April 23, 2015

And Men Go About to Wonder at the Heights of the Mountains...

Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch)
To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which is not improperly called Ventosum. My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer. […]
While I was thus dividing my thoughts, now turning my attention to some terrestrial object that lay before me, now raising my soul, as I had done my body, to higher planes, it occurred to me to look into my copy of St. Augustine's
Confessions, a gift that I owe to your love, and that I always have about me, in memory of both the author and the giver. I opened the compact little volume, small indeed in size, but of infinite charm, with the intention of reading whatever came to hand, for I could happen upon nothing that would be otherwise than edifying and devout. Now it chanced that the tenth book presented itself. My brother, waiting to hear something of St. Augustine's from my lips, stood attentively by. I call him, and God too, to witness that where I first fixed my eyes it was written: 'And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.' I was abashed, and, asking my brother (who was anxious to hear more), not to annoy me, I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself. Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again. Those words had given me occupation enough, for I could not believe that it was by a mere accident that I happened upon them. What I had there read I believed to be addressed to me and to no other, remembering that St. Augustine had once suspected the same thing in his own case, when, on opening the book of the Apostle, as he himself tells us, the first words that he saw there were, 'Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.'



~ Francesco Petrarca, "The Ascent of Mount Ventoux" (Letter to Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro), 1350



A quotation inside another quotation—what a great meeting of searchers of truth! One is a mystic, a theologian and a monk, the other is a poet, a dreamer and a lover. Both of them—Petrarch and Augustine—know very well, possibly even too well, the meaning of the word “temptation”… but that’s exactly why, when they “meet” they cannot help but to shine together. A great piece of writing. One of my favorites ever.



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April 21, 2015

Singing the Glory of God

The monks of Norcia describe monastic life according to the Benedictine rule and explain what Gregorian Chant means for them—new album, “BENEDICTA: Marian Chant from Norcia,”
out June 2, 2015! An important document: very well built and informative:



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April 19, 2015

Why George Washington Was a Great Man

A degree of silence envelops Washington’s actions; he moved slowly; one might say that he felt charged with future liberty, and that he feared to compromise it. It was not his own destiny that inspired this new species of hero: it was that of his country; he did not allow himself to enjoy what did not belong to him; but from that profound humility what glory emerged! Search the woods where Washington’s sword gleamed: what do you find? Tombs? No; a world! Washington has left the United States behind for a monument on the field of battle.
Bonaparte shared no trait with that serious American: he fought amidst thunder in an old world; he thought about nothing but creating his own fame; he was inspired only by his own fate. He seemed to know that his project would be short, that the torrent which falls from such heights flows swiftly; he hastened to enjoy and abuse his glory, like fleeting youth. Following the example of Homer’s gods, in four paces he reached the ends of the world. He appeared on every shore; he wrote his name hurriedly in the annals of every people; he threw royal crowns to his family and his generals; he hurried through his monuments, his laws, his victories. Leaning over the world, with one hand he deposed kings, with the other he pulled down the giant, Revolution; but, in eliminating anarchy, he stifled liberty, and ended by losing his own on his last field of battle.
Each was rewarded according to his efforts: Washington brings a nation to independence; a justice at peace, he falls asleep beneath his own roof in the midst of his compatriots’ grief and the veneration of nations.
Bonaparte robs a nation of its independence: deposed as emperor, he is sent into exile, where the world’s anxiety still does not think him safely enough imprisoned, guarded by the Ocean. He dies: the news proclaimed on the door of the palace in front of which the conqueror had announced so many funerals, neither detains nor astonishes the passer-by: what have the citizens to mourn?
Washington’s Republic lives on; Bonaparte’s empire is destroyed. Washington and Bonaparte emerged from the womb of democracy: both of them born to liberty, the former remained faithful to her, the latter betrayed her.
Washington acted as the representative of the needs, the ideas, the enlightened men, the opinions of his age; he supported, not thwarted, the stirrings of intellect; he desired only what he had to desire, the very thing to which he had been called: from which derives the coherence and longevity of his work. That man who struck few blows because he kept things in proportion has merged his existence with that of his country: his glory is the heritage of civilisation; his fame has risen like one of those public sanctuaries where a fecund and inexhaustible spring flows.


~ François-René de Chateubriand, Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, 1848 – 1850



I love this quote almost as much as I love and admire both Chateubriand and President Washington.

