Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wisdom from… [29 Apr]

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CATHERINE OF SIENA (1347–1380): The parchment has been torn up

Let our hearts and souls burst with love! Let them be quick to serve and stand in awe of the good, gentle Jesus! For the devil was holding on to us as his own property, as slaves and prisoners, and Jesus rescued us. He assumed responsibility for us, paid our debt, and then tore up the bond. When did he assume responsibility for us? When he assumed our humanity and became a servant.

Ah, but that alone would not have been enough if he had not also paid the debt we had contracted. And when was that paid? When he gave up his life on the wood of the most holy cross to give us back the life of grace we had lost. O sweetest, boundless charity! You destroyed the bond by which the devil held us, and tore it up on the wood of the most holy cross! That bond was written on nothing less than lambskin, the skin of the spotless Lamb. He inscribed us on himself and then tore up the lambskin! So let our souls find strength in knowing that the parchment our bond was written on has been torn up, and our opponent and adversary can never again demand to have us back.

So let us run to embrace virtue with true holy desire, remembering the gentle Lamb, who in such blazing love shed his life's blood.
(Letter 24, from The Letters of St. Catherine of Siena, Suzanne Noffke, O.P., volume 1, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1988, 93.)

St. Catherine served the people of Siena with her good works and the Church at large with her peacemaking.

ST AUGUSTINE: Possessed by the Lord

Please understand: the resurrection of the body will be an end without end. The body will die no more, will experience no more sufferings, no more hunger and thirst, and no more afflictions. Neither will it become aged or ill. We shall be possessed by the Lord––his inheritance, and he will be ours.
-- Sermon 213, 9

Prayer. I have lifted up my soul to you, O Lord, as if I carried a jug to a fountain. Fill me, then, since I have lifted up my soul to you.
-- Commentary on Psalm 142, 15


So long as we tackle all our troubles ourselves, we shall be always worried and tired, and Our Lord will leave us to our own devices; but when we leave everything to Him, He will look after all our troubles Himself. The interest that God will have for us will be in proportion to the degree that we abandon ourselves to Him. I am not just speaking of temporal things, but also of spiritual ones. The Lord Himself taught this same truth to His beloved Saint Catherine of Siena: "Always think about me, my daughter, and I will think about you." Oh, how happy are those loving souls who know how to observe this rule, thinking only about the Lord, faithfully keeping themselves in His presence, listening to what He has to say to their hearts, obeying His divine inspiration and attractions, and not living or aspiring for anything but to please Him.
(Sermons 71; O. X, p. 300)

So much for the old pseudo-Bible verse that "God helps those who help themselves"! In fact, God helps those who find themselves helpless and, as it were, help themselves to His grace. Those can help themselves whom God helps. Our merit is not proportional to our effort, but to our desire, not proportionate to what we do, but to how radically and consistently we find our identity in the inheritance Christ offers us.


WHEN a man says that democracy is false because most people are stupid, there are several courses which the philosopher may pursue. The most obvious is to hit him smartly and with precision on the exact tip of the nose. But if you have scruples (moral or physical) about this course, you may proceed to employ Reason, which in this case has all the savage solidity of a blow with the fist. It is stupid to say that "most people" are stupid. It is like saying "most people are tall," when it is obvious that "tall" can only mean taller than most people. It is absurd to denounce the majority of mankind as below the average of mankind.

Should the man have been hammered on the nose and brained with logic, and should he still remain cold, a third course opens: lead him by the hand (himself half-willing) towards some sunlit and yet secret meadow and ask him who made the names of the common wild flowers. They were ordinary people, so far as any one knows, who gave to one flower the name of the Star of Bethlehem and to another and much commoner flower the tremendous title of the Eye of Day. If you cling to the snobbish notion that common people are prosaic, ask any common person for the local names of the flowers, names which vary not only from county to county, but even from dale to dale.

* * *

But, curiously enough, the case is much stronger than this. It will be said that this poetry is peculiar to the country populace, and that the dim democracies of our modern towns at least have lost it. For some extraordinary reason they have not lost it. Ordinary London slang is full of witty things said by nobody in particular. The creed of our cruel cities is not so sane and just as the creed of the old countryside; but the people are just as clever in giving names to their sins in the city as in giving names to their joys in the wilderness. One could not better sum up Christianity than by calling a small white insignificant flower 'The Star of Bethlehem.' But then again one could not better sum up the philosophy deduced from Darwinism than in the one verbal picture of 'having your monkey up.'
('Daily News.')

Zero: A Nullography

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I'm making my way through Charles Seife's Zero. It is a very lucid and well-illustrated little book. It is also much more than I anticipated, in that it is a complete primer on the history of mathematics, rather just a "cultural compendium" on the notion and uses of zero. Seife, who holds an MA in mathematics from Yale, does a very good job demystifying calculus. Unlike some pop-science writers, Seife does not convey a chummy, conspiratorial tone, as if every reader should find the intricacies and mystique of arcane thinkers' thought processes as fascinating as… well, as those thinkers did. You won't find Seife writing sentences that sound like "Now, to REALLY grasp what Leibniz was after, you need to take a step back and look at blah blah blah." Instead, Seife just says what Leibniz did with calculus (and Newton with his fluxions). For example, need it be any more difficult to explain calculus than to say, as Seife does, that differential equations are the tangent-by-tangent analysis of a curve, while integrals are the area under that curve? I think not, and hence, I found Seife's brutally pellucid definitions invaluable.

It's the first time I have been on such copacetic terms with calculus since I took calc my freshmen year at U of C. In that course, once I saw that calculus is just a formalized way to talk about real objects and events, I could see not only its obvious utility, but also, more important, its basically narrative nature. Each problem is a story and each value is a character with its own ends and means. The solution is simply the tale that is told about their competing goals on a common slice of the Cartesian-plane world. A differential equation is a snapshot of the action at one point on the story arc, while an integral is a summary of the entire tale from a higher vantage point (at which one can see the whole surface area, or plot, under the story curve). Seeing calculus "again for the first time" re-inspires me to approach it as just something learned with much practice; hopefully someday this side of the veil I can get to my Big Book of Calculus Problems. And through my various Latin and Greek textbooks. Sigh.

Having said all that in favor of Seife's book, I will note just a couple weak points in it. First, in one single paragraph he does manage to condense the standard religion-is-opposed-to-science canards, specifically by conscripting Giordano and Galileo as alleged martyrs of science at the hands of religious obscurantists. He gets it right by saying an attack on Aristotle [and his denial of a cosmic void] was considered an attack on the church", but then fails to explicate how Aristotelian cosmology was no more the church's philosophy than anyone else's; it was simply the default cosmology. Only when Galileo insisted his findings demanded the church subject its dogmatic autonomy to the transient, private competence of science––and thus ceding ground to the Reformers' view of Scripture and Tradition––did he, a lifelong pious Catholic, raise the ire of leading clerics for more than intellectual reasons. Prior to that, he had been warmly accepted and supported by the pope and numerous clerics. Because his views challenged the hegemony of both secular and religious Aristotelian scholars, they collaborated to sully his reputation, and then force him into a more combative, reckless position, whereupon he did draw censure from the Church. As for Bruno, well, to call him a martyr of science is more or less equal to hallowing Deepak-Chopraism as "science". Not only was Bruno's grasp of science apparently quite mediocre, but also Kepler and Galileo wrote disapprovingly of Bruno's claims, largely because he was hijacking their already controversial science for his own literally esoteric homiletic (and rabble-rousing) purposes. For more about these issues, I recommend Thomas Lessl's "The Galileo Legend" and Stanley Jaki's "Giordano Bruno: Martyr for Science?" and "Galileo Lessons".

