August 28, 2008

Love and do what you will

Love and do what you will

Today, August 28th, the Roman Catholic calendar celebrates St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the four traditional Doctors of the Latin Church, and the man of whom theologian Johann Adam Möhler was not afraid to write that “for depth of feeling and power of conception nothing written on the Church since St. Paul's time, is comparable” to his works. Well, he is also—as Catholic Online recalls—the patron of brewers “because of his conversion from a former life of loose living, which included parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions,” but this obviously enhances rather than diminishes the glory of God under many respects, though I would have preferred if he had been proclaimed the patron of vine-growers instead, but this is merely a non-disputatious question of tastes …

Augustine, si parva licet, is also one of my favorite thinkers of all times. And this, as I wrote a couple of posts ago, mainly because of his huge optimism about human nature. The very famous quote above, from Augustine’s Commentary on the First Epistle of John, bears witness to this. Yet, the statement must be appropriately contextualized, to avoid any misunderstanding. Therefore here is the quote itself in its own context :

See what we are insisting upon; that the deeds of men are only discerned by the root of charity. For many things may be done that have a good appearance, and yet proceed not from the root of charity. For thorns also have flowers: some actions truly seem rough, seem savage; howbeit they are done for discipline at the bidding of charity. Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.
Homily 7 on the First Epistle of John

I would draw the reader’s attention particularly to the last sentence, “let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.” Thus we can begin to experience the freedom of the Gospel.

August 27, 2008

Dante, my text-book ...

[Thanks to Famous Blogs which awarded Wind Rose Hotel with the Blog of the Day Award!]

I think if I were professor of Rhetoric, teacher of the art of writing well, to young men, I should use Dante for my text-book. Come hither, youth, & learn how the brook that flows at the bottom of your garden, or the farmer who ploughs the adjacent field—your father & mother, your debts & credits, & your web web of habits are the very best basis of poetry, & the material which you must work up. Dante knew how to throw the weight of his body into each act, and is, like Byron, Burke, & and Carlyle, the Rhetorician. I find him full of the nobil volgare eloquenza; that he knows “God damn,” and cab be rowdy if he please, & he does please. Yet is not Dante reason or illumination & that essence we were looking for, but only a new exhibition of the possibilities of genius. Here is an imagination that rivals in closeness & precision the senses. But we must prize him as we do a rainbow, we can appropriate nothing of him. Could we some day admit into our oyster heads the immense figure which these flagrant points compose when united, the hands of Phidias, the conclusion of Newton, the pantheism of Goethe, the all wise music of Shakespeare, the robust eyes of Swedenborg!

—Ralph Waldo Emerson [from his journals, July 1849], in EMERSON IN HIS JOURNALS, selected and edited by Joel Porte, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachsetts) - London (England), 1982.

August 20, 2008

Augustine of Hippo

“Alii disputant, ego mirabor” [let others wrangle, I will wonder], said Augustin. It shall be my speech to the Calvinist & the Unitarian.

So wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his journal on April 28, 1830. Two old passions of mine, Augustine and Emerson, two everlasting loves. A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter (De Spiritu et Littera), this is the title of a book I’m reading these days—a long letter by Augustine of Hippo to his friend Marcellinus, a Roman official in Carthage. At the same time, as my previous posts bear witness, I’m re-reading Emerson’s Journals.

Different times, different styles, of course. What does unite the two thinkers, however, is in my view their non-bookish attitude (notwithstanding their immense erudition). They write with their body, mind and soul. When they quote, they in fact basically follow their own path, and when they don’t quote, they actually go into the already said thoroughly with the mastery of the author himself.

Furthermore, they share a huge optimism about human nature, which makes them sometimes suspicious in the eyes of their contemporaries. Augustine astonishes his friend, who asks if such a great optimism is actually “Catholic.” Emerson wrongfoots Calvinists and Unitarians—I have always suspected he wasn’t Catholic just because of his birth …

Augustine quotes Matthew 17:19, “If ye have faith in yourselves as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and it shall be done, and nothing shall be impossible to you,” and says:

Observe how He said “to you,” not “to Me” or “to the Father;” and yet it is certain that no man does such a thing without God’s gift and operation. See how an instance of perfect righteousness is unexampled among men, and yet is not impossible. For it might be achieved if there were only applied so much of will as suffices for so great a thing. There would, however, be so much will, if there were hidden from us none of those conditions which pertain to righteousness; and at the same time these so delighted our mind, that whatever hindrance of pleasure or pain might else occur, this delight in holiness would prevail over every rival affection. And that this is not realized, is not owing to any intrinsic impossibility, but to God’s judicial act. For who can be ignorant, that what he should know is not in man’s power; nor does it follow that what he has discovered to be a desirable object is actually desired, unless he also feel a delight in that object, commensurate with its claims on his affection? For this belongs to health of soul.
(De Spiritu et Littera, 63)

And Emerson, in turn, writes:

«As a plant upon the earth, so a man rests upon the bosom of God; he is nourished by unfailing fountains, and draws, at this need, inexhaustible power. Who can set bounds to the possibilities of man? Once inhale the upper air, being admitted to behold the absolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the creator in the finite. This view, which admonish me where the sources of wisdom and power lie, and points to virtue as to

The golden key
Which opes the palace of eternity
(MILTON, Comus, 13-15)

carries upon its face the highest certificate of truth, because it animates me to create my own world through the purification of my soul».
(Nature, VII)

August 17, 2008

No school, no follower

I have been writing & speaking what were once called novelties, for twenty five years, & have not now one disciple. Why? Not that what I said was not true; not that it has not found intelligent receivers but because it did not go from any wish in me to bring men to me, but to themselves. I delight in driving them from me. What could I do, if they came to me? They would interrupt & encumber me. This is my boast that I have no school & no follower. I should account it a measure of the impurity of insight, if it did not create independence.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson [from his journals, Spring 1859], in EMERSON IN HIS JOURNALS, selected and edited by Joel Porte, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachsetts) - London (England), 1982.


Still continuing my re-reading of Emerson’s journals—not to talk about the subject which cannot be dealt with ...

Free Tibet!

August 14, 2008

Understand me when I say, I love you

I see not how we can live except alone. Trenchant manners, a sharp decided way will prove a lasting convenience. Society will coo & claw & caress. You must curse & swear a little. They will remember it, & it will do them good. What if they are wise & fine people. I do not want your silliness, though you be Socrates, and if you indulge them, all people are babyish. Curse them.
Understand me when I say, I love you, it is your genius & not you. I like man, but not men. The genius of humanity is very easily & accurately to be made out by the poet-mind, but it is not in Miss Nancy nor in Adoniram with any sufficiency.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson [from his journals, March 24, 1846], in EMERSON IN HIS JOURNALS, selected and edited by Joel Porte, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachsetts) - London (England), 1982.

August 12, 2008

Just like pyramids and mountains ...

Nature invites to repose, to the dreams of the oriental sages; there is no petulance, no fret; there is eternal resource and a long tomorrow rich & strong as yesterday. We should be believers in Necessity and Compensation and a man would have the air of pyramids and mountains, if we forsook our petulant mates & kept company with leaves & waters.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson [from his journals, July 10, 1840], in EMERSON IN HIS JOURNALS, selected and edited by Joel Porte, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachsetts) - London (England), 1982.

August 7, 2008

Light a Candle for Tibet



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August 6, 2008

Light blogging ahead

Just a quick note: I am back, but no broadband connection where I am now, hence for the next two or three weeks posting will be light.