Arnold Friberg, The Prayer at Valley Forge (1975)



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April 18, 2015

Dante's Divine Comedy Now Online

Fantastic news for those who love Dante’s Divine Comedy: a 14th-century Italian manuscript—Egerton MS 943—of the Divina Commedia, containing hundreds of images and a commentary in Latin, has now been published on Digitised Manuscripts (on the British Library website). Via Medieval manuscripts blog.

Beatrice explaining the order of the universe to Dante.
Divina Commedia (Paradiso, Canto XXVIII)
  
London, British Library, Egerton MS 943, f 130r



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April 8, 2015

Why Quotations Matter

It’s not unusual that some of my friends, readers and acquaintances ask me why I so often show a particular predilection for quotations, or better still why I seem to have a sort of veneration for them. My answer is very simple: Because quotations matter, words matter, and words matter because ideas matter... I mean, quotations are a brilliant way to communicate ideas and concepts!

It has also been said that quotations are the best bits of the best minds, and the records of the funniest, truest, wisest and most memorable things anyone has ever said. That’s also why, though expressed through somebody else’s words, quotations—or at least the most evergreen of them—are perhaps the best way to express one’s thoughts and feelings. They can have deep and meaningful impact to anyone.

If you are a writer or a journalist, but even if you are simply writing something—a term paper, sermon, blog post, etc.—quotations are great devices to put that extra “something” into what you are writing. They are great ways to provide evidence for a thesis statement or premises. They can make a difference in an essay, article or book, they make great hooks or attention-grabbers, and are certainly a powerful way of inspiring and motivating people.

They are sometimes mantras for patience and calm, some other times eloquent remarks for use in sophisticated company, and some other times they are jokes that shake the whole room. Good quotations can be irreverent, eccentric, funny, but always they possess great power, and always they are thoughtful, surprising, and, despite their brevity, remarkably rich and often profound, poetic and enlightening. And as such they are worth preserving, repeating, and bringing into our future before they’re forgotten.

As it was not enough, for those who love history—but not only for them—a good collection of quotations may be something like an oral history of history itself, told both by its celebrities and by the people working behind the scenes.

As for those numerous collections of thoughts and sayings we like to call “Favorite Quotations,” it must be said that they are a true record and mirror of an individual’s personality, of his or her complex psychological and cultural history. To make an example, my own favorite quotations have changed over time: some of them have been taken off the list, while some have been added, and that, of course, not by chance, but by thought and will, in accordance with my personal evolution as a human being. One’s favorite quotations reflect the width and depth of his/her interests and the extent of his/her knowledge of life and view of the world.

Great quotations are more than just a source of pleasure. They are like fine wine matured over time. They are the condensed wisdom of the ages. They bridge time and space. They connect the living and the dead. Someone once said: ‘Quotations make the world go round.’ I think that’s not an exaggeration.




From my website's Favorite Quotations page.



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February 14, 2015

Yet Another Review of Blessed Are the Contrarians

There are no words to describe how thankful I am for having such a passionate and dedicated reader, and such a generous and thoughtful reviewer (at Goodreads).
Thank you, Diana Stevan, and may God bless you and your family!
Here is an excerpt:

A philosopher by nature and education, Piccoli writes about political life in both his native country, Italy (the whole Berlusconi fiasco) and in America (the ongoing battles between Obama and the Republicans). Because I’m left leaning in politics, it was refreshing to read his point of view, which is more conservative than mine. I was enlightened in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Some of his essays are about religion. Since I’ve drifted away from organized religion, I was fascinated by his attention to God, and the Catholic church. Though I didn’t agree with all his positions, he made me think, and he opened my mind up to other possibilities.
[Read the rest]



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November 26, 2014

If You Thought the Crusades Were Evil, Think Again


If you think you know enough about the Crusades you’re probably wrong. As a matter of fact, what everyone “knows” about the series of historical events known as the Crusades may not be true. In fact, from the many popular notions about them, let’s pick four and see if they bear close examination. The four myths to be dealt with are the following:
  1. The crusades represented an unprovoked attack by Western Christians on the Muslim world.
  2. Western Christians went on crusade because their greed led them to plunder Muslims in order to get rich.
  3. Crusaders were a cynical lot who did not really believe their own religious propaganda; rather, they had ulterior, materialistic motives.
  4. The crusades taught Muslims to hate and attack Christians.
And here is how they can be demystified. A very useful read well worth the time.



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November 14, 2014

Are Appeals to Natural Law and Right Reason Still Effective?



