer who possessed an outstanding synthesizing faculty.

ST AUGUSTINE: Knowledge by Writings

It is also necessary––may God grant it!––that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking. Therefore, at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.
-- The Trinity 1, 8

Prayer. Lord, let me offer you the sacrifice of every thought and word––only first give me what I may offer you.
-- Confessions 11, 2

[This week I am very mindful of Proverbs 21:23: "He who keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble." In high school I sometimes fasted from speech; it is a pleasure I miss so many times, now that I am a teacher, someone whose JOB is to speak. Proverbs 10:19 stands just as strongly in mind: "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent."]


Take note: the great Agent of mercy converts our miseries into graces, turning the poison of our sins into a healing antidote for our souls. Tell me, then, what grace will do to heal our afflictions, soften our crosses and persecutions that we have to suffer. Therefore, when some misfortune strikes, of whatever nature it may be, be assured that, if we love the Lord with all our hearts, all will be converted into good; and later, though you cannot understand where this good comes from, be sure that it will most certainly happen.
(Letters 1420; O. XVIII, pp. 209-210)


IN one sense, at any rate, it is more valuable to read bad literature than good literature. Good literature may tell us the mind of one man; but bad literature may tell us the mind of many men. A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. It does much more than that, it tells us the truth about its readers; and, oddly enough, it tells us this all the more the more cynical and immoral be the motive of its manufacture. The more dishonest a book is as a book the more honest it is as a public document. A sincere novel exhibits the simplicity of one particular man; an insincere novel exhibits the simplicity of mankind. The pedantic decisions and definable readjustments of man may be found in scrolls and statute books and scriptures; but men's basic assumptions and everlasting energies are to be found in penny dreadfuls and halfpenny novelettes. Thus a man, like many men of real culture in our day, might learn from good literature nothing except the power to appreciate good literature. But from bad literature he might learn to govern empires and look over the map of mankind.

There is one rather interesting example of this state of things in which the weaker literature is really the stronger and the stronger the weaker. It is the case of what may be called, for the sake of an approximate description, the literature of aristocracy; or, if you prefer the description, the literature of snobbishness. Now if any one wishes to find a really effective and comprehensible and permanent case for aristocracy well and sincerely stated, let him read, not the modern philosophical conservatives, not even Nietzsche, let him read the Bow Bells Novelettes. Of the case of Nietzsche I am confessedly more doubtful. Nietzsche and the Bow Bells Novelettes have both obviously the same fundamental character; they both worship the tall man with curling moustaches and herculean bodily power, and they both worship him in a manner which is somewhat feminine and hysterical. Even here, however, the Novelette easily maintains its philosophical superiority, because it does attribute to the strong man those virtues which do commonly belong to him, such virtues as laziness and kindliness and a rather reckless benevolence, and a great dislike of hurting the weak. Nietzsche, on the other hand, attributes to the strong man that scorn against weakness which only exists among invalids. … But above this sane reliable old literature of snobbishness there has arisen in our time another kind of literature of snobbishness which, with its much higher pretensions, seems to me worthy of very much less respect. Incidentally (if that matters), it is much better literature. But it is immeasurably worse philosophy, immeasurably worse ethics and politics, immeasurably worse vital rendering of aristocracy and humanity as they really are. From such books…we can discover what a clever man can do with the idea of aristocracy. But from the 'Family Herald Supplement'** literature we can learn what the idea of aristocracy can do with a man who is not clever. And when we know that we know English history.

** The Family Herald (c.1844-1940), A Domestic Magazine of Useful Information & Amusement, was the first English story paper and featured several story supplements such as The Monthly Magazine of Fiction, The Family Story-Teller, The Boys' Story-Teller and the Complete Story-Teller. Initially a weekly magazine, by 1855 its circulation was apparently 240,000 a week. Each weekly issue included a portion of at least two serialised novels, a short story or two, poetry, a science column, a statistics column, generally a domestic/recipe column and a number of anecdotes, odd facts and jokes listed under Varieties and Random Readings. Aimed at more of the lower end of the market than a magazine such as Temple Bar it is a fascinating read packed with enjoyable fiction.

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