One other glaring problem Seife ignores has to do with the incredible correspondence between our mathematical reasoning and spatiotemporal reality. Seife glides by this matter thus: "Nature speaks in equations. It is an odd coincidence." That is an understatement of enormous magnitude. The conformability between our ability to perform formal mathematical operations, even if removed from physical reality, and the ability of those operations to describe reality, point strongly to an immanent validity in mathematics. Mark Steiner, in The Applicability of Mathematics as a Philosophical Problem, and Russell Howell in "Does Mathematical Beauty Pose Problems for Naturalism?" both elucidate this point better than I can. For someone who loves math as much as Seife does, it was disappointing to see him trivialize the implicitly transcendent link between "mere math" and the beauty of physical reality. If man's mind were not created to grasp such physical reality in the language of math, it is hard to explain how, on purely Darwinian terms, Homo sapiens sapiens can make the mental leap from crude anthropocentric physics and geometry to such abstract vision, considering that grand metamathematical insight has no value for the sheer transmission of genes.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Some spoken-word gems...

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...during the Junior 1 speech contest.

"Hello, everyone, and all organisms in the ecosystem! My name is BLURB. Today I will give a speech about, Who is my favorite friend? ... Who is my favorite friend? My favorite friend, etc."

This glitch in the matrix was employed by numerous students and by numerous students this glitch was employed.

"Spotty's name was Spotty and Spotty had spots on his body, so we called him Spotty."

"Today I will talk about my best friend. My name is Paul and my best friend is Paul."

"Today I would like to give a peach."

"He has only been my friend for one sister, but he is a good friend."

"He is a good friend, and makes me happy, but sometimes he makes me angry when he hits me in the penis!"

For maximum effect, imagine most of these lines not merely being spoken but shouted, at high volume, with rehearsed choreography, to boot.

A mediocre library...

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...is better than no library at all.

Yesterday I finally returned two books to the Taichung Public Library, which I had checked out for about 100 days. The clerk's eyes literally bugged out when she saw how much my late fee was. Not that it was all THAT high; just as a matter of custom, she had probably never seen such a stratospheric fee: $200 NT (one book per day late costs you $1 NT). Well, once that debt was cleared, I could check out books once more. So I did.

I picked up Wallace's CHOOSING REALITY, a Buddhist interpretation of physics and reality (at a reportedly significantly higher level of learning than Capra's THE TAO OF PHYSICS or Zukov's FLYING WU LI MASTERS, both of which have been harshly critiqued as facile eisegesis for New/Age ends).

I also stumbled upon Reimer's 2006 THE SOUL OF THE PERSON, a book which looks fabulous in its Wojtylan adaptation of Thomistic anthropology. It has quite a few entries in the index about teleology, which should prove useful for a book review essay I am cooking up for inFORM 1B.

I also finally decided to have a crack at Devlin's GOODBYE, DESCARTES. His arguments about "non-logical rationality" vis-à-vis programmable reasoning seem intriguing.

On a lark I also check out Boorstin's THE IMAGE and Cooper's A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF SCIENCE. Both are backburner books, but do offer rich insights if I can fit them in before May 27 (when I SHOULD renew or return my books!).

One book I nearly checked out was Harry Frankfurt's ON TRUTH, the quasi-sequel to his delightful 2005 ON BULLSHIT, a book which I rank among my favorite handful of books. And considering its size (a minuscule 100 pages or so), ON BULLSHIT is probably the best read in my library, in terms of proportional mass and volume. In ON TRUTH Frankfurt explicates why he bothered writing ON BULLSHIT, a book which is not only an elucidation of just what bullshit is, but also a protest against its prevalence in contemporary Western (esp. American) society. The bullshitter is not out to deceive anyone or falsify the truth, simply because the bullshitter is unconcerned with truth as such. The bullshitter is more concerned with his effect on people; if he happens to utter an untruth, it would be better he were not caught, but that is all. If he happens to utter a truth whilst bullshitting, so much the better for his credibility. If accused of error or deceit, the bullshitter might retort the accuser "is missing the deeper point" or is "missing the forest for the trees." Fundamentally, the bullshit has no respect for truth, while by contrast a frank deceiver at least values and acknowledges truth enough to know it is potent and should be obscured or destroyed.

But then Frankfurt realized one of his key assumptions--that truth is valuable and demands our respect in a way that bullshitters do not countenance--is not at all universally accepted, especially in the smoky milieu of postmodern revisionism. For many postmodern thinkers, the important thing is not being right, but using what we take as facts for various social, personal means. This spirit is, of course, not too far removed from the heart of the bullshitter, nor is it at all uncommon these days.

So Frankfurt devotes ON TRUTH to explaining why we should care about truth in the first place (and hence why bullshitters are scurrilous for taking truth lightly). His arguments for the value of truth are twofold: first, truth helps us survive and progress as a society, since civilizations never do too well for too long without a sizable body of recognized facts; and second, truth helps us be more fully human, since not only does knowing another is telling the truth help us feel connected to and accepted by that other person, but also because having a true picture of reality helps us form our own personal selves, insofar as the Self is radically dependent on its environment and relations to other people and things. If liars constantly rearrange the furniture of reality according to their own verbal fantasies, we will find ourselves stubbing against unseen realities frequently and painfully, whereupon we will distance ourselves from our fellow human beings, lose confidence in our own ability to grasp reality and “see into” other people, and, worse, gradually lose a sense of where we belong in the world.

A touching, winsome book, but much too costly ($12.50 US) for now. Perhaps I will ask for it as a birthday gift. I read it in about 20 minutes, but that was at a speed that only barely allowed me to enjoy the savory richness of Frankfurt's prose.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A sentinel in the modern world…

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"The scientist's condition as a sentinel in the modern world, as one who is the first to glimpse the enormous complexity together with the marvellous harmony of reality, makes him a privileged witness of the plausibility of religion, a man capable of showing how the admission of transcendence, far from harming the autonomy and the ends of research, rather stimulates it to continually surpass itself in an experience of self-transcendence which reveals the human mystery".
––Pope John Paul II, 7/17/85.

A sentinel only makes sense as one watching on behalf of something else. The very desire of man to know (sciare) indicates a field of being and goodness that exists logically prior and ethically superior to the field of being within the range of natural knowledge. Man, whether he knows it or not, seeks truth on behalf of the God who is Truth. His desire for the former is a function of his desire for, and reflection of, the latter. Indeed, God rejoices in the truth precisely by rejoicing in His own being. His Word, the Son, divulges this world of living truth, in the Holy Spirit, and creation, wrought by the Word and Spirit, is man's share in hearing the goodness of ordered, dynamic being, which is to say, the goodness of God.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wisdom from… [22 Apr]

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ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA (185–253): Peace with God

Now that we have been justified by faith, therefore, let us be at peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have reached the state of grace in which we now find ourselves, and rejoice in the hope of God's glory. In order to grasp the apostle's meaning more clearly here, we must try to understand what he means by peace, and in particular by that peace which comes to us through Christ our Lord.

