Friday, 17 March 2017
The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius died on this day in 180 AD.
In last year's online Russell Kirk course which we ran on this blog, I touched on Kirk's familiarity with Stoicism and, in particular, with Marcus's Meditations:
The lesson I learnt from Marcus Aurelius is the performance of duty. Take this passage from the Meditations -the Emperor being on a hard Danubian campaign when he set down these lines: 'In the morning, when thou risests sore against thy will, summon up this thought: "I am rising to do the work of a man. Why then this peevishness, if the way lies open to perform the tasks which I exist to perform, and for whose sake I was brought into the world? Or am I to say I was created for the purpose of lying in blankets and keeping myself warm?" With that admonition I steel myself on January mornings at my ancestral village.
Oddly, I finished rereading the Meditations last night while waiting to pick up my son from choir practice, quite unaware of its being the eve of Marcus's death. The relationship between Stoicism and Catholicism is a complex one, but the contacts between them are real and many, going far beyond just Kirk's. St John Paul II's reflections in Fides et Ratio on the relationship between classical philosophy and Catholicism are apposite here:
One of the major concerns of classical philosophy was to purify human notions of God of mythological elements. We know that Greek religion, like most cosmic religions, was polytheistic, even to the point of divinizing natural things and phenomena. Human attempts to understand the origin of the gods and hence the origin of the universe find their earliest expression in poetry; and the theogonies remain the first evidence of this human search. But it was the task of the fathers of philosophy to bring to light the link between reason and religion. As they broadened their view to include universal principles, they no longer rested content with the ancient myths, but wanted to provide a rational foundation for their belief in the divinity. This opened a path which took its rise from ancient traditions but allowed a development satisfying the demands of universal reason. This development sought to acquire a critical awareness of what they believed in, and the concept of divinity was the prime beneficiary of this. Superstitions were recognized for what they were and religion was, at least in part, purified by rational analysis. It was on this basis that the Fathers of the Church entered into fruitful dialogue with ancient philosophy, which offered new ways of proclaiming and understanding the God of Jesus Christ.
Marcus Aurelius is not a Catholic and Catholicism is not Stoicism. But while recognising that, we should be equally suspicious of attempts by modern atheistic Humanism to make him and other ancient philosophers a simple 'fellow traveller'.
If any ask, Where hast thou seen the Gods or how hast thou satisfied thyself of their existence that thou art so devout a worshipper? I answer: In the first place, they are even visible to the eyes. In the next, I have not seen my own soul either, yet I honour it. So then from the continual proofs of their power I am assured that Gods also exist and I reverence them.
Meditations, 5.28. Full English translation here.
Monday, 6 February 2017
In the wake of the release of Martin Scorsese's film Silence (reviewed here) on the persecution of Japanese Christians, I suspect more western Catholics than usual will have noted that today is the Feast of St Paul Miki and his Companions.
The following is taken from today's Office of Readings:
From an account of the martyrdom of Saint Paul Miki and his companions, by a contemporary writer
Our brother, Paul Miki, saw himself standing now in the noblest pulpit he had ever filled. To his “congregation” he began by proclaiming himself a Japanese and a Jesuit. He was dying for the Gospel he preached. He gave thanks to God for this wonderful blessing and he ended his “sermon” with these words: “As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.”The crosses were set in place. Father Pasio and Father Rodriguez took turns encouraging the victims. Their steadfast behaviour was wonderful to see. The Father Bursar stood motionless, his eyes turned heavenward. Brother Martin gave thanks to God’s goodness by singing psalms. Again and again he repeated: “Into your hands, Lord, I entrust my life.” Brother Francis Branco also thanked God in a loud voice. Brother Gonsalvo in a very loud voice kept saying the Our Father and Hail Mary.
Then he looked at his comrades and began to encourage them in their final struggle. Joy glowed in all their faces, and in Louis’ most of all. When a Christian in the crowd cried out to him that he would soon be in heaven, his hands, his whole body strained upward with such joy that every eye was fixed on him.
Anthony, hanging at Louis’ side, looked toward heaven and called upon the holy names – “Jesus, Mary!” He began to sing a psalm: “Praise the Lord, you children!” (He learned it in catechism class in Nagasaki. They take care there to teach the children some psalms to help them learn their catechism).
Others kept repeating “Jesus, Mary!” Their faces were serene. Some of them even took to urging the people standing by to live worthy Christian lives. In these and other ways they showed their readiness to die.
