Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wisdom from...

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ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (347-407): Never Consider Hurting Your Enemy

When your enemy falls into your hands, do not consider how you can pay him back and let him feel the sharp edge of your tongue before sending him packing; consider rather how you can heal him and restore him to a better frame of mind. Continue to make every effort both by word and deed until your gentleness has overcome his aggressiveness. Nothing has more power than gentleness. As someone has said: A soft word will break bones. And what is harder than bone? Well then, even if someone is as hard and inflexible as that, he will be conquered if you treat him gently. There is another saying: A soft answer turns away wrath. It is obvious, therefore, that whether your enemy continues to rage or whether he is reconciled depends much more on you than on him. For it rests with us, not with those who are angry, either to destroy their anger or enflame it.
(De David et Saule, Hom. III, 6-7.)

John was the patriarch of Constantinople, spent a life of preaching and earned the title of "the golden-mouthed."

ST. AUGUSTINE: Every Moment You Are Passing On

From the time that I started speaking until this moment, do you realize you have grown older? You cannot see your hair growing. Yet while you stand around, while you are here, while you do something, while you talk, your hair keeps growing -- but never so suddenly that you need a barber straightaway. In this way, your existence fades away. You are passing on.
-- Commentary on Psalm 38, 12

Prayer. My God, let me be thankful as I remember and acknowledge all your mercies.
-- Confessions 8, 1


[1] ... Sensible things, from which the human reason takes the origin of its knowledge, retain within themselves some sort of trace of a likeness to God. This is so imperfect, however, that it is absolutely inadequate to manifest the substance of God. For effects bear within themselves, in their own way, the likeness of their causes, since an agent produces its like [Habent enim effectus suarum causarum suo modo similitudinem, cum agens agat sibi simile]; yet an effect does not always reach to the full likeness of its cause [non tamen effectus ad perfectam agentis similitudinem semper pertingit.]. Now, the human reason is related to the knowledge of the truth of faith ... in such a way that it can gather certain likenesses of it, which are yet not sufficient so that the truth of faith may be comprehended as being understood demonstratively or through itself. Yet it is useful for the human reason to exercise itself in such arguments, however weak they may be, provided only that there be present no presumption to comprehend or to demonstrate. For to be able to see something of the loftiest realities, however thin and weak the sight may be, is ... a cause of the greatest joy.

[2] The testimony of Hilary agrees with this. Speaking of this same truth, he writes as follows in his De Trinitate [II, 10, ii]: “Enter these truths by believing, press forward, persevere. And though I may know that you will not arrive at an end, yet I will congratulate you in your progress. For, though he who pursues the infinite with reverence will never finally reach the end, yet he will always progress by pressing onward. But do not intrude yourself into the divine secret, do not, presuming to comprehend the sum total of intelligence, plunge yourself into the mystery of the unending nativity; rather, understand that these things are incomprehensible.
(SCG I, 8)


We must consider our neighbor in relationship to God, Who wants us to love him ... and we are to be interested in him even when this is distasteful for us. The resistance of the inferior part of our soul will be overcome by the frequent performance of good acts. To this end, however, we must center our prayers and meditations of the love of our neighbor, having first implored the love of God. We must ask for the grace to love especially those we do not like very much.
(Letters 217; O. XIII, pp. 268-270)


WAR is a dreadful thing; but it does prove two points sharply and unanswerably -- numbers and an unnatural valour. One does discover the two urgent matters; how many rebels there are alive, and how many are ready to be dead.
('What's Wrong with the World.')


Monday, November 24, 2008


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I have been busy, thankfully, the past few days and weeks writing and revising new essays and old, as well as getting some stop-gap work with a demolition/recycling company. Honest labor. Not as much will or time to read amidst all this, of course, but, spiritually, I feel very centered. Sorry I haven't posted more of the quotes lately. Internet time is catch as catch can.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It needs to be said...

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A few things, just to get them off my chest.