Peace is said to exist where dissension, discord, enmity, and cruelty of every kind are absent. Formerly we were hostile to God, followers and captives of his arch-enemy the devil. But now, by throwing away the weapons of the evil one, taking up the insignia of Christ, and following the banner of his cross, we shall indeed once more have peace with God. But this peace will come to us only through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has reconciled us with the Father by the offering of his blood. Anyone, therefore, who has been reconciled through the blood of Christ and is at peace with God must have no further contact with anything that is in league with God's enemy.
(Romans 4, 7-8: PG 14, 985-988.)

Origen became the head of the catechetical school in Alexandria and devoted his life to the study of Scripture. He was an exegetical giant, especially as regards his Platonic allegorical methods and multilingual abilities. In the following centuries he became a controversial figure, and certain of his views, especially the doctrines of apokatatsasis, universal salvation, and the preincarnate existence of souls, were condemned in the 5th century.

"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God. … But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. … Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you."
1 Peter 4:1–2; 5:6–7.

The vicariousness of Christ's sacrifice for us has not only to do with our passive pardon from sin, but also, more actively, with our own efforts to know God. The pardon effected at the Cross enables this divine knowledge, but appropriating this knowledge must be as cruciform as the original pardoning. And just as vicariously ours in Christ. The Passion of the Lord is already the vicarious "penance" we should do in our own lives; it is already the vicarious mortification we must practice in the light of that love. It is true, as St. Ignatius of Loyola said, that whoever suffers greatly is poised by God for great holiness. What is equally true, however, by an even more basic grace than that of partaking in the sufferings of Christ, is that even when we do not suffer like the great martyrs and saints, we can enter into the vicarious sufferings of Christ. We can suffer through Him since He wills to suffer on our behalf. The first step in our vicarious suffering is to find ourselves insufferable, and cast our selves, our own burdensome selves, upon Him, thus mystically incorporating our own vices as wounds upon Him, wounds which He overcame and glorified in His Resurrection. To leave our wounds––in the sense of both wounding-others and being-wounded––outside the wounds of Christ, is to leave them outside the consummate glory that puts the Cross in context. The most potent way we can enter into the "wounds that should be our own", is to let those wounds enter in selves that should not be our own: that is, to receive devoutly the Eucharist. To receive the Eucharist is to embrace the wounds of Christ, and to release the wounds, woundings, woundedness, of our selves, thus losing ourselves in His glorious scars and finding ourselves in the texture of crucified love that is to be lived for and with our neighbors.

ST AUGUSTINE: Inner Conflict

Controlling my will as he did, the enemy fashioned a chain out of it and bound me with it. A new will that had begun in me, to wish freely to worship you and find joy in you, O God, was not yet able to overcome that prior will, grown strong with age. Thus did my two wills––the one old, the other new, the first carnal, the second spiritual––struggle with one another, and by their conflict they laid waste my soul.
-- Confessions 8, 5

Prayer. "You have proved my heart, Lord, and visited me by night": because my heart itself has been proved by the visitation of distress.
-- Commentary on Psalm 16, 3


Everything passes, O Christians; after a few days of this present life, we shall enjoy that life which has no end. It does not matter one iota if these days are comfortable or uncomfortable, provided we are happy for all eternity. Let this holy eternity that awaits us be our consolation, together with the thought of being Christians, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, reborn by means of His blood. Our glory consists simply and solely in this, that the Savior died for us.
(Letters 1547; O. XIX, p. 10)


IT is a common saying that anything may happen behind our backs: transcendentally considered, the thing has an eerie truth about it. Eden may be behind our backs, or Fairyland. But this mystery of the human back has, again, its other side in the strange impression produced on those behind: to walk behind anyone along a lane is a thing that, properly speaking, touches the oldest nerve of awe. Watts has realized this as no one in art or letters has realized it in the whole history of the world; it has made him great. There is one possible exception to his monopoly of this magnificent craze. Two thousand years before, in the dark scriptures of a nomad people, it had been said that their prophet saw the immense Creator of all things, but only saw Him from behind.
('G. F. Watts.')

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wunder der Wunder!

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Given that a miracle is, by definition, an action initiated supernaturally (i.e., outside nature), how can it be claimed a miracle violates nature?

Being super-natural, miracles are not subject to the strictures of natural law, and therefore cannot, by definition, violate laws that don't apply to them.

It may as well be said I violate the 60mph speed limit in Missouri when I am driving 65mph in Montana.

Further, by analogy, it may as well––that is, may as futilely––be said that my holding up a torch during a conversation violates the lexical and grammatical rules of the language in which I am conversing.

A torch is a non-verbal object, and holding up a torch is a non-verbal act; therefore, while it may produce linguistic effects in the conversation (e.g., expressions of anger, fear, joy, confusion, etc.), the torch itself, being non- and supra-linguistic, does not violate any linguistic law.

So it is with miracles. They are "signs" held up amidst the physical "conversation" of the course of nature, which, while producing physical, sensible effects in the subsequent course of nature, do not strictly violate the natural laws at work. Various signs are held up, by God, at key moments in the conversation of the world, of the Church's saga, of our own lives, in order to confirm, or alter, the course, tempo, and content, of that conversation.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wisdom from… [17 Apr]

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FULGENTIUS OF RUSPE (468–533): A single heart and soul in all who believe

Scripture says that God's love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit he has given us. The Holy Spirit, who is the one Spirit of the Father and the Son, produces in those to whom he gives the grace of divine adoption the same effect as he produced among those whom the Acts of the Apostles describes as having received the Holy Spirit. We are told that the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, because the one Spirit of the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is one God, had created a single heart and soul in all those who believed.

That is why Saint Paul in his exhortation to the Ephesians says that this spiritual unity in the bond of peace must be carefully preserved. I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, he writes, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, with all humility and meekness and with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit.

God makes the Church itself a sacrifice pleasing in his sight by preserving within it the love which his Holy Spirit has poured out. Thus the grace of that spiritual love is always available to us, enabling us continually to offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to him for ever.
(Ad Monimum II, 11: CCL 91, 46-47.)

Bishop of Ruspe in northern Africa, Fulgentius was a faithful disciple of Augustine and the best theologian of his time.

