March 31, 2019

Everything Rare for the Rare


One must renounce the bad taste of wishing to agree with many people. […] In the end, things must be as they are and have always been—the great things remain for the great, the abysses for the profound, the delicacies and thrills for the refined, and, to sum up shortly, everything rare for the rare.


~ Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil




As everyone knows, Friedrich Nietzsche wasn’t the most humble man on earth, nor was he a prophet of democracy and an advocate of the principle of equality of all men and universal brotherhood. That is also why the above-quoted fragment from his 1886 Beyond Good and Evil should not come as any surprise to anyone.

On no account, however, should the quote lead us to conclude that there is no truth in those rather dismissive words. In fact, upon closer inspection, such brutal honesty is widely justified by the differences among human beings. To put it simply (and to make it more simple than it actually is), being equal before the law with equal rights for all doesn’t mean being the same. Analogously, equality in the sight of God does not imply that there should be no distinction on the basis of skill and qualities or on any other basis. Actually, the real implication of equality, from both a political and, at least to some extent, a religious point of view, is the equality of opportunity. That’s why the differences between individuals cannot be ignored and/or denied in the name of and on behalf of the principle of equality. Therefore, in the light of the above, Nietzsche’s words are far less controversial than what they may seem at first glance.

But let’s now focus on some concrete situations to which Nietzsche’s statement may apply. Take, for instance, the case of two persons in love or in a relationship of some sort. One enjoys the company of open-minded, intellectually refined and stimulating friends, the other usually feels comfortable with Manichean and intellectually crude people. Or take a guy who thinks big and one who only cares about little things—well, how hard could it be for them to get along with each other and, what is more, to deeply and completely appreciate each other? Unfortunately, in both cases, there are people with different priorities, mindsets, and perspectives. Or take the case of a couple in which one is a profound guy, while the other is a nice but rather superficial person. How could they love each other for a long time, if not until death and beyond?

In reality, the possible combinations of sensitivities, characters, expectations, priorities, individual stories, etc. are nearly infinite. There’s no way to predict whether a friendship can survive whatever difference of opinion, taste, mindset, worldview, etc., or whether two lovers can really take their relationship to the highest level notwithstanding (or maybe because of) their differences.

Despite what Nietzsche seems to think, however, Love—in all of its many forms—will always have the final say. Omnia vincit Amor.

January 16, 2019

Love Is the Key





To love another is something
like prayer and it can’t be planned, you just fall
into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.



~ Anne Sexton, “Admonitions to a Special Person” (1974), from Last Poems


Not so long ago, a couple of years back on a typical gloomy Milan day, I had a pretty interesting talk with a Benedictine monk—an old friend and a very inspiring man—on the nature and practice of prayer.

A scholar of both Western and Eastern philosophies, religions and meditative practices, he explained me that prayer, in order to be genuine and of any real value, must fulfill three conditions: Beauty, Goodness, and Love. Beauty is what the apostle calls (1 Peter 3:3-4) a gentle and quiet spirit: “It is not fancy hair, gold jewelry, or fine clothes that should make you beautiful. No, your beauty should come from within you—the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. This beauty will never disappear, and it is worth very much to God.”

Goodness is virtue and holiness in action. In Paul’s words (Galatians 5:22-23) is a “fruit of the Spirit”—“fruit,” here, means “beneficial results,” the good things that come from the Spirit’s indwelling. In other words, goodness is a moral characteristic of a Spirit-filled person.

The first in Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit is Love. “Prayer does not depend upon words,” my Benedictine friend said, “love is the foundation of all prayer because God Himself is love.”

Beauty, Goodness, and above all, LOVE—these are what prayer is all about. Selfless prayers, filled with compassion for all creation, are beautiful and enlightening. They are made out of the essence itself of Beauty. But, as we learn from Plato’s Symposium, Beauty is the object of every Love’s yearning, and a life gazing upon and pursuing this Beauty is the best life one can lead...

The memory of that conversation, or, still better, of the theology lesson I received from the monk, came back to my mind a few days ago when I stumbled across the above-quoted verses from Anne Sexton’s beautiful poem entitled “Admonitions to a Special Person.”

The poet’s comparison between love and prayer is not only evocative and even moving in an understated way, but also philosophically and theologically correct. The same, to some extent, goes for the “falling into the arms” of prayer because of the victory of belief over disbelief.

As far as I can tell, the idea of love/prayer embraced by the poet includes—or should include—love in all its declensions, from profane love to sacred, from erotic/carnal love to spiritual/esoteric love, from love for other human beings to love for things and places. Of course, there is something Dantesque about this, something reminiscent of “the love that moves the sun and the other stars,” as Dante put it to define God in the last verse of the Divine Comedy. The stars, the planets, the universe as a whole are not governed by a blind force. In all and above all there is the Spirit of God.