1. "Quantum of Solace" is a horrible title for what will undoubtedly be a very good movie. I understand it is a nod to the title of the short story by Ian Fleming on which this Bond is based. But Xan Brooks is right: overweening deference can wreak its own havoc on a man's rep. Case in point: "Quantum of Solace".

I'm willing to admit Bond movies are silly and over the top... but at least they are coherently silly. "Quantum of Solace" just makes no sense. Better to just go see the flick and come up with your own title after watching it. Something like... "Not as Much Testicle-Smashing!" (props to C.B.)

2. It's PIN, not PIN number.

3. One of St. Augustine's last works is called Retractations, not Retractions. Mislabeling it as "retractions" gives the impression Augustine devoted the entire work to recanting earlier claims throughout his previous writings. But this is only partially true of Retractations. The Doctor of Grace did recant a number of points upon re-reading nearly his entire corpus in his later years, but for the most part he polished, clarified, and strengthened his claims.

The word retractatione literally means "going over the ground again," hence maybe a clearer title for English readers would be "Revisions" or perhaps "Reconsiderations," or maybe even the more elaborate "Theological Reminiscences". Retractione, by contrast, suggests retreat.

It's a small point, perhaps, but I think not only that scholarship demands that kind of precision, but also that a proper grasp of Augustine's final efforts better preserves the integrity, or unity, of his theological work. Just as it is imprecise to say there is an earlier and a later Wittgenstein, as if he presented two wholly different systems simpliciter, so it is incorrect to see in the "Retractions" a dishevelled or ultimately defeated St. Augustine.

That is all. Back to your cubicle.

"God's first language is silence"?

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A couple weeks ago I added a gloss to a quotation from St. Augustine about silence and God's voice. I said:

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.

Some time later a reader expressed appreciation for my thoughts and I added that I had not long thereafter come across a quotation (in the DVD case for Into Great Silence), allegedly from San Juan de la Cruz to the effect that "silence is God's first language." Unfortunately, I was not able to find a proper citation attributing those words to San Juan. Having now gotten my hands on the complete works of San Juan (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1991), and having cross-referenced the index for references to "silence" and "language" (of God), I found the following, for now.

p. 216 "We must not consider a prophecy from the perspective of our perception and language, for God's language is another one, according to the spirit, very different from what we understand, and difficult."

p. 436 "The language of God has this trait: Since it is very spiritual and intimate to the soul, transcending everything sensory, it immediately silences the entire ability and harmonious composite of the exterior and interior senses."

p. 481 "Remaining hidden with him [viz., in the 'secrecy' of one's soul {Mt. 6:6}], you will experience him in hiding, that is, in a way transcending all language and feeling."

p. 642 "This
[i.e., words of burning power that ignite the soul with and unto eternal life] is the language and these the words God speaks in souls that are purged, cleansed, and all enkindled; as David exclaimed: Your word is exceedingly kindled [Ps. 119:139]; and the prophet: Are not my words, perchance, like a fire? [Jer. 23:29]. ... Those who do not have a sound palate, but seek other tastes cannot taste the spirit and life of God's words; his words, rather, are distasteful to them. Hence the loftier were the words of the Son of God, the more tasteless they were to the impure...."

p. 643 "Those who do not relish this language God speaks within them must not think on this account that others do not taste it."

p. 688 "It is impossible for this highest wisdom and language of God, which is contemplation, to be received in anything less than a spirit that is silent and detached from discursive knowledge and gratification."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wisdom from...

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MACARIUS OF EGYPT (4th-5th century): The Pledge of the Inheritance

Even while still in this world they enter his palace, the dwelling-place of the angels and the spirits of the saints. For although they are not yet in possession of that perfect inheritance prepared for them in the age to come, they are as fully assured of it through the pledge they have received here on earth as though they were already crowned, already reigning.