ST AUGUSTINE: Be an Ant of God

Emulate the tiny ant; be an ant of God. Listen to the word of God and hide it in your heart. Collect plenty of food during the happy days of your spiritual summers. You will then be able to endure the difficult days of temptations during the winters of your soul.
-- Sermon 38, 6

Prayer. Lord, you are delightful food for the pure of heart.
-- Confessions 13, 21


The chief intention that you must have in going to Communion should be to advance in the love of God. Communion should strengthen and comfort you in this love. Receive with love the gift of love. There is no more loving or more tender gift of the Savior than this. Here He annihilates Himself, so to speak, and changes Himself into food, so that He may fill our souls, intimately uniting Himself to the heart and body of the faithful person.
(Spiritual Treatises, II, Ch. 21; O. III, p. 121)


HOW high the sea of human happiness rose in the Middle Ages, we now only know by the colossal walls that they built to keep it in bounds. How low human happiness sank in the twentieth century, our children will only know by these extraordinary modern books, which tell people to be cheerful and that life is not so bad after all. Humanity never produces optimists till it has ceased to produce happy men. It is strange to be obliged to impose a holiday like a fast, and to drive men to a banquet with spears.
('George Bernard Shaw.')

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wisdom from… [Apr 16]

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HESYCHIUS OF JERUSALEM (ca. 451): The invincible charioteer

This day brings a message of joy: it is the day of the Lord's resurrection when, with himself, he raised up the race of Adam. Born for the sake of human beings, he rose from the dead with them. On this day paradise is opened by the risen one, Adam is restored to life and Eve is consoled. On this day the divine call is heard, the kingdom is prepared, we are saved and Christ is adored. On this day, when he had trampled death under foot, made the tyrant a prisoner, and despoiled the underworld, Christ ascended into heaven as a king in victory, as a ruler in glory, as an invincible charioteer. He said to the Father: Here am I, O God, with the children you have given me, and he heard the Father's reply: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool. To him be glory, now and for ever, through endless ages. Amen.
(Paschal Homily: SC 187, 66-69.)

Hesychius was a monk who was highly esteemed as a priest and preacher of Jerusalem. He was a defender of orthodoxy and a gifted interpreter of scripture.

ST AUGUSTINE: Christ's Resurrection

Know that our faith is strengthened by the resurrection of Christ. The passion of Christ represents the misery of our present life, while the resurrection of Christ gives us a brilliant glimpse of the happiness of the future life. Let us apply ourselves energetically in the present life, and hope in the future. Now is the time for the painful struggle; then will come the recompense. Those who are lazy about carrying out their work will be brazenly impudent if they expect the recompense.
-- Sermon 233, 1

Prayer. O death, when you seized my Lord, you then lost your grip on me.
-- Sermon 233, 5


To take up our cross and follow Jesus Christ means nothing other than receiving and accepting all the troubles, contradictions, afflictions and mortifications that come our way in this life. We should accept them with complete submission and resignation. We ought not select our own crosses, but we should accept and carry those that are offered to us. In this way we imitate the Savior, Who did not choose His own cross, but humbly took upon Himself the one prepared for Him.
(Sermons 2; O. IX, p. 18)


WHATEVER the merits or demerits of the Pantheistic sentiment of melting into nature of 'Oneness' (I think they call it) with seas and skies, it is not and it never has been a popular sentiment. It has been the feeling of a few learned aesthetes or secluded naturalists. Popular poetry is all against Pantheism and quite removed from Immanence. It is all about the beautiful earth as an edge or fringe of something much better and quite distinct. Ballads and carols do not go to the tune of 'One with the Essence of the Boundless World.' Ballads and carols go to the tune of 'Over the hills and far away;' the sense that life leads by a strange and special path to something sacred and separate.
('Daily News.')

The specific contingency of the universe is, like the fragility of blown glass or the transience of musical notes, an essential ingredient in the beauty of its humble grandeur.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wisdom from… [15 Apr]

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ST CYRIL OF JERUSALEM (316–386): The oil: Christ's gift

The oil of gladness with which Christ was anointed was a spiritual oil; it was in fact the Holy Spirit himself, who is called the oil of gladness because he is the source of spiritual joy. But you also have been anointed with oil, and by this anointing you have entered into fellowship with Christ and have received a share in his life. Beware of thinking of this chrism as merely ordinary oil. As the Eucharistic bread after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is no longer ordinary bread but the body of Christ, so also the oil after the invocation is no longer plain ordinary oil but Christ's gift which by the presence of his divinity becomes the instrument through which you receive the Holy Spirit. While symbolically, on your foreheads and organs of sense, your bodies are anointed with this oil that we see, your souls are sanctified by the holy and life-giving Spirit.
(Cat. 21, Mystagogica 3, 1-2: PG 33, 1087-1091.)

Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, has left us a precious legacy of twenty-four catechetical sermons.

I long for the oil of gladness, the spirit of joy! Lord, free me from my oily ungladness!

ST AUGUSTINE: Christ Died That You May Live

For you Christ allowed himself to be crucified, to teach you humility. He was alive, and you were dead. He died that you might live. God vanquished death so that death might not overcome human beings.
-- Sermon on John 2, 4; 14, 13

Prayer. Death, where is your strife? Death, where is your sting? Lord, you were struck, wounded, and cast down; but you were wounded for me, you who made me. Death, O Death, he who made me was wounded for me, and by his own death he conquered you.
-- Sermon 128, 10


Suppose the Lord gave us a choice between good health and sickness. Let us suppose He said to us: "If you choose good health, I will not deprive you of a single measure of my grace. If instead you choose sickness, I will not give you any extra graces. Nevertheless, in choosing sickness you will be just a little closer to my will in your regard." A soul perfectly abandoned to God would without fail choose sickness rather than good health, in order to be a little more pleasing to God. Abandonment to God's will is the virtue of virtues!
(Spiritual Treatises, II; O. VI, p. 25)


THE women were of the kind vaguely called emancipated, and professed some protest against male supremacy. Yet these new women would always pay to a man the extraordinary compliment which no ordinary woman ever pays to him––that of listening while he is talking.
('The Man who was Thursday.')

In another place, Chesterton makes this point by saying, "A generation of women stood up demanding to be heard and quickly sat down to be stenographers."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

NOTES: Carl Becker: The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers

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The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers
by Carl L. Becker
(New Haven, CT: Yale Nota Bene, 2003 [1932])