Samuel Gregg in Crisis Magazine :


...The American Founding was suffused with the language of virtue. Alongside this went a conviction on the part of many Founders that there was a natural law that all humans could know. Hence someone such as Alexander Hamilton didn’t hesitate to affirm in his Farmer Refuted that “upon this law, depend the natural rights of mankind.” To which Hamilton immediately added: “the Supreme Being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beautifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which, to discern and pursue such things.


It’s not an easy reading, but it is worth the effort—and your time will be well spent!



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November 7, 2014

Once the Spirit Comes to Dwell in Someone

Isaac of Nineveh wrote in the seventh century: “Once the Spirit comes to dwell in someone, the latter will not be able to stop praying, for the Spirit will never stop praying inside him. Thus, whether he sleeps or wakes, prayer will never be absent from the person’s soul. Whether she is eating or drinking, or sleeping or working, the sweet fragrance of prayer will effortlessly breathe in his heart. Henceforth he no longer prays at fixed times, but continuously.”



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November 6, 2014

A Republican AND Conservative Wave


Tuesday was not just a Republican wave, it was also a conservative wave. All across the country, conservative incumbents and challengers, won in races that they were supposed to lose. Conservatives won in gubernatorial races on down the ballot U.S. House races and state legislative races...

A short and clear synthesis (at Human Events, by Ron Pearson and Trevor K. Smith).



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October 28, 2014

Hey, Christmas Is Not Too Far Away!

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Elvis had his own and he accomplished it so well that we are still inspired by all the amazing songs he left us. Inspired and thankful. This video is a reminder that Christmas is not too far away...





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October 24, 2014

Being Conservative: New Facebook Page



I've just created a Facebook page for my latest book, Being Conservative from A to Z!  Please feel free to leave comments, reviews or click the "like" box.

Dearest readers, I'd like to take this opportunity to let you know that this will be the first post of a new series after a long silence on this blog. Get ready and hold on, a new beginning is almost upon us...




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June 23, 2014

On Being Conservative

Asking too direct questions isn’t probably the best way to begin an investigation of a political movement or doctrine such as socialism, liberalism, conservatism, etc, because direct interrogation requires simple and straightforward answers, which is what is lacking in today’s complicated and often confusing political (and non-political) world. Therefore, if you want to find out the truth about a certain political belief, your question shouldn’t sound like this: What does it mean to be a Liberal, or a Socialist, etc.? This is even truer if we narrow the focus to the conservative movement, as I did in my newest book, Being Conservative from A to Z: An Anthology and Guide for Busy Conservative-Minded People.

As if that weren’t enough, things get even more complicated if we embrace the point of view of English philosopher Michael Oakeshott on being conservative: “My theme is not a creed or a doctrine, but a disposition. To be conservative is to be disposed to think and behave in certain manners; it is to prefer certain kinds of conduct and certain conditions of human circumstances to others; it is to be disposed to make certain kinds of choices…”

However, although debatable in many respects, Oakeshott’s definition of conservatism as a disposition rather than a belief from general principles is food for thought. Firstly, as a new kind of approach, it’s intellectually challenging and stimulating—more concrete, and therefore more understandable—to a complex and multi-faceted political philosophy. Secondly, it is pedagogically useful because it seems to automatically provide an abundant amount of information on a very wide variety of topics that are directly or closely related to the main subject. By the way, that’s the method used in this book. By looking through its pages one can easily perceive the operational scheme which consists of (implicitly) asking and answering questions such as “What does a conservative feel and think about this or that issue/topic/event?”
Michael Oakeshott’s above-quoted statement is from a lecture delivered at Swansea University, U.K., in 1956, but a similar sentiment was echoed almost forty years later by Russell Kirk in The Politics of Prudence:

Being neither a religion nor an ideology, the body of opinion termed conservatism possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata. So far as it is possible to determine what conservatives believe, the first principles of the conservative persuasion are derived from what leading conservative writers and public men have professed during the past two centuries. […]
Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word “conservative” as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.
The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.

In its own way, Being Conservative from A to Z reflects the above-described approach, since “by default” it refers to what important leading conservative thinkers and public men have professed during the past two centuries up until the present time, no matter how many or how big the differences between the various thinkers on many issues might be.