Then, according to Japanese custom, the four executioners began to unsheathe their spears. At this dreadful sight, all the Christians cried out, “Jesus, Mary!” And the storm of anguished weeping then rose to batter the very skies. The executioners killed them one by one. One thrust of the spear, then a second blow. It was over in a very short time.
Wednesday, 25 January 2017
[Reposted from last year]
I'm not quite sure whether it's right to wish people a happy Burns' Day rather than a happy Burns' Night. But in any case, Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759. I'm not going to pretend that Burns was either a Catholic or even a convinced Presbyterian, but neither is he the straightforward opponent of religion that modern secularists might claim:
`What a transient business is life! Very lately I was a boy; but t'other day I was a young man; and I already begin to feel the rigid fibre and stiffening joints of Old Age coming fast o'er my frame. With all my follies of youth, and I fear, a few vices of manhood, still I congratulate myself on having had in early days religion strongly impressed on my mind. I have nothing to say to any body, as, to which Sect they belong, or what Creed they believe; but I look on the Man who is firmly persuaded of Infinite Wisdom and Goodness superintending and directing every circumstance that can happen in his lot - I felicitate such a man as having a solid foundation for his mental enjoyment; a firm prop and sure stay, in the hour of difficulty, trouble and distress: and a never-failing anchor of hope, when he looks beyond the grave.'
That said, Burns' poetry does reveal broad themes that connect with Catholic social teaching. Let's take 'A man's a man for a' that' as an example.
- What though on hamely fare we dine,
- Wear hodden grey, an' a that;
- Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
- A Man's a Man for a' that:
- For a' that, and a' that,
- Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
- The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
- Is king o' men for a' that.
- Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
- Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
- Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
- He's but a coof for a' that:
- For a' that, an' a' that,
- His ribband, star, an' a' that:
- The man o' independent mind
- He looks an' laughs at a' that.
- A prince can mak a belted knight,
- A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
- But an honest man's abon his might,
- Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
- For a' that, an' a' that,
- Their dignities an' a' that;
- The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
- Are higher rank than a' that.
- Then let us pray that come it may,
- (As come it will for a' that,)
- That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
- Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
- For a' that, an' a' that,
- It's coming yet for a' that,
- That Man to Man, the world o'er,
- Shall brothers be for a' that.
135. Man can turn to good only in freedom, which God has given to him as one of the highest signs of his image: “For God has willed that man remain ‘under the control of his own decisions' (Sir 15:14), so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him. Hence man's dignity demands that he act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, neither under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure”.
Man rightly appreciates freedom and strives for it passionately: rightly does he desire and must form and guide, by his own free initiative, his personal and social life, accepting personal responsibility for it. In fact, freedom not only allows man suitably to modify the state of things outside of himself, but it also determines the growth of his being as a person through choices consistent with the true good. In this way man generates himself, he is father of his own being, he constructs the social order.
192. Solidarity highlights in a particular way the intrinsic social nature of the human person, the equality of all in dignity and rights and the common path of individuals and peoples towards an ever more committed unity. Never before has there been such a widespread awareness of the bond of interdependence between individuals and peoples, which is found at every level. The very rapid expansion in ways and means of communication “in real time”, such as those offered by information technology, the extraordinary advances in computer technology, the increased volume of commerce and information exchange all bear witness to the fact that, for the first time since the beginning of human history, it is now possible — at least technically — to establish relationships between people who are separated by great distances and are unknown to each other.
144. “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34; cf. Rom 2:11; Gal 2:6; Eph 6:9), since all people have the same dignity as creatures made in his image and likeness. The Incarnation of the Son of God shows the equality of all people with regard to dignity: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28; cf. Rom 10:12; 1 Cor 12:13, Col 3:11).
Since something of the glory of God shines on the face of every person, the dignity of every person before God is the basis of the dignity of man before other men. Moreover, this is the ultimate foundation of the radical equality and brotherhood among all people, regardless of their race, nation, sex, origin, culture, or class.
4) Honest poverty:
324. Those who recognize their own poverty before God, regardless of their situation in life, receive particular attention from him: when the poor man seeks, the Lord answers; when he cries out, the Lord listens. The divine promises are addressed to the poor: they will be heirs to the Covenant between God and his people. God's saving intervention will come about through a new David (cf. Ezek 34:22-31), who like King David — only more so — will be defender of the poor and promoter of justice; he will establish a new covenant and will write a new law in the hearts of believers (cf. Jer 31:31-34).When sought or accepted with a religious attitude, poverty opens one to recognizing and accepting the order of creation. In this perspective, the “rich man” is the one who places his trust in his possessions rather than in God, he is the man who makes himself strong by the works of his own hands and trusts only in his own strength. Poverty takes on the status of a moral value when it becomes an attitude of humble availability and openness to God, of trust in him. This attitude makes it possible for people to recognize the relativity of economic goods and to treat them as divine gifts to be administered and shared, because God is the first owner of all goods.