p. 3 – St. Thomas on natural law: "Since all things subject to Divine providence are ruled and measured by the eternal law…; it is evident that all things partake somewhat of the eternal law, in so far as, namely, form its being imprinted on them, they receive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends. Now among all others, the rational creature is subject to Divine providence in the most excellent way, in so far as it partakes of a share of providence, by being provident both for itself and for others. Wherefore it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper end: and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law."
>>>> [ST, II-I, Q. XCI, art. ii.]
p. 10 – Litera gesta docet; quid credas, allegoria; moralis quid agas; quo tendas, anagogia = The letter teaches what we know / Anagogia what we hope is so / Faith's confirmed by allegories, / Conduct's shaped by moral stories.
pp. 20–21 – [Becker affirms the error that Galileo actually dropped balls (from a tower)]
p. 21 – 22 – C17 scientists worked with "a minimum of faith—except, of course (the exception was tremendous but scarcely noticed at the time) faith in the uniform behavior of nature and in the capacity of reason to discover its modus operandi."
p. 23 – "Science has taught us the futility of troubling to understand the “underlying agency” of the things we use."
>>>> [Which exactly how science was not born!]
p. 24 – It is one of the engaging ironies of modern thought that the scientific method, which it was once fondly hoped would banish mystery from the world, leaves it every day more inexplicable.
pp. 29 & 31 – My object is, therefore, to furnish an explanation of eighteenth-century thought, from the historical point of view, by showing that it was related to something that came before and to something else that came after. … I shall attempt to show that the Philosophes demolished the Heavenly City of St. Augustine only to rebuild it with more up-to-date materials.
p. 30 – But, if we examine the foundations of their faith, we find that at every turn the Philosophes betray their debt to medieval thought without being aware of it. … They renounced the authority of the church and the Bible, but exhibited a naïve faith in the authority of nature and reason.
p. 31 – They denied that miracles ever happened, but believed in the perfectibility of the human race.
pp. 36–37 – In spite of Candide and all the rest, Voltaire was an optimist, although not a naïve one.
p. 39 – C18 characterized by: not a disillusioned indifference, but the eager didactic impulse to set things right. Bienfaisance, humanité—the very words, we are told, are new, coined by the Philosophers to express ins secular terms the Christian ideal of service.
p. 42 – They were the secular bearers of the Protestant and Jansenist tradition.
p. 42 – persiflage : light and slightly contemptuous mockery or banter
p. 43 – Emancipated themselves, they were conscious of a mission to perform, a message to deliver mankind; and to this messianic enterprise they brought an extraordinary amount of earnest condition….
pp. 48–49 – The picture of salvation in the Heavenly City they toned down to a vague impressionistic image of a “future state,” “the immortality of the soul,” or a more generalized earthly and social félicité or perfectibilité du genre humain.
p. 53 – Christian, deist, atheist––all acknowledge the authority of the book of nature; if they differ it is only as to the scope of its authority, as to whether it merely confirms or entirely supplants the old revelation.
p. 56 – Cleanthes does not conclude that nature must be rational because God is eternal reason; he concludes that God must be an engineer because nature is a machine.
p. 57 – "These Principles I consider not as occult Qualities, supposed to result from the specific Forms of Things, but as general Laws of Nature, by which the Things themselves are form'd."
>>>> I. Newton, quoted in Dampier-Whetham, A History of Science, p. 181, 183.
p. 60 – "Very few people read Newton because it is necessary to be learned to understand him. But everybody talks about him."
>>>> Voltaire, Oeuvres, XXII, 130.
p. 63 – They had only given another form and a new nature to the object of worship: having denatured God, they deified nature.
pp. 66, 69 – [Concerning Locke's naturalist epistemology of the mind as the impression of nature, and the unnerving consequences this had for the nature of evil as but the naturally misperceived whims of nature, quotes Pope:] "All discord, harmony not understood; / All partial evil, universal good; / And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite, / One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right." …if nature is good, then there is no evil in the world; if there is evil in the world, then nature is so far not good. … Will they, closing their eyes to the brute facts, maintain that there is no evil in the world? In that case there is nothing for them to set right. Or will they, keeping their eyes open, admit that there is evil in the world? In that case nature fails to provide them with any standard for setting things right.
p. 82 -- …and what was atheism if not a confession of ignorance? … [In Hume's posthumous Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion] the Christian mystic, Demea, and the skeptic, Philo, following Reason to the bitter end, found themselves in the same camp, agreeing only in this, that reason is incompetent to answer any fundamental question about God, or morality, or the meaning of life.
p. 87 – The soul of the individual might be evil, it might be temporary, it might even be an illusion. But the soul of humanity, this something "essential to" human nature, this "common model of ourselves" (and what was this but the old medieval "realism" come to life again?) was surely immortal because permanent and universal.
>>>> [cf. J.J. Rousseau, Eloise (1810), I, 4.]
p. 89 – If well enough satisfied with the present we are likely to pay our ancestors the doubtful compliment of approaching them with a studied and pedantic indifference; but when the times are out of joint we are disposed to blame them for it, or else we dress them up, as models suitable for us to imitate, in shining virtues which in fact they never possessed, which they would perhaps not have recognized as virtues at all. … In the sixth century [sic] … St. Augustine saw the advantages of a new history, and in fact created it by writing the City of God, which was undoubtedly one of the most ingenious and successful tricks ever played on the dead.
p. 92 – All Philosophers make the same complaint, that the orthodox historians accumulate facts for the sake of facts; all make the same demand, that the new history must be written by Philosophers in order to disengage from the facts those useful truths that will "lead us to a knowledge of ourselves and others."
>>>> [Fontenelle, Oeuvres (1790), V, 431.]
p. 97 – The reason [the Philosophes neglected the historical sense of development, as a function of the continuity of history] is that the eighteenth-century Philosophers were not primarily interested in stabilizing society, but in changing it.
pp. 101–102 – It is surely a paradox needing explanation that the Philosophers, who professed to study history in order to establish the rights suitable to man's nature on the facts of human experience, should have denounced Montesquieu precisely because he was too much inclined to establish the right by the fact. … Is it possible that they were engaged in that nefarious medieval enterprise of reconciling the facts of human experience with truths already, in some fashion, revealed to them?
p. 102 – The essential articles of the religion of the Enlightenment may be stated thus: (1) man is not natively depraved; (2) the end of life is life itself; (3) man is capable, guided solely by the light of reason and experience, of perfecting the good life on earth; and (4) the first and essential condition of the good life on earth is the freeing of men's minds from the bonds of ignorance [p. 103] and superstition, and of their bodies from the arbitrary oppression of the constituted social authorities.
p. 106 – Reason and common sense have noted the evil character of Christian philosophy; it will be history's function to exhibit it in action, to note the striking examples of its evil influence.
p. 112 – Very much as the Philosophers "adopted" Fénelon and made use of him to refute Bossuet, nineteenth-century writers adopted Montesquieu and made use of him to refute the Philosophers.
p. 115 – Before estimating a book it is well to read its title with care. And what is the title of Montesquieu's book? Not the laws, but the spirit of the laws.
p. 121 – …the specious present as held in consciousness at any time is a pattern of thought woven instantaneously from the threads of memories, perceptions, and anticipations.
p. 123 – In presenting a new version of the human drama, the Philosophers were employing tactics which Christian theologians had themselves employed long ago. The early Christian writers had won their battle, in so far as they did win it, by adapting to the needs and experience of the ancient world (which, like the eighteenth century, needed to be set right) the old Greek theme of cyclical decline and recovery. The classical idea of a golden age, or situation created by some happily inspired Lycurgus or Solon, the Christian theologians reinterpreted in terms of their own biblical story.
p. 126 – The Christian version out an end to the helpless, hopeless world by substituting for the eternal "nothing new" another world altogether new, a golden age to come in place of a golden age past and done with; it called on the future to redress the balance of the present, and required of the individual man, as a condition of entering the promised land, nothing but the exercise of those negative virtues which common men understood so well––the virtues of resignation and obedience. … No interpretation of the life of mankind ever more exactly reflected the experience, or more effectively responded to the hopes of the average men. … with fond memories to the happier times … of youth, to look forward with hope to a more serene and secure old age …. And what was the Christian story if not an application of this familiar individual experience to the life of mankind?
p. 128 – … independent of its historical accidents. The importance of the Christian story was that it announced with authority (whether truly or not matters little) that the life of man has significance, a universal significance transcending and including the temporal experience of the individual. This was the secret of its enduring strength, that it irradiated pessimism with hope: it liberated the mind of man from the cycles in which classical philosophy had inclosed it as in a prison, and by transferring the golden age from the past tot he future substituted an optimistic for a disillusioned view of human destiny.
p. 129 – No "return," no "rebirth" of classical philosophy, however idealized and humanized, no worship of ancestors long since dead, or pale imitations of Greek pessimism would suffice for a society that had been so long and so well taught to look forward to another and better world to come.
p. 130 – For the love of God they substituted the love of humanity; for the vicarious atonement the perfectibility of man through his own efforts; and for the hope of immortality in another world the hope of living in the memory of future generations.
p. 131 – They missed the simple fact (and there are till many who refuse to see it) that the true way to imitate the Greeks is not to imitate them, since the Greeks themselves imitated no one.
p. 135 – "We are under obligation to the ancients," he [Fontenelle] says, "for having exhausted almost all the false theories that could be formed."
>>>> Vis-à-vis Fontenelle's arguments in Les anciens et les modernes (1688) about cultural degeneration––it being accidental rather than historically necessary––and his distinction between arts and science, the former which the moderns could, with feeling and imagination, match but never surpass the ancients in, the latter in which the moderns could, with knowledge, surpass the ancients.
p. 140 – In this enterprise [viz., of situating the degeneration of their time in the larger scope of human Progress] posterity played an important rôle: it replaced God as judge and justifier of those virtuous and enlightened ones who were not of this world.
p. 144 – Men rarely love humanity more fervently than when they are engaged in deadly conflict with each other….
p. 146 – "No nobler use has history than this: it leads us as it were into the council of fate and teaches us to conform to the eternal laws of nature." (Herder, Sämmtliche Werke (1877–1913), XIV, 251–252).
p. 150 – "Posterity is for the Philosopher what the other world is for the religious."
>>>> (Diderot, Oeuvres, XVIII, 101)
p. 155 – Not until our own time have historians been sufficiently detached from religions to understand that the [French] Revolution, in its later stages especially, took on the character of a religious crusade. … [T]he new religion had its dogmas, the sacred principles of the Revolution––Liberté et sainte égalité. It had its forms of worship, and adaptation of Catholic ceremonial…. It had its saints, the heroes and martyrs of liberty. It was sustained by an emotional impulse, a mystical faith in humanity, in the ultimate regeneration of the human race.
p. 156 – "a religion which made the fatherland and the laws the object of adoration for all citizens would be in the eyes of a wise man an excellent religion. Its Pontiff would be the king, the supreme ruler. To die for the fatherland would be to achieve eternal glory, eternal happiness."
>>>> [Nicolas de Bonneville, De l'espirit des religions (1791), Part I, 39.]
p. 162 – Supplied with the dialectic of Hegel and the evolutionary theories of Darwin, Marx formulated, in Das Kapital, the creed of the communist faith which was to replace, for the discontented, the democratic faith of the eighteenth century. The new faith, like the old, looks to the past and to the future; like the old, it sees in the past a persistent conflict, and in the future a millennial state.
p. 163 – Like Diderot's Rameau, we are disposed, naturally enough, to think, "The devil take the best of possible worlds if I am not a part of it."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wisdom from… [9 Apr]