Ronald Reagan and Russell Kirk
That being said, however, as Russell Kirk himself points out, there is a great line of demarcation in modern politics: on one side of that line are those who think that the temporal order is the only order, and in consequence material needs are the only needs, on the other side are those who “recognize an enduring moral order in the universe” and “a constant human nature.” As Eric Vogelin put it, the fundamental source of order in history and society is rooted in experiences of transcendence, in the attunement to divine reality. In other words, and as Voegelin himself would put it, the line of demarcation is between those who think that religious experience is the ground of political order and those who don’t. That is where we must start. And as a matter of fact, this is how Russell Kirk’s famous list of ten conservative principles (“Ten Conservative Principles,” in The Politics of Prudence) begins: “First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.” The rest of the list—widely regarded as perhaps the best general definition of “conservative”—is interesting as well.

Being Conservative from A to Z, which could be described as an anthology of conservative analysis and insights on some key issues, is for readers who wish to acquaint themselves with conservative political thought and to get a critical and comparative perspective on what passes for political, social, economic, and cultural conservatism in their own time and place.

The volume contains an introduction, 26 chapters and two appendixes. Each chapter corresponds to a letter of the alphabet, which in turn corresponds to a specific issue (e.g.  A=American Revolution, B=Bigotry (from Atheists), C= Conservative Attitude, D=Deconstruction, E=Education, F=Family Values… I=Identity, M=Man’s Nature, etc.). The first appendix gives an overview of the “Kinds of Conservatism.” The second appendix, merely by way of example, reproduces a famous speech by Ronald Reagan.

Edmund Burke
The book is intended for both European and American readers. It provides readings from European and American thinkers, which besides may help to call attention to some of the peculiarities of American conservatives, who, for instance, believe in Progress even more than liberals do. Last but not least, as the subtitle reads, this volume wants to be a teaching tool and a guide “for busy conservative-minded people,” even though I must confess that I don’t know what “busy people”—whether conservative-minded or not—exactly means...

Be it as it may, despite its brevity and modesty, I hope this book, will lead readers to a greater appreciation of conservative values and principles. After all, as we all know, the ways of the Lord are mysterious.



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January 25, 2013

Why I Wrote 'Blessed Are the Contrarians'

I wrote this note for a Group at Goodreads.com called “The reasons why you wrote your book or books,” but I think it fits here, too.

There is no specific reason why I wrote Blessed Are the Contrarians, nor was there ever even any decision to write it. In fact, as the subtitle reads, my book is a Diary of a Journey Through Interesting Times. I mean, I didn’t originally want to “write a book,” I just came to the decision of writing a blog, that is an online diary, or a daily pulpit, or whatever you want to call it. The book is just a side-effect, so to speak, of the original purpose of creating and maintaining a blog.

As a matter of fact, I have collected in this volume some of the pieces which I have posted on my blog over the last few years, namely the most suitable to this traditional mode of communication. As a result, Blessed Are the Contrarians is a kind of diary of a journey through our time (politics, culture, lifestyles, worldviews, etc.). And, I would add, back home again, where “home” stands for a sense of belonging to something stronger than the spirit of our times. In other words what this book is all about is explaining—though not in a systematic way—why I disagree with mainstream views in several areas. And this from a conservative and Christian point of view, that is to say the perspectives which, in turn, come under severe attacks from secular and progressive ideologies, namely the most influential schools of thought of our time.

To conclude, the question ‘Why did I write this book?’ should be changed to ‘Why did I decide to create a blog?’ And the answer is ‘Simply because I had to.’ Because everyone is called to witness to what they have seen and heard, and to what they believe in.



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January 6, 2013

A Review of Blessed Are the Contrarians: Diary of a Journey Through Interesting Times

~ “LETTERS FROM AMERICA” - by The Metaphysical Peregrine ~


Yesterday finished reading Rob's Blessed Are theContrarians: Diary of a Journey Through Interesting Times. It's a worthwhile read, and a great reminder of ideas we often neglect in our busy lives. It's good to take some time to review events and ideas, especially with Rob's perspective of a Conservative and Christian. Fewer thinkers like him, especially in secularist Europe, are offering any alternative view of politics, religion, Christianity, literature, and philosophy. What he offers here, all in one place, is something different from the zeitgeist, the meme of the times. His title is apt.  

Being American, we don't get any news from Europe, let alone detailed history and analysis of what's happening there; especially Italy. That section of this book helps get a handle, as much as possible anyway, of how Italy manages to offer so many fine things, even be productive, with such a dysfunctional government. It also helps get a handle on European politics and how the political class there is consolidating power and the conflicts that arise from that.