Christians find nothing strange in the fact that they are destined to reign in the world to come, since they have known the mysteries of grace beforehand. When man transgressed the commandment, the devil shrouded the soul with a covering of darkness. But with the coming of grace the veil is entirely stripped away, so that with clear eyes the soul, now cleansed and restored to its true nature, which was created pure and blameless, ever clearly beholds the glory of the true light, the true Sun of Righteousness, brilliantly shining in its inmost being.
((attributed), Hom. XVII, 3-4: PG 34, 625-626.)

Macarius was abbot of a community of cenobites and a monk of great spiritual stature and authority. The best known of his works are Fifty Spiritual Homilies.

ST. AUGUSTINE: Love--the Distinguishing Sign

Love is the only sign that distinguishes the children of God from the children of the devil. To prove this, let them all sign themselves with the cross of Christ. Let them all respond: Amen. Let all sing: Alleluia. Let all build the walls of churches. There is still no way of discerning the children of God from the children of the devil except by love!
-- Sermon on 1 John 5, 7

Prayer. Come to my aid, O God, the one eternal, true reality! In you there is no strife, no disorder, no change, no need, no death, but supreme harmony, supreme clarity, supreme permanence, supreme life.
-- Soliloquies 1, 1


[1] Now, although the truth of the Christian faith which we have discussed surpasses the capacity of the reason, nevertheless that truth that the human reason is naturally endowed to know cannot be opposed to the truth of the Christian faith. For that with which the human reason is naturally endowed is clearly most true; so much so, that it is impossible for us to think of such truths as false. Nor is it permissible to believe as false that which we hold by faith, since this is confirmed in a way that is so clearly divine. Since, therefore, only the false is opposed to the true, as is clearly evident from an examination of their definitions, it is impossible that the truth of faith should be opposed to those principles that the human reason knows naturally.

[2] Furthermore, that which is introduced into the soul of the student by the teacher is contained in the knowledge of the teacher—unless his teaching is fictitious, which it is improper to say of God. Now, the knowledge of the principles that are known to us naturally has been implanted in us by God; for God is the Author of our nature. These principles, therefore, are also contained by the divine Wisdom. Hence, whatever is opposed to them is opposed to the divine Wisdom, and, therefore, cannot come from God. That which we hold by faith as divinely revealed, therefore, cannot be contrary to our natural knowledge.

[3] ... If, therefore, contrary knowledges were implanted in us by God, our intellect would be hindered from knowing truth by this very fact. Now, such an effect cannot come from God.

[4] ... Now, it is impossible that contrary opinions should exist in the same knowing subject at the same time. No opinion or belief, therefore, is implanted in man by God which is contrary to man’s natural knowledge. ...

[7] From this we evidently gather the following conclusion: whatever arguments are brought forward against the doctrines of faith are conclusions incorrectly derived from the first and self-evident principles imbedded in nature. Such conclusions do not have the force of demonstration; they are arguments that are either probable or sophistical. And so, there exists the possibility to answer them.
(SCG, 7)


In the opinion of the great Saint Thomas Aquinas, it is not expedient to consult much and deliberate long about an inclination to enter a good and well-regulated religious order. It is sufficient to have a serious discussion with a few people who are truly prudent and capable in such matters. They will be able to help us come to a simple, sure answer to our question. But as soon as we have deliberated and decided, we must be firm and unchanging; we must never let ourselves be shaken by any hint whatsoever of a greater good.
(T.L.G. Book 8, Ch. 11; O. V, p. 95)


DID Herbert Spencer ever convince you -- did he ever convince anybody -- did he ever for one mad moment convince himself -- that it must be to the interest of the individual to feel a public spirit? Do you believe that, if you rule your department badly, you stand any more chance, or one half of the chance, of being guillotined than an angler stands of being pulled into the river by a strong pike? Herbert Spencer refrained from theft for the same reason he refrained from wearing feathers in his hair, because he was an English gentleman with different tastes.
('The Napoleon of Notting Hill.')


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Past On

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Past On, or

The Past too Shall Pass

by Elliot Bougis

(591 words)

The past


But the past parts

––do they part?

