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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