I've been reading "The Windrose Hotel" for a few years (and am honored beyond words that I can contribute). What drew me to it initially was Rob's sense and sensibility, understanding of, explanation and explication of Augustine. Augustine has always been a tough slog for me, but Rob had, and has, a way of explaining Augustine's ideas that settles well. By the end of reading "Contrarians" I was on Amazon looking at Kindle downloads of Augustine's works. It's a good thing to have those writings all combined in this book; provides a clearer understanding.

There's a lot of coverage of art, something that is totally neglected in this country. Rob provides discussions of great artists, and why they're great, from both art history and personal perspectives. Art here in the US, and art writing, is dreadful.  It's great to have Rob's observations without the snobbishness prevalent here, just the critical eye and heartfelt appreciation.

The last of the book is about our Faith, Christianity. I was both moved and stimulated, and was making notes to myself of things to pursue, teach and write about. 


It's all here, ideas and reality, news and views, art and history, philosophy and perception, politics and religion. Sad that correct thinking is now contrary, but good that Rob's blog and this book makes the contrary accessible and understandable. 



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December 24, 2012

Blessed Are the Contrarians



All right, that’s it, I’m done with this job. My new book is out just in time for Christmas. Here is the Preface to Blessed Are the Contrarians: Diary of a Journey Through Interesting Times.

I wish you all 


a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


PREFACE

Blessed are the contrarians, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. But they must be very, very careful in these “Interesting Times,” in the Chinese sense. Unless you think that “May you live in interesting times” after all is a blessing and not a curse, or better still the first of three curses of increasing degrees of severity, the other two being “May the government be aware of you,” and “May you find what you are looking for.” But in this case you had better not read this book—and you can’t say I didn’t warn you!

Let’s start from the beginning, which can only be the title of this book, with the first question: Who or what is a contrarian? Well, that is not an easy question to answer. The fact is that there are many kinds of contrarians. Way too many to come up with a description that fits them all.

Broadly speaking, however, contrarians are those who go against the current (as the dictionary states), who take opposing stands from the majority: in the stock markets they buy when others sell and vice-versa; in religious matters, if they are Christians, they continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, in spite of the Zeitgeist, and if they are not they have the utmost respect for what Christianity is all about and for its contribution to civilization. In matters of culture, education and lifestyles, they are “old-fashioned” while the rest of the world seems to be hell bent on transmuting order into chaos.

Philosophically speaking, there are two main types of contrarians: thinkers who are marginal and unconventional during their own life time, but posthumously become very popular and trendy, and those who “thought different” in their lifetime, to quote Steve Jobs, and their works still continue to go against the mainstream in the present time. Friedrich Nietzsche, for instance, belongs to the first category, whilst Montaigne belongs to the second—that of the truest and the most representative contrarians, in my own personal (and perhaps questionable) opinion. And that’s where I shall start from, as you will see.

This book is a kind of diary of a journey through our time—politics, culture, lifestyles, worldviews, etc.—and back home again, where “home” stands for a sense of belonging to something stronger than the spirit of our times. In other words what this book represents is a sort of explanation—though not a systematic one—of why I disagree with certain mainstream views in several domains. And this from a conservative and Christian point of view, that is to say the perspectives that come under severe attack from secular and progressive ideologies, the over-influential schools of thought of our time.

I have selected for this volume some of the articles posted on my blog over the last few years, those most suitable for this traditional mode of communication. The “diary” entries are not arranged in any chronological order, but in accordance to subject pertinence. This was done to make it easier for the reader to surf through the book. After all, as Albert Einstein once said, time is only an illusion—though sometimes an interesting one!




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December 3, 2012

The Infinite Quest

Hold tight, dear readers, what this note is all about is nothing less than the Infinite. Tough topic, I know (and how could it be otherwise?), but it’s time, if not past time, because yesterday was not just an ordinary day. In fact yesterday we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. So what?—you’ll say. Well, you know that we Christians traditionally mark Advent with the display of a wreath? And if so, do you know what does the wreath stand for? No? Well, I give you a clue: the wreath is circular… I hope you’ve got it now: the wreath circle reminds us of God Himself, eternal and endlessly merciful. It is evergreen—reminding us of the hope of eternal life. In other words, Advent tells us about the manifold attributes of the Infinite!