Time lost

is the only time

we know,

the only time

we gain

with the tender called pain.

We speak in echoes;

we serve the dead.

The passed on

we know

are free

from the pull of the past

as the fallen vase

we hide,

and the fallen heart

we hid,

are free

from the pull of gravity,

and the hard hands of hope.

To be free of time,

outside time…

To surpass the past

by passing…

Gam zeh ya’avor.

+ + +

Memory flees

the touch of the mind

as oil from the touch of soap

on the empty face of water

four-cornered flees.

At the faintest touch

the past collapses

into itself

like a folded blanket

of darkness––

stripped, shelved, delved, but mute––


like a dark comforter.

Memory hides

from the tongue of recollection,

from the lips of introspection,

as darkness only darkens

when a beam of 'lectric light

licks the night.

The gleam of the present

blinds the eye of the mind––

tiny rods toppled and burst,


like bowling pins aflame––

as a torch in hand

blinds the probing

nighttime eye, aye, I.

Thus does dark's ancient foe,

thus does the light,

become a tool of darkness

for the fool in darkness,

much as the present––

the fruit of the past,

unripe or rotten,

only we can say

in time––

casts its full-grown hunched shadow

over the soiled seeds

of the past.

Get thee behind me.

+ + +

In time

the mind drifts back

in time:

just as the body melts into its present––

stark, dense, fleeting,

inescapable, and invisible––

so paraffin fumes fume,

and escape,

so hot

then not,

in time;

while the body,

the body built of wax

so cool,

then hot,

melds in place,

the brittle debris of flickering glory:

a cenotaph of light

in the cenotaph

of time,

in space.

Was it here that I stood

that day, or

is it only here that I stand

this day?

Which is the press

and which the palimpsest?

“Memory speaks

before knowing remembers.”

But I wonder, aye,

who is at which end

of the microscope…

And who dials,

and who picks up.

+ + +

Where I find myself––

is it the same where

where I found a place

for myself?

One when

where I won,

staked my claim

in time;

struck a furrow in space,

scattered seeds,

in case;

my nails scratching, digging,

saying this is mine,

in time,

this place,

this furrowed face,

all mine

to mine.

The puzzle of myself––

is it really made of the pieces I find

in myself?

Am I just a collage

of my past, or

am I just the shadow

cast ahead

in time,

my future,

a corridor of opaque hope,

cast for me, from me, by me, despite me,

by the dying light of past-lit candles

called memories?

What does the past impart

when it parts?

What does the present leave

when it leaves?

Is my present

the key

in that dark void of past passion,

or only just another way

of telling the riddle

in reverse?

We shroud, we shred

the echoes

under a laughter––

call it progress––

that mocks the dead

for making us.

Slip the yoke and change

the joke––

or is it just

a change of the joke

with a self-tied yoke?

+ + +

My past has cost me

so much of my past.

The time has come,

time has come

and gone,

for the past…

Time is up

for the past:

to go now,

in time.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The problem with the problem...

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The Problem with the Problem

Elliot Bougis

To say that race is a problem in the United States, is as insightful as saying the United States is a large modern republic. Yet, truisms like that are no less true for being truisms. To say that race is a problem in the USA, however, does need qualification. While it may be safely claimed that the majority of Americans is no longer "racist," in the harsh bigoted manner that was exposed during the Civil Rights era and before, it cannot be denied every single American is "racialized." The difference between racism and racialism is like the difference between misogyny and feminism. The former is a form of harmful prejudice, while the latter is a kind of self-awareness, and hopefully one that allows people to transcend their prejudice. Even more metaphorically, we can say that racists throw grenades at the objects of their prejudice, while the racialized are constantly aware of walking in a minefield of possible offense, littered with traps left by, or for, their ancestors. ...

Because this article is being considered for publication in a magazine, I can’t have it “published” online or in any other periodical, so, if you’d like to read it, email me at fidescogitactio AT gmail DOT com.

Dawgs tawking....

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Dogs talk with scents as humans talk with words.