Given the usual nature of Burns' suppers, one should perhaps also add (mutatis mutandis*) Belloc's words:
“Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
[Details of image here.]
*In this case a phrase doubtless to be translated into Scots as 'leaving out the sun and substituting whisky for wine'.
Saturday, 31 December 2016
Happy New Year!
From Pope Francis' New Year message:
On this occasion, I would like to reflect on nonviolence as a style of politics for peace. I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms.
Full message here
[Image from Catholic News Service.]
Saturday, 24 December 2016
Sunday, 27 November 2016
The holy prophets prophesied both the first coming in his birth, and also the second at the great judgement. We too, God's servants, strengthen our faith by the services of this season, because in our hymns we confess our redemption by his first coming, and we remind ourselves that we should be ready for his second coming, so that we may follow him from that judgement to the eternal life, as he promised us.
[From Aelfric's sermon on the First Sunday of Advent. Discussed on A Clerk of Oxford blog here]
YEAR after year, as it passes, brings us the same warnings again and again, and none perhaps more impressive than those with which it comes to us at this season. The very frost and cold, rain and gloom, which now befall us, forebode the last dreary days of the world, and in religious hearts raise the thought of them. The year is worn out: spring, summer, autumn, each in turn, have brought their gifts and done their utmost; but they are over, and the end is come. All is past and gone, all has failed, all has sated; we are tired of the past; we would not have the seasons longer; and the austere weather which succeeds, though ungrateful to the body, is in tone with our feelings, and acceptable. Such is the frame of mind which befits the end of the year; and such the frame of mind which comes alike on good and bad at the end of life.
[From The Newman Reader, 'Worship, a Preparation for Christ's Coming' here]
Image: The Advent and Triumph of Christ by Hans Memling c 1480. Details here.
Tuesday, 15 November 2016
Happy Feast Day of St Albert the Great, our patron!
Albertus Magnus, also known as Albert the Great, was one of the most universal thinkers to appear during the Middle Ages. Even more so than his most famous student, St. Thomas of Aquinas, Albert’s interests ranged from natural science all the way to theology. He made contributions to logic, psychology, metaphysics, meteorology, mineralogy, and zoology. He was an avid commentator on nearly all the great authorities read during the 13th Century. He was deeply involved in an attempt to understand the import of the thought of Aristotle in some orderly fashion that was distinct from the Arab commentators who had incorporated their own ideas into the study of Aristotle. Yet he was not averse to using some of the outstanding Arab philosophers in developing his own ideas in philosophy. His superior understanding of a diversity of philosophical texts allowed him to construct one of the most remarkable syntheses in medieval culture.
[Read more here from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article]
The influence exerted by Albert on the scholars of his own day and on those of subsequent ages was naturally great. His fame is due in part to the fact that he was the forerunner, the guide and master of St. Thomas Aquinas, but he was great in his own name, his claim to distinction being recognized by his contemporaries and by posterity. It is remarkable that this friar of the Middle Ages, in the midst of his many duties as a religious, as provincial of his order, as bishop and papal legate, as preacher of a crusade, and while making many laborious journeys from Cologne to Paris and Rome, and frequent excursions into different parts of Germany, should have been able to compose a veritable encyclopedia, containing scientific treatises on almost every subject, and displaying an insight into nature and a knowledge of theology which surprised his contemporaries and still excites the admiration of learned men in our own times. He was, in truth, a Doctor Universalis. Of him it in justly be said: Nil tetigit quod non ornavit [he touched nothing which he did not adorn]; and there is no exaggeration in the praises of the modern critic who wrote: "Whether we consider him as a theologian or as a philosopher, Albert was undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary men of his age; I might say, one of the most wonderful men of genius who appeared in past times" (Jourdain, Recherches Critiques).
[Read more here from the Catholic Encyclopedia article]
Podcasts from History of Philosophy without any gaps:
Albert on nature here
Albert's metaphysics here
[Details of image: Fresco of St Albert by Tommaso da Modena 1352 (full details of image here)]