That being said, let’s get into our topic. But in order to do so, I need to resort to poetry, which, along with theology and philosophy, is the best way to express—although partly and indirectly—what the Infinite is all about. Specifically, I’ll first talk about what seems to be a fascinating intellectual paradox, but it isn’t: I mean, the “phenomenon” may well be fascinating, but on closer inspection it’s not a paradox. I’m referring to the religious reading of one of the greatest Italian poets ever, Giacomo Leopardi, whose deeply pessimistic Weltanschauung, in both a “historical” and a “cosmic” sense, is based on an empirical and mechanistic world view (inspired, among others, by John Locke), denying purpose in the universe, and seeking to explain all phenomena solely by efficient causality.

As a matter of fact, in much of Leopardi’s poetry , the principal poetic mood is melancholic, and themes of solitude, suffering, despair, and disappointed love largely predominate. He often stresses his belief that joy is nothing but the momentary subsidence of pain and that only in death can man find lasting happiness, and his prose writings are eloquent articulations of his materialist, atheistic, skeptical, and decidedly “modern” thought—affinities between his pessimistic worldview and that of Arthur Schopenhauer, for instance, have been noted, while Friedrich Nietzsche found Leopardi’s historical insights congenial to his own.
Yet, from time to time, quite different (though not contradictory) aspects of his personality emerge: an immense admiration of nature’s beauty, a deep belief in the power of imagination, and a characteristically Romantic longing for the infinite (see, for instance, Matthew Arnold’s 1882 comparison of Leopardi with the English Romantic poets Lord Byron and William Wordsworth).

In a nutshell, Leopardi thinks that we human beings seek an infinite fulfillment, an infinite coherence, an infinite wisdom and comprehension, an infinite love, an infinite perfection. But we do not have the capacity to achieve any of these things, and the mystery of life, the mystery of happiness, seems always one step beyond us. Yet, does this necessarily mean that, at the end of the road, there’s only darkness and despair? Perhaps so.

Embedded in that “perhaps” is the possibility of hope. By our own power we are hopeless, but, as St Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Nos fecisti ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te). Leopardi’s “restless heart,” far more than his pessimistic world-view, is what his wonderful poem “Canto notturno di un pastore errante dell’Asia” (Night Song of a Wandering Shepherd in Asia) seems to be all about.

By the way, this could somehow explain why something unexpected happened to an Italian priest, a very famous one: Fr Luigi Giussani, the founder and spiritual guide of the Communion and Liberation movement. In fact, he happened to read Leopardi’s hymn “Alla sua donna” (To his Woman) as … a sort of introduction to the prologue to the Gospel of St John, and what is more, Leopardi became his favorite poet and a life-long “friend.”
In this last regard, the following except from Paul Zalonski’s essay “What is Luigi Giussani’s Contribution to Catholic Theology? Part II: Nothing Less Than the Infinite” (Communio, October 28, 2008) can be very useful.

Giussani quotes the great 19th century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi--who is speaking here in the persona of a shepherd watching his flock by night, conversing with the moon:

And when I gaze upon you,
Who mutely stand above the desert plains
Which heaven with its far circle but confines,
Or often, when I see you
Following step by step my flock and me,
Or watch the stars that shine there in the sky,
Musing, I say within me:
“Wherefore those many lights,
That boundless atmosphere,
And infinite calm sky? And what the meaning
Of this vast solitude? And what am I?”