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HESYCHIUS OF JERUSALEM (ca. 451): The festival of victory

The festival we celebrate is one of victory — the victory of the Son of God, king of the whole universe. On this day the devil is defeated by the crucified one; our race is filled with joy by the risen one. In honor of my resurrection in Christ this day cries out: "In my journey I beheld a new wonder—an open tomb, a man risen from the dead, bones exulting, souls rejoicing, men and women refashioned, the heavens opened, and powers crying out: Lift up your gates, you princes; be lifted up, you everlasting doors, that the king of glory may come in. On this day I saw the king of heaven, robed in light, ascend above the lightning and the rays of the sun, above the sun and the sources of water, above the dwelling place of the angelic powers and the city of eternal life."

Hidden first in a womb of flesh, he sanctified human birth by his own birth; hidden afterward in the womb of the earth, he gave life to the dead by his resurrection. Suffering, pain, and sighs have now fled away. For who has known the mind of God, or who has been his counselor if not the Word made flesh, who was nailed to the cross, who rose from the dead, and who was taken up into heaven?
(Paschal Homily: SC 187, 66-69.)

Hesychius was a monk who was highly esteemed as a priest and preacher of Jerusalem. He was a defender of orthodoxy and a gifted interpreter of scripture.


See me in these "Confessions," that you may not praise me beyond what I am. Believe what is said of me in these, not by others but by myself. Contemplate me in these, and see what I have been, in myself and by myself. For God has made us and not we ourselves. Indeed, we had destroyed ourselves, but he who created us has made us anew.
-- Letter 231, 6

Prayer. Father, make me seek you, and save me from error. As I seek you, let nothing else come in my way in place of you.
-- Soliloquies 1, 6


Make frequent spiritual aspirations to God by means of short but ardent movements of the heart. Marvel at His beauty, implore His help, cast yourself in spirit at the foot of the cross, adore His goodness, and beg Him that you may be saved eternally. Give Him your heart and offer your soul to Him thousands and thousands of times. Fix the eyes of your soul upon His gentle face and hold Him by the hand, just as a small child does with his father.
(INT. Part II, Ch. 13; O. III, p. 94)


'I SINCERELY maintain that Nature-worship is more morally dangerous than the most vulgar Man-worship of the cities; since it can easily be perverted into the worship of an impersonal mystery, carelessness, or cruelty. Thoreau would have been a jollier fellow if he had devoted himself to a green-grocer instead of to greens.'
('Alarms and Discursions.')

Monday, April 7, 2008


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"Faith is relying on God's hindsight before we reform our sins in hindsight. Faith is making His eternal promises our lifelong foresight."

–– Elliam Fakespeare

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Wisdom from… [5 & 6 Apr]

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MELITO OF SARDIS (ca. 190): I am your forgiveness

Although he was the Lord, Christ clothed himself in human nature. He suffered for the sake of those who suffer, he was bound for those in bonds, condemned for the guilty, buried for those who lie in the grave; but he rose from the dead, and cried aloud: Who will contend with me? Let him confront me. I have freed the condemned, brought the dead back to life, raised those who were buried. Who has anything to say against me? I, he said, am the Christ; I have destroyed death, triumphed over the enemy, trampled hell underfoot, bound the strong one, and snatched human beings up to the heights of heaven: I am the Christ. Come, then, people of every nation, receive forgiveness for the sins that defile you. I am your forgiveness. I am the Passover that brings salvation. I am the lamb who was immolated for you. I am your ransom, your life, your resurrection, your light, I am your salvation and your king. I will lead you to the heights of heaven. I will show you the eternal Father. With my right hand I will raise you up.
(Easter Homily 2-7, 100-103: SC 123, 60-64.121-122.)

