Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wisdom from…

ST. AUGUSTINE (354-430): Remember, Monica, my mother

May Monica, my mother, rest in peace with her husband, before whom and after whom she was given in marriage to no man. She dutifully served him, bringing forth fruit to you with much patience, that she might also win him to you. Inspire, O Lord my God, inspire your servants my brethren, your children my master, whom I serve with my voice, my heart, and my writings, that as many of them as read these words may remember at your altar your handmaid, Monica, together with Patricius, formerly her husband, by whose flesh you brought me into this life, how I know not. May they with a pious affection remember them who were my parents in this transitory light, my brethren under you, our Father in our Catholic mother, and my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, for which your pilgrim people here below continually sigh from their setting out until their return, so that my mother's last request of me may be more abundantly granted by her through the prayers of many, occasioned by my confessions, rather than through my own prayers.
(Confessions IX, 13, 36-37.)

Despite the novelty with which Nietzsche pressed the point, transvaluation was not a Nietzschean novelty. Christ Himself, as the Eucharistic Lord of History, is the prime agent in transvaluation. Hence, insofar as there is no legitimate resting point between either nihilism or the Risen One, there is no escaping transvaluation as such; there is only a choice of how, and in which direction, we transvalue, our lives. We can either reorient all things toward the Risen One, at the right hand of the Father, in which case even biological kin become our brethren and strangers become our masters in service; or toward the nothing that becomes our substance apart from Him, in which case kin become foes and strangers become threats. Transvalued towards Christ, our selves become portals to His risen life; away from Him, our selves become the abyss in which we spend an "eternal recurrence" (ewiges Wiederkehr). As Nietzsche argues in Jenseits von Gute und Böse, we are and remain strangers to ourselves. condemned to our own illusory idol of self-existence.

ST. AUGUSTINE: Caught Up in Ecstasy

Now, while my mother and I were thus talking of God's wisdom and pining for it, with all the effort of our hearts we did for one instant attain to touch it. Then we returned to the sound of our own tongue, in which words must have a beginning and an end. We said: If in the silence of all earthly things God alone spoke to us, not by them but by himself, would not this constitute to "enter into the joy of the Master"?
-- Confessions 9, 10

There is a silence we mistake for God's absence. That silence strikes us as barren and desolate only because our ears are normally more attuned to the hum and buzz of the world than to the soundless speech of God in His word and the immediate ring of the heavenly chorus. If however we gradually become deaf to the world, we may come to hear echoes of the divine stillness. Just as the folly of God is wiser than the erudition of man, so is the silence of God louder and more articulate than the noise of the world. The noise of creation is not bad per se, but only bad in so far as it is out of tune with its own inner harmony, the triune chorus of love by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Prayer. Lord, let those who understand, praise you. And let those who understand you not, praise you too.
-- Confessions 11, 31


[1] Since, therefore, there exists a twofold truth concerning the divine being, one to which the inquiry of the reason can reach, the other which surpasses the whole ability of the human reason, it is fitting that both of these truths be proposed to man divinely for belief. … [2] Yet, if this truth were left solely as a matter of inquiry for the human reason, three awkward consequences would follow.

[3] The first is that few men would possess the knowledge of God. For there are three reasons why most men are cut off from the fruit of diligent inquiry which is the discovery of truth. Some do not have the physical disposition for such work. As a result, there are many who are naturally not fitted to pursue knowledge; and so, however much they tried, they would be unable to reach the highest level of human knowledge which consists in knowing God. Others are cut off from pursuing this truth by the necessities imposed upon them by their daily lives. … Finally, there are some who are cut off by indolence. In order to know the things that the reason can investigate concerning God, a knowledge of many things must already be possessed. For almost all of philosophy is directed towards the knowledge of God, and that is why metaphysics, which deals with divine things, is the last part of philosophy to be learned… [and] only on the basis of a great deal of labor spent in study. Now, those who wish to undergo such a labor for the mere love of knowledge are few, even though God has inserted into the minds of men a natural appetite for knowledge.

[4] The second awkward effect is that those who would come to discover the abovementioned truth would barely reach it after a great deal of time. … There is also the fact that, in youth, when the soul is swayed by the various movements of the passions, it is not in a suitable state for the knowledge of such lofty truth. On the contrary, “one becomes wise and knowing in repose,” as it is said in the Physics [VII, 3]. … If the only way open to us for the knowledge of God were solely that of the reason, the human race would remain in the blackest shadows of ignorance.

[5] The third awkward effect is this. The investigation of the human reason for the most part has falsity present within it, and this is due partly to the weakness of our intellect in judgment, and partly to the admixture of images. The result is that many, remaining ignorant of the power of demonstration, would hold in doubt those things that have been most truly demonstrated. … That is why it was necessary that the unshakeable certitude and pure truth concerning divine things should be presented to men by way of faith.

[6] Beneficially, therefore, did the divine Mercy provide that it should instruct us to hold by faith even those truths that the human reason is able to investigate. In this way, all men would easily be able to have a share in the knowledge of God, and this without uncertainty and error.

[7] … “All your children shall be taught of the Lord” (Is. 54:13).