There are a couple of points about this striking poetic excerpt that are worth mentioning as illustrative of central themes in Giussani. The first point is this: note that the shepherd's questions are so poignantly expressed "from the heart “(Musing, I say within me). They are "personal “questions we might say; that is, they are questions that seem deeply important to the shepherd's own life, that emerge from the shepherd's solitude as he watches the flocks by night and gazes at the moon. And yet, the questions themselves are really “philosophical” questions: “metaphysical” questions which ask about the relationship of the universe to its mysterious Source, and “anthropological” questions about the nature of the world, of man, of the self. Let us note these things only to emphasize that Giussani’s evaluation of the dynamic of the human heart is not exclusively concerned with the pursuit of external objects and the way in which these objects lead “beyond” themselves the acting person who engages them. Giussani stresses that the need for truth is inscribed on the human heart; the need to see the meaning of things is fundamental to man. Hence the “objectivity” required for addressing philosophical and scientific questions does not imply that these questions are detached from the “heart” of the person who deals with them. When the scientist scans that infinite, calm sky and that vast solitude with his telescope, he must record what he sees, not what he wishes he would have seen. In this sense, he must be “objective,” and his questions and methodology must be detached from his own particular interests. But what puts him behind that telescope in the first place is his own personal need for truth and this need grows and articulates itself more and more as questions emerge in the light of his discoveries. All of this could be applied by analogy to the researches carried out by a true philosopher.
The second point is this: Leopardi’s poem conveys with imaginative force the inexhaustibility of human desire and the questions through which it is expressed, or at least tends to be expressed insofar as man is willing to live in a way that is true to himself (several chapters of Giussani’s book are devoted to the various ways in which man is capable of distracting himself or ignoring the dynamic of the religious sense, or anesthetizing himself against its felt urgency). Even more importantly, he indicates that the unlimited character of man’s most fundamental questions points toward an Infinite Mystery, a mystery that man continually stands in front of with fascination and existential hunger but also with questions, because he is ultimately unable by his own power to unveil its secrets.
The experience of life teaches man, if he is willing to pay attention to it, that what he is truly seeking, in every circumstance is the unfathomable mystery which alone corresponds to the depths of his soul. Offer to man anything less than the Infinite and you will frustrate him, whether he admits it or not. Yet at the same time man is not able to grasp the Infinite by his own power. Man's power is limited, and anything it attains it finitizes, reducing it to the measure of itself. The desire of man as a person, however, is unlimited, which means that man does not have the power to completely satisfy himself; anything that he makes is going to be less than the Infinite.
Here we begin to see clearly why Giussani holds that the ultimate questions regarding the meaning, the value, and the purpose of life have a religious character; and how it is that these questions are asked by everyone within the ordinary, non-theoretical reasoning process which he terms “the religious sense.” The human heart is, in fact, a great, burning question, a plea, an insatiable hunger, a fascination and a desire for the unfathomable mystery that underlies reality and that gives life its meaning and value. This mystery is something Other than any of the limited things that we can perceive or produce; indeed it is their fundamental Source. Therefore, the all-encompassing and limitless search that constitutes the human heart and shapes our approach to everything is a religious search. It is indeed, as we shall see in a moment, a search for “God.”
We seek an infinite fulfillment, an infinite coherence, an infinite interpenetration of unity between persons, an infinite wisdom and comprehension, an infinite love, an infinite perfection. But we do not have the capacity to achieve any of these things by our own power. Yet, in spite of this incapacity, in spite of the fact that the mystery of life--the mystery of happiness--seems always one step beyond us, our natural inclination is not one of despair, but rather one of dogged persistence and constant hope. Giussani insists that this hope and expectation is what most profoundly shapes the self; when I say the word “I,” I express this center of hope and expectation of infinite perfection and happiness that is coextensive with myself, that “is” myself, my heart. And when I say the word “you,” truly and with love, then I am acknowledging that same undying hope that shapes your self.



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November 10, 2012

Tipping Point and the Seven Deadly Sins

~ “LETTERS FROM AMERICA” - by The Metaphysical Peregrine ~


This week America passed the tipping point. We found out America has moved from a constitutional republic based on moral scriptural values and beliefs, to an America that embraces and promotes the seven deadly sins. We have in Barack Obama and the Democrat Party, their supporters in the Jurassic Press and the trendy popular entertainment media, advocates for  wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

In Obama's closing speeches running up to the election, he exhorted his supporters to vote for revenge, wrath. That he would say such a thing is puzzling since he has been in power for four years, so who is revenge directed toward? Statistism, Marxism, the Left, have been the Establishment since the 1930's, in both politics and culture, yet they still play the oppressed minority. That Obama made the statement indicates he and his Party believe in and practice wrath, even against those they triumph over. There's been a lot of gloating and insulting of Republicans, Conservatives and Christians since election day.

Obama and the Democrat Party advocate greed with their notion of confiscating the wealth from those that are the most productive. An interviewer a few years ago asked Obama, noting that every time tax rates were reduced, revenues to the government went up, why did he still advocate for a higher tax rate for the wealthy? His answer was his standard 'they have to pay their fair share', regardless of the results. They use the concept of fairness, deciding what that is, to line their own pockets, increase their own wealth, at the expense of others.

They promote sloth by their notion of redistributing the wealth, telling people even if they don't work hard enough to get the things they want on their own, the government will make up the difference. The more slothful one is, the increased difference will still be made up, necessitating going back to confiscating yet more from the producers to compensate.

Obama and his fellow Statists promote pride with the notion of self esteem, that one doesn't have to accomplish anything to be proud of oneself. We have students coming out of school barely able to read and write, no knowledge of art, history, literature, mathematics, civics. Students think they know these things, and tests show the opposite. Yet they are still proud of their nonexistent accomplishments.