HIPPOLYTUS OF ROME* (170–236): Death became its own death

To show that he had power over death Christ had exercised his royal authority to loose death's bonds even during his lifetime, as for example when he gave the commands, Lazarus, come out and arise, my child. For the same reason he surrendered himself completely to death, so that in him that gluttonous beast with his insatiable appetite would die completely. Since death's power comes from sin, it searched everywhere in his sinless body for its accustomed food, for sensuality, pride, disobedience, or, in a word, for that ancient sin which was its original sustenance. In him, however, it found nothing to feed on and so, being entirely closed in upon itself and destroyed for lack of nourishment, death became its own death.

O heavenly bounty, spiritual feast, divine Passover, coming down from heaven to earth and ascending again into heaven. You are the light of the new candles, the brightness of the virgins' lamps. Thanks to you the lamps of souls filled with the oil of Christ are no longer extinguished, for the spiritual and divine fire of love burns in all, in both soul and body.
(Paschal Homily: SC 27, 116-118.184-190.)

Hippolytus was the first anti-pope, was reconciled with the pope and later both died as martyrs for the faith.


God First Loved Us

Fulfill the commandments out of love. Could anyone refuse to love our God, so abounding in mercy, so just in all his ways? Could anyone deny love to him who first loved us despite all our injustice and all our pride? Could anyone refuse to love the God who so loved us as to send his only Son not only to live among human beings but also to be put to death for their sake and at their own hands?
-- Catechetical Instructions 39

Prayer. You, the Omnipotent and Good, care for each of us as if each was your sole care, and for all as for one alone!
-- Confession 3, 11

Without Christ We Can Do Nothing

Our Lord had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again. But we cannot choose how long we shall live, and death comes to us even against our will. Christ, by dying, has already overcome death. Our freedom from death comes only through his death. To save us Christ had no need of us. Yet without him we can do nothing. He gave himself to us as the vine to the branches; apart from him we cannot live.
-- Sermons on John 84, 2

Prayer. Lord, you have saved my soul from the constraint of fear, so that it may serve you in the freedom of love.
-- Commentary on Psalm 30 (1), 8


THE truly patient person, the true servant of God, bears up equally under ignominious tribulations and those that are honorable. To be despised, criticized or accused by evil men is something that a courageous man does not mind. But it takes a lot of virtue to accept being criticized, denounced and badly treated by good people––by our relatives and friends.
(INT. Part III, Ch. 3; O. III, p. 137)

LET us not forget the maxims of the saints, who teach us to advance a little further each day on the road to perfection. This thought should encourage us not to be surprised or to feel miserable whenever we have something to correct. Each day we must begin again with renewed courage.
(Letters 1049; O. XVI, p. 312)


LAUGHTER and love are everywhere. The cathedrals, built in the ages that loved God, are full of blasphemous grotesques. The mother laughs continually at the child, the lover laughs continually at the lover, the wife at the husband, the friend at the friend.
('The Napoleon of Notting Hill.')

FAIRY-TALES do not give a child his first idea of bogy. What fairy-tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogy. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy-tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy-tale does is this: it accustoms him by a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors have a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies, that these infinite enemies of man have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. When I was a child I have stared at the darkness until the whole black bulk of it turned into one negro giant taller than heaven. If there was one star in the sky it only made him a Cyclops. But fairy-tales restored my mental health. For next day I read an authentic account of how a negro giant with one eye, of quite equal dimensions, had been baffled by a little boy like myself (of similar inexperience and even lower social status) by means of a sword, some bad riddles, and a brave heart.
('Tremendous Trifles.')

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Wisdom from… [4 Apr]

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ISIDORE DE SEVILLA (560–636): The value of reading

No one can understand holy scripture without constant reading, according to the words: Love her and she will exalt you. Embrace her and she will glorify you.

The more you devote yourself to a study of the sacred utterances, the richer will be your understanding of them, just as the more the soil is tilled, the richer the harvest.

Some people have great mental powers but cannot be bothered with reading; what reading could have taught them is devalued by their neglect. Others have a desire to know but are hampered by their slow mental processes; yet application to reading will teach them things which the clever fail to learn through laziness.

The man who is slow to grasp things but who really tries hard is rewarded; equally he who does not cultivate his God-given intellectual ability is condemned for despising his gifts and sinning by sloth.

Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart. It makes a great noise outside but serves no inner purpose. But when God's grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding, his word which has been received by the ear sinks deep into the heart.
(Maxims II, 8-10: PL 83, 679-682.)

As bishop of his native city, Isidore played a major role in Spanish synods. He wrote an encyclopedia of classical learning. He is a Doctor of the Church and a patron saint of education and scholarship.

ST AUGUSTINE: The Human Cry of Jesus

Christ intended to teach us what we should spurn in this life and what we should hope for in the next. Thus at the very height of his passion, when his enemies thought they had won such a mighty victory, he gave voice to our human weakness that was being crucified together with our former selves to set our sinful bodies free. And his cry was: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
-- Letter 140, 15

The weakness and corruption of our human nature has been forsaken at the Cross in Christ, in order that that same nature may be redeemed and glorified at the Resurrection in Christ. Faith is our way of trusting in our natural "God-forsakenness" as a saving cut; hope is our way of pursuing our future glory; and love is our way of knowing the author of such changes along the way.

Prayer. Let my heart praise you and my tongue say: "Lord, who is like you?" Then may you tell my soul: "I am your salvation."
-- Confessions 9, 1


I would advise you to consider from time to time the quantity of your interior and exterior goods, and at the same time the very great number of interior and exterior punishments that Divine Providence has prepared for us in His most holy justice and His great mercy. As if opening the arms of our consent, let us most lovingly embrace all this by saying, "Yes, Lord, Your will be done on earth, where we have no pleasure without pain, no roses without thorns, no day without a night to follow, no spring without a winter than preceded it. Here consolations are rare and trials are countless. Still, O God, Your will be done."
(T.L.G. IX, Ch. 1; O. V, pp. 111-112)


THE prophet who is stoned is not a brawler or a marplot. He is simply a rejected lover. He suffers from an unrequited attachment to things in general.
('The Defendant.')

Friday, April 4, 2008

Wisdom from… [3 Apr]

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ST ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA (296–373): He destroyed our death

Since all human beings were subject to death, after taking from us a body like ours he delivered it up to death in the place of us all, offering it to the Father. He did this because of his love for us, so that we might all die in him, for then the law imposing death on us would be abrogated. Death's power, having been fully spent in the Lord's body, would no longer prevail against other human beings resembling him. He did it to free us from the corruptible condition into which we had fallen and to restore us to life. By making our body his own and by the grace of the resurrection he destroyed our death as completely as straw is destroyed by fire.

The Word knew that there was absolutely no way of delivering us from our state of corruptibility except by dying. Since he himself, being immortal and the Son of the Father, was incapable of dying, he took to himself a body which could die. Its participation in the Word who is above all would make it worthy to die for all. Because of the Word dwelling in it, it would remain incorruptible and all others would be freed from corruptibility by the grace of resurrection.
(De Incarnatione 7–9.)

Athansius was bishop of Alexandria, and was the principal defender against the Arians regarding faith in the divinity of Christ.