As Étienne Gilson says on page 83 of his Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages, "[F]aith is not a principle of philosophical knowledge, but it is a safe guide to rational truth and an infallible warning against philosophical error." The point being that, while faith cannot provide rationally deductive demonstrations of this or that claim, it can provide the light and insight we need to direct our premises in rational investigation. We cannot philosophize by faith, but we can philosophize wrongly apart from faith. Since the content of faith, objectively given, is not an object of reason, it is not subject to purely rational strictures (much less to purely rational [i.e., deductive] demonstration, as Anselm and Scouts argued in their ontological arguments). Because the content of faith is not an object of rational certainty, it is not an opinion at which we arrive, but is a testimony we accept as the Word of God. Moreover, because faith is not subject to rational demonstration, it is not arrived at by the intellect, but my a movement of the will, whereby the intellect arrives at truth it cannot grasp on its own without an elevating grace upon the pliant will.

This hold that faith places on philosophy has to do not with the supposed irrationality of faith claims, but with the very meaning of faith and reason as such. As soon as faith becomes an object of purely rational demonstration, it is
eo ipso no longer an object of faith, and this in the same way your belief that I have brown hair is a 'belief' once you see (and thus know 'scientifically') that I do have brown hair. Accordingly, Gilson, citing St. Thomas in ST IIaIIae, q. 1, a. 5, notes that it is "impossible for one and the same thing to be an object of science [i.e., rational knowledge] and of belief for the same person…" (op. cit., p. 74). This disjunction is in order, since faith "implies assent of the intellect to that which the intellect cannot see [qua 'scientific' knowledge] to be true…" (ibid., p. 73). Further, Gilson argues, "if reason cannot prove them [i.e., dogmas] to be true, it cannot either prove them to be false" (ibid., p. 83). This is all of a piece with what we read in SCG I, 3:

Just as, therefore, it would he the height of folly for a simple person to assert that what a philosopher proposes is false on the ground that he himself cannot understand it, so (and even more so) it is the acme of stupidity for a man to suspect as false what is divinely revealed through the ministry of the angels simply because it cannot be investigated by reason.

This all stands in an interesting light, given the developments that ensued a few centuries after St. Thomas. For one thing, largely animated by Gehrard Groote, the Moderna devotio placed nearly all emphasis on our mystical perception of God, rather than any scholastic musings about Him. (Groote founded the fraternity of the Brethren of the Common Life in Deventer in 1381, and in 1475, a 12-year-old Desiderius Erasmus would enter the school for that fraternity.) This anti-scholastic, mystical attitude can be seen in Thomas à Kempis' Imitatio Christi, as well as in the doctrine of Meister Eckhart (condemned in 1329 by Pope John XXII) about the soul's union with God even this side of Heaven. It also finds expression in Luther's excoriation of scholastic thought: "only without Aristotle can we become theologians." (Cf. Gilson, Reason, pp. 86–94 for more details.) According to Ernst Cassirer, it also manifests in the development of Nicolas Cusanus's thought (in The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, p. 13).

With the same assurance with which he denies the possibility of conceiving of the infinite by means of logical abstractions and generic concepts, he also denies the possibility of its conception through mere [mystical] feeling. In the mystical theology of the fifteenth century two fundamental tendencies stand sharply opposed to each other; the one bases itself on the intellect; the other considers the will to be the basic force and organ of union with God. In this dispute, Cusanus sides emphatically with the former. True love of God is amor Dei intellectualis: it includes knowledge as a necessary element and a necessary condition. No love can love what he has not, in some sense, known. Love by itself, without any admixture of knowledge, would be an impossibility. Whatever is loved is, by that very act, considered good; it is conceived of sub ratione boni. This knowledge of the good must spur on and give wings to the will, even though the What, i.e., the simple essence of the good in itself, remains inaccessible to knowledge. … The principle of docta ignorantia as 'knowing ignorance' re-affirms itself once again.


God sends afflictions, but nothing comes from the divine hand that is not useful to those souls who fear Him. Be happy if they come and receive them with a heart filled with filial love, because God sends them with a heart that is paternally concerned with your perfection. He wishes to purify and refine His holy love in you. Think often about the duration of eternity and do not get upset about the mishaps of this transitory and mortal life.
(Letters 1982; O. XXI, p. 21)


MANY of us live publicly with featureless public puppets, images of the small public abstractions. It is when we pass our own private gate, and open our own secret door, that we step into the land of the giants.
('Charles Dickens.')



e. said...

The below was beautifully articulated & quite profound -- were they your remarks?

"There is a silence we mistake for God's absence. That silence strikes us as barren and desolate only because our ears are normally more attuned to the hum and buzz of the world than to the soundless speech of God in His word and the immediate ring of the heavenly chorus. If however we gradually become deaf to the world, we may come to hear echoes of the divine stillness. Just as the folly of God is wiser than the erudition of man, so is the silence of God louder and more articulate than the noise of the world. The noise of creation is not bad per se, but only bad in so far as it is out of tune with its own inner harmony, the triune chorus of love by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

God bless.

the Cogitator said...

Yes, e., I wrote that. I'm glad you were edified. Thanks for commenting.

the Cogitator said...

I happened to see a quotation, allegedly from John of the Cross, that "silence is God's first language." I have not, however, been able to find a proper citation for that online. But I did find the following two quotations here

"God's first language is silence."1

"Making progress in the spiritual life means growing toward silence."2

[possibly misstated since I am not ableto view the page again on this finicky server!]

With the citations being thus:

1 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart (Rockport, MA: Benedict's Monastery, 1992), 57.

2 Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home (NY: HarperCollins, 1992), 155.