They promote envy with their constant attack on the successful. Hey, look at that guy, he has more money than me, what an evil and despicable person! Why should he have more than me?

Statists, Leftists, promote lust. Look at all the movies, books, TV shows, and magazines that sex is central. The entertainment "reporters" on the show "TMZ" openly and happily talk about the porn they watch when at one time such things were secretive and hidden, viewing was an embarrassment. Adultery is becoming more acceptable; there's even a social media that helps adulterers hook up.

Lastly, gluttony. The Obama's have spent over a billion dollars on vacations and parties since they've been in office. They eat and feed their supporters large quantities of the finest cuisine, while exhorting others to eat moderately and plainly. They constantly exhort others to do with less, while they ever increase their own consumption.

What was rejected a few days ago by Americans, is the notion we do the best we can for ourselves, for our families and friends, without government intervention, and that there is a tried and true moral and behavioral code over a couple thousand years that lends itself to successful happy people, in turn happy successful communities, in turn nations that receive the blessings of God.

Scripture makes it quite clear with the examples of the Israelites; every time they denied God, turned their back on Him, serious, bad things happened to them.

A few days ago we decided to make it official, and turned our backs to God. We have made the State our religion. 



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November 7, 2012

The Desire for God

Benozzo Gozzoli, St Augustine Departing for Milan
(between 1464 and 1465)
Apsidal Chapel of Sant' Agostino, San Gimignano, Italy

Pope Benedict XVI (from this week’s Wednesday audience in Rome):

Continuing our catechesis for the Year of Faith, we now consider the mysterious desire for God which lies deep in the human heart. God has created us for himself and, in the words of Saint Augustine, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him. Even in today’s secularized society, this desire for God continues to make itself felt, above all in the experience of love. In love, which seeks the good of the other, we find ourselves by giving ourselves away, in a process involving the purification and healing of our hearts. So too in friendship, in the experience of beauty and the thirst for truth and goodness: we sense that we are caught up in a process which points us beyond ourselves to a mystery in which we dimly perceive the promise of complete fulfillment. Thanks to this innate religious sense, we can open our hearts to the gift of faith which draws us ever closer to God, the source of all good and the fulfillment of our deepest desire. During this Year of Faith, let us pray for our contemporaries who seek the truth with a sincere heart, that they may come to know the joy and freedom born of faith.
[…]
The answer to the question about the meaning of the experience of love thus passes through the purification and healing of the will, required by the very love which I have for the other. We must practice this, we must train, and even correct ourselves, so that we may truly desire that good.
[…]
[T]he dynamism of desire is always open to redemption. Even when it advances along mistaken paths, when it chases artificial paradises and seems to lose the ability to yearn for the true good. Even in the abyss of sin, that spark is not extinguished in man that allows him to recognize the true good, to savor it, and thus to begin a path of ascent, for which God, through the gift of his grace, never fails to provide his help. All of us, moreover, need to tread a path of the purification and healing of desire. We are pilgrims towards the heavenly homeland, towards that full, eternal good, which nothing will ever be able to snatch from us. It is not a matter, therefore, of stifling the desire which is in the heart of man, but of liberating it, so that it can reach its true stature. When in desire a window is opened towards God, this is already a sign of the presence of faith in the soul, faith that is a grace of God. St. Augustine also said: "By making us wait, God increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul" (Commentary on the First Letter of John, 4,6: PL 35, 2009).

Read the full test here.



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November 1, 2012

A Defense of Bores

There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person. Nothing is more keenly required than a defence of bores. When Byron divided humanity into the bores and bored, he omitted to notice that the higher qualities exist entirely in the bores, the lower qualities in the bored, among whom he counted himself. The bore, by his starry enthusiasm, his solemn happiness, may, in some sense, have proved himself poetical. The bored has certainly proved himself prosaic. We might, no doubt, find it a nuisance to count all the blades of grass or all the leaves of the trees; but this would not be because of our boldness or gaiety, but because of our lack of boldness and gaiety. The bore would go onward, bold and gay, and find the blades of grass as splendid as the swords of an army. The bore is stronger and more joyous than we are; he is a demigod—nay, he is a god. For it is the gods who do not tire of the iteration of things; to them the nightfall is always new, and the last rose as red as the first.

~ Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Heretics, 1905


I love this quote. Moreover, at the moment, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate today's feast day... A Blessed All Saints’ Day!

Fra Angelico, The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs
Tempera on wood, 31,9 x 63,5 cm
National Gallery, London



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