ST AUGUSTINE: Head and Members Pray

God could give no greater gift to us than to make his Word, through Whom he created all things, our Head and to join us to him as his members. Thus, when we speak to God in prayer we do not separate the Son from him, and when the body of the Son prays it does not separate its Head from itself.
-- Commentary on Psalm 85, 1

Prayer. May he perfect his gifts in us, since he did not hesitate to take our faults on himself. And may he make us children of God, since he chose to become the child of human beings for us.
-- Sermon 184, 3


I would advise you to consider from time to time the quantity of your interior and exterior goods, and at the same time the very great number of interior and exterior punishments that Divine Providence has prepared for us in His most holy justice and His great mercy. As if opening the arms of our consent, let us most lovingly embrace all this by saying, "Yes, Lord, Your will be done on earth, where we have no pleasure without pain, no roses without thorns, no day without a night to follow, no spring without a winter than preceded it. Here consolations are rare and trials are countless. Still, O God, Your will be done."
(T.L.G. IX, Ch. 1; O. V, pp. 111-112)


IT is very currently suggested that the modern man is the heir of all the ages, that he has got the good out of these successive human experiments. I know not what to say in answer to this, except to ask the reader to look at the modern man, as I have just looked at the modern man––in the looking-glass. Is it really true that you and I are two starry towers built up of all the most towering visions of the past? Have we really fulfilled all the great historic ideals one after the other, from our naked ancestor who was brave enough to kill a mammoth with a stone knife, through the Greek citizen and the Christian saint to our own grandfather or great-grandfather, who may have been sabred by the Manchester Yeomany or shot in the '48? Are we still strong enough to spear mammoths, but now tender enough to spare them? Does the cosmos contain any mammoth that we have either speared or spared? When we decline (in a marked manner) to fly the red flag and fire across a barricade like our grand-fathers, are we really declining in deference to sociologists––or to soldiers? Have we indeed outstripped the warrior and passed the ascetical saint? I fear we only outstrip the warrior in the sense that we should probably run away from him. And if we have passed the saint, I fear we have passed him without bowing.
('What's Wrong with the World.')

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wisdom from… [2 Apr]

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FRANCIS DE PAOLA (1416–1507): Be converted with a sincere heart

Fix your minds on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Inflamed with love for us, he came down from heaven to redeem us. For our sake he endured every torment of body and soul and shrank from no bodily pain. He himself gave us an example of perfect patience and love. We, then, are to be patient in adversity.

Put aside your hatred and animosity. Take pains to refrain from sharp words. If they escape your lips, do not be ashamed to let your lips produce the remedy, since they have caused the wounds. Pardon one another so that later on you will not remember the injury. The recollection of an injury is itself wrong. It adds to our anger, nurtures our sin, and hates what is good. It is a rusty arrow and poison for the soul. It puts all virtue to flight. It is like a worm in the mind: it confuses our speech and tears to shreds our petitions to God. It is foreign to charity: it remains planted in the soul like a nail. It is wickedness that never sleeps, sin that never fails. It is indeed a daily death.

Francis followed the ideal of Saint Francis and typified that constant renewal in the Church in the spirit of the desert fathers.

ST AUGUSTINE: The Importance of Intention

How great a good was conferred on humankind by the handing over of Christ! God had in his thoughts our salvation by which we are redeemed; Judas had in his thoughts the price for which he sold the Lord. The Son Himself had in his thoughts the price he gave for us, while Judas had in his the price he received to sell him. The diverse intention, therefore, makes the things done diverse.
-- Sermon on 1 John 7, 8

Prayer. Because of our sins we are in darkness; but you, my God, will illuminate my darkness.
-- Commentary on Psalm 17, 29


Venial sin, no matter how slight it may be, displeases God. Therefore, if it displeases God, any will and affection that one has for venial sin is nothing less than a disposition to offend the Divine Majesty. Is it possible that an upright soul should not only displease God but even nourish within itself an affection and a will to displease Him?
(INT. Part I, Ch. 22; O. III, p. 63)


MODESTY has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction -- where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert -- himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt -- the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping: not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wisdom from… [1 Apr]

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THOMAS OF JESUS (1529–1582): We must become like Jesus and Mary

Jesus took care of his mother, spoke to her, gave her for a son the disciple he loved, and said to that disciple, Behold your mother. As Saint John here represented all peoples, our Savior commanded us all in his person to honor and serve the Blessed Virgin as our Mother. It was, nevertheless, a great consolation to that afflicted Mother to hear the voice of her only Son. She knew that by adopting a second son she ceased not to be the mother of the first, whom she regarded as her Creator and her God. The holy virgin accepted Saint John as her son in the same way as she accepted, at the same time, all the human race as her children. Mary accepted this trust because she clearly saw that it was the will of Christ, and that people, after having treated him so badly, would never presume to return to him if he did not give them his own mother to act as a mediatrix.

She entered fully into her Son's intentions, assumed the heart of a mother for all sinners, and looked upon them as the children of sorrow whom she had brought forth at the foot of the cross. Thus that sea of sufferings into which Jesus and Mary were plunged has become for sinners a river of peace and a fountain of blessings.
(Sufferings of Jesus, Book I, chapter 47.)

Thomas was an Augustinian friar, and, while in prison in Africa and ministering to his fellow prisoners, wrote the book The Sufferings of Jesus, a work which has guided many people on the path to holiness, particularly Saint Elizabeth Ann Seaton of the United States who was greatly influenced by the work.

Lose yourself in Christ, and so find yourself in Christ. Drown in His sorrows, and so rise again in His glory. Be showered with His blood, and so be cleansed by His blood. In so doing, you are never alone; for in losing yourself, you gain the family of the Anointed One. We are blessed even to confess our need for His grace, and humbled to know we only belong in His family by blood-swollen grace. To be ashamed of the Gospel is to be ashamed of the truths it speaks about us, namely, that we have tortured the incarnate God and that we stand in utter need.

ST AUGUSTINE: The Crucifixion is Always Lived

The crucifixion is something that must continue throughout our life, not for forty days only, although Moses, Elijah, and Christ fasted for forty days. We are meant to learn from them not to cling to this present world or imitate its ways, but to nail our unregenerate selves to the cross.
-- Sermon 205, 1

Prayer. Lord, we give you thanks for your mercy. You wanted to die so that someone should rise from the dead. And someone, not anyone, but truth rose from the dead.
-- Commentary on Psalm 147, 17

The denial of truth is in fact a renewed form of crucifying Christ, the Truth. A passionate pursuit of the truth is in fact a desire for the imperishability of Truth, in the resurrection of Chris.


Friendship based on the pleasures of the senses I mean is coarse and does not deserve the name of friendship. The same holds true for friendships based on vain and frivolous qualities, since they also have their roots in the senses. By pleasures of the senses I mane those that principally originate from the external senses, such as pleasure in looking at beautiful things or listening to a sweet voice, pleasure of touch and the like. Friendships based on such things deserve to be called follies rather than friendships!
(INT. Part III, Ch. 17; O. III, p. 196)


WE shall never make anything of democracy until we make fools of ourselves. For if a man really cannot make a fool of himself, we may be quite certain that the effort is superfluous.
('The Defendant.')